February Tips

Tips for Tutors

February 2012


Mini Break Activities


When you are working with children on something that is difficult for them, you should take mini breaks about every 10-15 minutes.  Practice sight words, take a mini break, read a decodable book, take a break etc.  Here are some ideas of what those mini breaks could be.  These breaks should only take 1-3 minutes and are all still literacy related.  If you find the activities take too long, do part of it for each mini break, or continue over a few days of tutoring.


Hangman:  Play this like the traditional game, but put 3 or 4 of the sight words you have been working on out, and tell the child you will be using one of those words.


Silly Sight Word Sentences:  Pick, or have the student pick, one or more of the sight words to make a silly sentence orally.  If the child is struggling to make a sentence, you make it and have them draw a picture of your sentence, or act it out.  If you model this a few times, the student will be able to make the sentences on his/her own.


Draw the Story Parts:  If you have just read a story to the students or he/she has just read to you, have him/her draw the beginning of the story, or the end of the story, or even a specific character or problem from the story.  A white board is great for this.  The picture does not need to be detailed.


30 Second Game:  This game has many variations.  The basic game is to time the student for 30 seconds and have them tell you all of the words that follow whatever pattern you ask for.  For instance, all of the words you know that rhyme with “cat”, or all of the words you know that start with “ch”, or all of the word pairs you know that are opposites, or all of the two syllable words you know.  Adapt this to your students’ age and ability.


Name poems:  Write the child’s name down the edge of a paper and have him/her think of a word that starts with each letter of his/her name.  For older students you can have them think of words that describe themselves.


Collaborative Story:  Begin a made up story and have the child add on.  Go back and forth until you end the story.  It is simple to start with, “Once upon a time…”


Tutor Interview:  Let the students ask you three questions about yourself.






How to Play STOP


This game is great for any size group, or even 1:1.  You can have students use white boards or paper to answer, and for younger children you can have them answer out loud.


1:1 Play:  Have the child say the alphabet silently in his/her head.  You say, “STOP” at some point.  Whatever letter the child stops on becomes the letter you will play with.  Tell the child to start over with the beginning of the alphabet if you don’t say “STOP” before he/she gets to the end.


Let’s say the child stopped on “p”.  Now you have to come up with some categories.  When you first play, keep it simple with categories like animals or food.  A list of possible categories can be found after the game explanation.


The child needs to think of an animal and a food that begins with “p”.  You can also play and think of things in those categories that start with “p”, or you can just have the child do it.


Group play:  If you have at least four students, it is fun to play this game in teams.  Pair the students up or with a bigger group, put them in small groups.  Again, have one child say the alphabet silently and have another child say, “STOP”.  Have the first child tell everyone the letter he/she stopped on and pick your categories. Each team will give one answer in each category.


Scoring in group play:  Once you have more than one person playing, you can keep score.  Each answer is worth 1 point, but if a team or individual gets a correct answer that no other team or individual got, they get double the points.


Ex.  The letter stopped on is “S”.

The categories are animals and food.

Team 1 answers, “snake” and “sausage”, so they earn 2 points.

Team 2 answers, “snake” and “sausage”, so they earn 2 points

Team 3 answers, “seal” and “sausage”, so they earn 1 point for “sausage” and 2 points for “seal because no other team had that answer.


Play as many rounds as you have time for.  If your students are studying about the ocean, have the categories be ocean plants and ocean fish.  Try to incorporate anything that they are doing in class so that this will reinforce it.


Sample categories:  food, animals, plants, tv shows, movies, songs, occupations.







Open Ended Questions


Although students need to answer simple questions about who, what, when and where, it is most important to get them thinking critically about the why and how of things.  Open ended questions are best for this because there are a variety of “correct” answers, and they must be answered with more than just a “yes” or “no”.  One type of open ended questioning has students connect to the text in one of three ways.

Text to text connection – ask the child what other story he/she has read or heard is similar to the current story.  For instance, Cinderella stories pop up in almost every culture.  The child may have heard different variations on that story.  This should be used when you already know that the story you are reading is connected to another story you have recently read with the child.  Second grade students are asked to make this kind of connection on theSTAR test after reading two different stories.


Text to self connection – ask the child to connect an event in the story to an event in his/her life.  For instance if the story includes a child who was afraid of something, ask the child to tell you about a time he/she was afraid.


Text to world connection – these connections can be more difficult, but work well when reading non fiction.  If you read a story about flooding, you might ask the child what other stories they have heard of in the news about places being flooded and what happened.


Other examples of open ended questions:

What clues in the story told you that…..

Why do you think the character did……

What do you think will happen next?

If you were the main character, what would you do differently?

If you wrote a different ending to this story, what would it be?

How would you feel if you were the main character?

What do you notice on this page?

When you look at this picture, how do you think this person feels?  Why?






About Experience Corps Bay Area

Experience Corps Bay Area recruits and trains adults 50+ to tutor and mentor elementary school children, with a focus on K-3 literacy.
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2 Responses to February Tips

  1. Gail Perin says:

    Thanks for all the good suggestions and tips to use with our students. It is good to be reminded to take mini-breaks that keep the kids engaged, time seems so short each session.

    • Gail,
      Your replies are always so on target! Time is the bane of every teachers existence! That’s why the little breaks that are meaningful are so important. Students feel that they are getting a break from the work, but in reality it is just a different, possibly more engaging way to present the work.

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