Building a Better Morning with Morning Tubs-An Update

Last summer, as I prepared to move from fifth grade to first grade, I began thinking about how I wanted my students to begin their day.  I knew I did not want to do worksheets.  So, I wrote a post about my plans for morning tubs.  The post includes pictures and links to the task cards in the tubs.  This post will cover how I implemented the tubs and how they’re working for us now.

Phase One

When I first implemented the tubs, I placed a different tub on each grouping of desks.  Students stayed at their desks and worked on the tub I chose for them.  That first month, my first graders were pretty quiet as they worked.  They also worked alone.  No real collaboration going on.

Phase Two

Once we were successful with Phase One, we moved  into Phase Two.  At this point I allowed the first person who sat at a particular grouping of desks to get a tub that they would like their group to work on that morning.  I did request that if the same person in the group was always in the classroom first, that they did not choose the same tub each day. This worked well, and as students got to know  each other better, they began to talk with each other more.  However, they were still building their own creations, which was fine, I was just happy they were talking to one another more.

Phase Three

The second phase was a success, so I decided to see what would happen if I allowed students to not only choose their tub, but also where they worked.  The only requirement was that the number of students had to equal the number of chairs at a desk or table, even if they planned on standing.  So, a student may end up not at their own desk for morning work tubs.  Students were told that they had to politely ask the child working at their desk to move for a moment so that they could put their binders in their desk.  Also, if you worked at someone else’s desk then you had to bring a chair to that desk for them.  This has worked well.  Students are definitely talking more and they are collaborating more.  During this phase we also introduced Seesaw to our morning tubs.  Students can take pictures of their work and even add audio recording and written captions.  This has been a great way to show their families what they are creating in school.

What I’ve Noticed and Learned

My kids are definitely happy when they start their day, and they are ready for the rest of the day.  They’ve had a chance to talk with their friends and play.  All they while they are learning how to share, settle any disagreements, help one another  out, and collaborate.  These are all skills that are necessary, and can’t be learned through a worksheet.

If a tub is not cared for or put away correctly, then it goes into retirement for a while.  It doesn’t happen too often, but makes the point very clear that they are responsible for taking care of classroom materials.

I will routinely retire some tubs, so that students try new tubs.  The goal is to get them to try out new tubs, and to stretch their creativity.  I don’t want them getting into a rut.

I do morning tubs even if there is a substitute.  All the feedback has been positive, and it’s one thing that day that is normal in their routine.

I’ve asked them if they want me to create different tubs that I’ve seen on Pinterest where the tubs change monthly, or change by them.  They said no.  They told me they weren’t bored, and liked what we had.  It’s their morning, so I listen to them.  The only thing I did add was the Osmo once we got it.  They love it, and care for it so well.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re even slightly considering implementing morning tubs, do it!  Begin with items you already have in your classroom.  Go to my original post for ideas, or look on Pinterest.  There’s lots of inexpensive ideas out there. There are also different schools of thought on what they should be.  Mine are centered more on building and creating.  I have task cards in there, but most students prefer to design freely, and that’s fine with me.  However, I have seen a lot of tubs focused on academics.  You really just need to decide what your philosophy or purpose for tubs are.


Building a Better Morning with Morning Tubs

I’ve never really been happy with how I do morning work or you might call it bell ringers. From the moment my kids walked in they were immediately in school mode. Read this, solve that, get behind before your day has actually begun. So, I started changing my ways.

Last year, in my fifth grade class, my morning work consisted  of my kids logging into Google Classroom and responding to that day’s estimation activity from  They really did like it, and it didn’t feel like work.  Plus, their estimation skills did improve.  Then, they could choose from our Lego bins, read, or write.  With the Lego bins they could free build or try one of the challenge cards.  It worked pretty well.  Then, I decided to move to first grade.

Moving to a new grade is really making me take a closer to look at my morning work routine.  I want my kids excited to get to school, to build something, and to talk and collaborate with their friends.  I did not want worksheets.  So, I began looking at Pinterest, talking and sharing with other teachers at nErdCampKS and EdCampKs.  Many of those teachers then told me I needed to join the Facebook Group Primary Morning Tubs.  With all of those resources I began gathering supplies.

Before I share the actual tubs I do want to mention my overall philosophy about the tubs.  This isn’t graded work.  It won’t require a worksheet to be filled out.  There must be choice within the tubs.  Talk, collaboration, and fun are the goals!


Lego Tubs-I already had Legos so that was an easy tub to begin with, and I had the challenge cards.  There are great STEM ones you can purchase if you search on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I found free ones here and here. If you just search Lego Challenge Cards on the internet, you’ll find even more.

Geoboards-Found out I had these as well.  Kids will have fun creating all sorts of designs.  I found the task cards here and they also have a recording sheet if you wanted to go that route.  Again, just do a Google or Pinterest search and you’ll find tons.

Tangrams-I think I have sets of these in my classroom or at least in my building.  However, this website had printable cards and printable tangrams.  Click here for more cards that have the alphabet, and I think numbers as well.  I’ll probably add to my cards as I go. Again, just do a Google or Pinterest search and you’ll find tons.

Pattern Blocks-So excited when I found out I had a tub of these.  I found various activities for this one.  Kids can create composite shapes, numbers, alphabet, patterns and more.  If you don’t have pattern blocks, click here for a printable set.


Brain Flakes-I was so excited to win these at EdCampKS in Andover, Kansas last month.  I do not have task cards for these.  I’m thinking about making some, just not sure what to do just yet.  Click here to order.  I’m not affiliated with them, so the link is just to help you find them quicker.  Of course, you could also find them on Amazon.

Play Dough-Ok, there are just so many things you can do with Playdough.  Kids can shape it, stamp it, cut it, make models and more.  Click here for the shape cards in the picture and then here for activity mats I found.  I haven’t printed them yet as I seem to be going through a lot of ink lately.  Need to get a new printer that has the insta ink program.

Unifix Cubes-Yes! Another great find in my new classroom.  Unifix Cubes are just plain fun to build with and make your own patterns or designs.  I did find two great task cards here and here to offer the child who just wants a little more structure or  direction.

So how do these tubs work and how  will I manage them?  Good questions I’d say.  Now remember, it’s the summer and I’ve never taught first grade.  So, this is really how I think I will do things and hope to post a follow up in August or September.

Setting Up Morning Tubs

  • Begin with the manipulatives and supplies you already have.  There’s really no need to go buy anything fancy.
  • Find free task cards on  Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. Click here for my Pinterest board.  I’d suggest laminating as many hands will be touching them and you can clean them easily if laminated.
  • Join the Facebook Group Primary Morning Tubs where teachers are sharing their ideas and resources
  • Repurpose your existing containers or if you really have to have things look the same, invest in containers.  Just be sure the kids can easily open them.
  • Decide how you will store the containers.

Morning Tub Routine

  1. My kids have desks arranged in groups. Each group will get one bin to share.  This is where collaboration and talk come into play.  Also, it’s a great opportunity to work on social skills.
  2. I will set the bins out on their desk groups before I go home.  While it would be easier to let them help me, I want them wondering and anticipating which bin they will get the next day. How often they get a certain tub will depend on how many tubs I have to offer.
  3. Once they have checked in for the day (lunch count and attendance), they are free to work on tubs until Morning Announcements and the start of our first subject.  This may only be twenty minutes at most.
  4. Within most tubs there are challenge or task cards.  These are used by students only if  they choose to do so.  Some kids love to just freely explore.  Others really do want structure and challenges to meet.
  5. Have students record what they made.  I’ll discuss this in another section.
  6. Students will be responsible for returning all materials to the bin and returning  to where bins are kept. (Remember you must teach your expectations and reinforce for this to run smoothly.)

Sharing What Students Have Created

Once students have created something with the Morning Tubs, they’ll want to share it.  You can use this as a way to show parents and administrators what the kids are doing, as well as teach digital citizenship.  I’m planning to use these apps to have my kids post what they’ve created, explain what they’ve created, and provide constructive feedback to peers.  Of course we won’t use them all at once, or even right away.  This will help with speaking and listening skills, as well as how to use social media responsibly. Below are a few of the apps I’m thinking of using right now.

Some closing thoughts.  I’m finding more ideas than I have space or tubs for right now.  Click the links to see ideas on using rocks, cardboard tubes, and making patterns. I’m thinking of  changing out the types of tubs I offer by the quarter so that each quarter there is something new.  I just don’t want this to become boring. I do have a marble run that I will introduce later in the year once they are used to the routine.  Just not sure if I want to begin with that one.  What are your thoughts on that?

Ready to ditch the worksheet or computer program in the morning?  Do it! Take the plunge with morning tubs.  Hopefully you’ve found some ideas here, but don’t forget that Pinterest and the Internet are great places to find free resources and ideas.  And hey, while your’e at it, head on over to Facebook and join the Primary Morning Tubs group.  You’ll meet a lot of great teachers willing to share ideas and learn from one another.  Please post a comment on how you use or plan to use Morning Tubs.

Rethinking My Morning Work Routine

Are your students excited every morning to begin their day? Do they arrive in your room riding on a cloud of excitement? I’d like to believe mine do. But let’s face it, that’s not always the case. Most of the time they are wondering what exactly we’re going to do today. Are we doing Calendar Math? Is it a spelling page? Is it a cursive page? Or, maybe we’ll just get to read. That last one is their favorite.

At my first meeting with my new fifth grade team for next year, this topic came up. We thought about using sites like Wonderopolis or Star something to get their minds ready to learn, but in a way that they actually look forward to their morning work everyday. I’ve even had days where they were able to choose an educational game to review skills. All I know is that I really need to mix things up, and if it saves paper that’s even better!

So I’m thinking I would like some sort of routine so that my kids who need it, know what to expect each day. Yet, I want a variety so that it still offers a sense of something exciting each day. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut or use massive quantities of paper. A technology component would be ideal, but I share a cart with two other teachers, it’s often unreliable, and then we each have twenty-four students. But that’s life, and we’ll just work around it. At least we have computers.

Right now, and I know I’ll change my mind at least a hundred times over the summer, I think I have a plan. Each day of the week will focus on a different curricular area. However, no drill and kill allowed. I’m aiming for real thinking here. Maybe it will look something like Math Mondays, This Time in History Tuesdays, Wacky for Cursive Wednesdays, Thirst for Science Thursdays, and Free For All Fridays (this is where I get to mix it up each week). I know reading is not specifically mentioned, but it’s embedded in the others. I will have later posts that will go into detail about what I envision or actually do on each of those days. And yes, I’ve got to find out what that Star Something site is actually called. I’ll link to the resources I find , and once I learn to use Google Docs better, I’ll post my own resources.

So, for now, I just know I want to change what I do in the mornings to get even my reluctant learners excited to start the day. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t wake up thinking, “Oh joy, I can’t wait to get to school and complete a worksheet.” Ok, so I did as a child. But then again, I am a weird one.