How to create your monsters!
You can make a monster out of literally anything you have lying around. My Alphabet Monster was made first from an old wine glass box, some paint and bits of scrap paper. Because I'd been using him and calling him the Alphabet Monster I ended up needing to make another friend for maths - so the Number Monster was created from a tissue box. There's really no need to have more than one - you could just give your monster a name and them use him/her for activities in any subject area. I was worried that because my monsters were cardboard they wouldn't last long, but I've had them now for two years with no damage. Of course you could use an old plastic container to make yours more sturdy.
Once you've made your monster the fun begins! Give them a character - they need a voice so that when they are fed they can gobble 'Nom nom nom nom nom nom!'. This is super important because it's what will keep the kidlets hanging for their turn and giggling when others have theirs. My Alphabet Monster is a grown up so he has a deep, loud voice but the Number Monster is a baby so his voice is much more gentle. :)
Food for your monster!
I always begin any monster activities with "I think the Alphabet/Number Monster is hungry! We need to feed him." We then refer to anything that goes into their mouths as 'monster food'. Here's where using monsters becomes so quick and easy - you can feed them anything! Any flash cards that you use for other activities - sight words, letters, phonics pictures, numbers, shapes, ten frames... the list is literally endless. You can also feed the monster manipulatives - magnetic letters or numbers, small objects from around the classroom (perfect for beginning/ending/rhyming sound work), shape blocks, counters etc. And of course it's important to have a stash of scrap paper squares for kidlets to create their own monster food by writing or drawing. As each kidlet puts their food into the monster's mouth be sure to make your monster's gobbling noise. Don't worry if you monster's mouth gets too full - monsters have very bad manners so if there's no more room they will simply burp and spit out whatever they've already been fed. Be prepared for the hilarity that will ensue when this happens! :)
Time to eat... with easy differentiation!
When we feed our monster I ask my kidlets to sit in a circle. If we're using flash cards I lay them out in front of me and hold the monster on my lap. Then I choose the kidlet doing the best job of looking and listening to start (I go around the circle so I can be sure everyone gets a go, but you could keep choosing those behaving nicely first!). Here's where differentiation becomes super duper easy - just ask each student a question most relevant to their needs. Doesn't matter if they're still working on beginning sounds while everyone else is thinking about rhyming - everyone gets a slightly different question so no one will feel like they've had an 'easy one'. If you've got a little learner who needs more of a challenge ask them a question accordingly. No need to prepare anything in advance and everyone participates as they are able! When the question is a little too difficult I simply say - "This question is a tricky one! Let's all try to figure it out."
Here's a few concepts that are perfect to practise or review with your monster:
*beginning/medial/final sounds - children either choose a card/object or draw/write their own idea
*segmenting - children choose an object or card and break it into sounds before they feed it to the monster
*blending - "Feed the monster the t/r/ee" etc.
*counting sounds or syllables - ask the children to choose an object or card with a specific number of sounds or syllables
*number/ten frame/number word/tally recognition
*teen numbers - "Feed the monster the number with 1 group of ten and 3 extra ones"
*counting - "Feed the monster 5 counters"
*tens blocks - ask kidlets to choose blocks that represent the given number
The list, friends, is pretty endless. You can see why I use my monsters daily! I just love that kidlets become so invested in the characters that whenever the monsters come out they wave hello. Watching them giggle as they feed them carefully so as not to be 'bitten' always makes me smile and this year one precious kidlet actually took time on the last day to go and give the monsters a pat goodbye.
I really hope that this post has inspired you to get crafty and make your own classroom monster! I'd love to hear if any of these ideas work for you. :)