No-Prep Class Activities With No Materials

There is no doubt that access to fun materials makes life easier for teachers and parents. We all love books, puzzles, games, and art supplies. If we have smart boards and iPads, it gets even easier. Fortunate educators worldwide can also access printable, no-prep class activities online.

These no-prep class activities can be used anywhere with a wide variety of content.

However, this is not the reality for many schools and families. Globally, and even in wealthy countries, many teachers and parents are making do with a minimum of resources. So, they need no-prep class activities that do not depend on access to materials.

In Mexico and Nicaragua, I work with teachers who have limited access to educational products and basic supplies. Therefore, I need to provide no-prep class activities at different levels that they can do with only a white or chalk board. I cannot assume even a classroom set of textbooks or electricity.

These no-prep class activities require no materials and can be adapted to different content.
A rural school in Nicaragua.

Of course, a go-to set of no-prep class activities that doesn’t depend on materials is something all teachers can use. These activities come in handy for parents, too. Whether you are teaching in a situation with few resources, caught waiting somewhere with your kids, or have extra time in class and don’t want to pull things off shelves, these no-prep, no-materials activities might be just what you need.

Because these activities are not tied to specific resources, you can use them at different levels and with different content. Adapt to fit your learners, language, location and level.

Suggestions for Teaching with Few Resources

  • Content makes activities meaningful and memorable, so link language and math games to real information. Think about science concepts, places, historical figures and events, for example.  Also consider linking activities to a story to give them context.
  • Expand vocabulary. You can never go wrong by teaching children more words and modeling how they are used. So, consider synonyms, antonyms and word families as you do activities.
  • Practice the basics. Because learning takes repetition, practice with basic math skills, word formation, writing skills and drawing skills are all worthwhile. However, the basics don’t have to be boring. Add movement and play games to make activities engaging.
  • Encourage creativity! Children are resourceful and will challenge themselves if they have your support.
  • Re-entering and spiraling content is important. So, jot down vocabulary and concepts as you go, or right after class, so you can include them again later.

Manipulatives for No-Prep Class Activities

The ideas below are for no-prep class activities, so there is no cutting, copying or pulling together of props. Of course, in a classroom situation, you will want to choose language and concepts that tie into your content before you go to class.

I have included activities that use homemade number cards and recycled bottle caps. You can adapt the no-prep class activities with the cards or bottle caps to do with a large group, or they are great for small group practice.

Number cards

Students can make number cards and use them over and over. We make sets using ½ of an index card and number them from 0-9. Students should make 3 sets of 0-9, so they can form 2 or 3 digit numbers by using 2 or 3 cards.

Bottle caps

In addition to cards, the other manipulatives I have included in these no-prep class activities are sets of letters and numbers made with bottle caps. We collect the tops off plastic bottles and jugs and write numbers and letters on them with permanent marker.

Bottle caps are free, easy-to-hold, washable, colorful and fun. They do not have to be the same size or color. Anything works! These are excellent manipulatives that will let you do lots of no-prep class activities.

Use bottle caps with numbers and letters for no-prep class activities.

Using bottle caps with numbers, write a number on each cap and also make signs for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and equals. For letters, make plenty of vowels and many duplicates of the most common letters in your language. Also, make both upper and lowercase letters. Remember, you can always make more letters if you need them.

Download a PDF of the no-prep activities here. 

No-Prep Class Activities with Letter and Words

  • Jump or clap for each syllable.
  • Spell the word doing an action for each letter, such as jumping or kicking.
  • Play 20 Questions to guess a word asking only yes-no questions.
  • Use two words from a word bank on the board to create a funny sentence.
  • Name things in a category, such as red things, things made of plastic, things you see in a kitchen, words that start with the letter m, sticky things, sea life, etc.
  • Circle a specific letter in a word or sentence on the board.
  • Circle words with the same initial, intermediate or final sound.
  • Give an initial sound or final sound, and students complete the word.
  • Learners make a list of words with the same initial or final sounds.
  • Students make sentences with repeated initial sounds.
  • Use bottle caps with letters to:
    – Practice letter recognition.
    – Order the alphabet.
    – Match lowercase to uppercase
    – Spell words.
    – Draw a letter from the pile and think of a word that begins with that letter.
    – Make a word. Then, change one letter to make a new word. Next, change another letter to make another word.
    – Build and connect words crossword-puzzle style.                                

No-Prep Class Activities With Sentences   

  • Count the words in a sentence.  This may seem simple, but it is an important pre-reading skill. 
  • Put a sentence on the board, say one of the words, and ask a student to point to that word.
  • Students substitute a new word for one in the sentence.
  • Grow the sentence. Start with a simple sentence and add to it. For example: The cat eats. The black cat eats. The black cat eats a lot. The big black cat eats a lot. etc.
  • Unscramble words in a sentence.
  • Put words on the board in 3 groups: who, what, rest of sentence (where, when, how). Students build sentences drawing from each group.    

No-Prep Class Activities In a Notebook

  • Dictate 5-10 words for students to write. Then, students
    – Write sentences with the words.
    – Sort the words by meaning, initial sounds, number of syllables, etc.
    – List words that rhyme
    – Write synonyms and antonyms
  • Dictate a sentence omitting a key word, and students complete the sentence in an original way.
  • Students each contribute one or two words. Then they use the words to
    – Write original sentences using two or more words.
    – Alphabetize the words.
    – Work together to tell a story using the words
  • Give students a relatively long word to see how many words they can form with those letters. They make as many words as possible using only the letters in the word you give them.
  • Students draw a picture according to your instructions. For example, There is a tree. There is a bird in the tree. Draw a nest for the bird. Below the tree there is a cat. etc. You can have older students label the parts of the drawing or write a story for the finished illustration.
  • Use graphic organizers to tap into what students know about a topic. For example, you can use these Are-Can-Have Spanish vocabulary graphic organizers  for any number of themes. Put the organizer on the board or have students draw it in their notebook, in any language of course.

Storytelling and Music

Storytelling is a rich source of language and content. Tell and retell stories to teach sequencing, vocabulary and language. Use fables, legends, fairy tales, family stories and invent your own.

After you tell a story, students can

  • Order key events that you list on the board.
  • Define words from the story and identify synonyms or antonyms.
  • Role play important scenes and conversations.
  • Illustrate characters or scenes.
  • Answer questions about characters and situations. Would this person be a good friend? What would they have done in the same situation?
  • Create a new ending for the story.
  • Act out the story as a class.
  • Ask students to prepare a story to tell the class.

Music is another rich source of language. You don’t have to have an wonderful voice to enjoy music with students. Many of the classrooms I work in do not have electricity, so there are no professional recordings or sound systems. However, music is still an important part of learning.

  • Sing traditional folk songs and children’s rhymes.
  • Incorporate clapping games and rhythms.
  • Use songs to talk about rhyme and introduce new vocabulary.
  • Have students illustrate a song.
  • Older students can write stories based on songs.

No-Prep Class Activities with Numbers

  • Skip count around the group by 2, 5, 7, etc.
  • One person thinks of a number. Others try to guess is asking only “Is it less than..?”, Is it greater than …?” questions
  • Give students a string of problems for mental math calculations. For example, you might say “Take 5, add 7, add 10, subtract 20, multiply by 8. What do you have?” (16). You can adapt this for any level.
  • Play “Around the World” giving math problems to two students. The one who answers correctly first, stays standing and competes with another student.
  • Have students make number cards using  ½ of an index card.
    – 2 students each have a pile of cards face down. They each turn over a card. They first one to add (subtract, multiply) the two numbers keeps the cards.
    – 2 students each have a pile of cards face down. They race to 100 by turning over cards (one at a time) and adding to their total. Make a 10 frame in a notebook for an easy game board for this game.
  • Use number bottle caps (see above) to:
    – Practice number recognition
    – Form numbers. You say 327. They form the number with 3 bottle tops.
    – Sort numbers by odd and even.
    – Make equations.

Of course, you can take your learning outside with active games from your culture or by teaching students new games from other countries. These traditional games from different cultures require no or few materials. These traditional games from Spanish-speaking countries also are no-prep and lots of fun.

I love educational materials, and I wish every child and teacher on the planet had access to books, art supplies, technology and multiple copies of engaging activities. However, I also know that teachers and parents who don’t have these things are resourceful, and children learn in all kinds of situations.

Let’s support each other by compiling more learning ideas that don’t require materials or extensive preparation. Add your favorite no-prep class or family learning activities below!

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Jennifer raised her three children speaking English and Spanish, and she has been teaching Spanish to other young world citizens for over twenty years. On her blog Spanish Playground, she shares resources for parents and teachers of Spanish language learners.
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