Fly swatters for math and vocabulary work? Paper clips to motivate? Yes! And more!
by Cheryl Sigmon
Regular contributor to the Gazette
September 1, 2008
Aside from all of the new and wonderful technologies in our classrooms, there are a few low-tech ones (actually they’re more accurately “no-tech”!) you might want to gather that can surely make an impact on your success. Just give these a try in your classroom. They might surprise you!
Easy Button – This little gadget—a big red button with the word “EASY” printed across the top that when pressed announces, “That was easy!”—has been a huge hit in classrooms. Purchased at Staples® for about $5, it provides motivation for students of all ages. I’ll have to admit that I was surprised at how hard students were willing to work for the privilege of pressing the button. When questions were answered correctly, when thought-provoking questions were asked by students, when a group finished their task, or when individuals or groups worked hard, the reward of pressing the button seemed validation and acknowledgement enough. You’ve gotta get one!
Paper Clips – Here’s how paper clips can become an inexpensive reward for students as well as a basic behavior management system. To reward good behavior, correct answers, or challenges of different sorts, you give the person or team a paper clip. The clips are hooked together on a chain that is displayed in the classroom in some place that is visible to all students. If you want to make this competitive among cooperative groups, you might even hang it from a wire suspended from the ceiling just above each group. If you really want to build a community of learners among all your students, you might hang all of the clips as they’re earned in one central location in the class. Propose a reward either for the first group whose clips touch the desk or for the whole class when the clips touch the floor from where they are suspended. Perhaps the reward is a day of conducting class outside; a trip to the museum; an ice cream party; a catered lunch, or whatever you think will inspire your students. The paper clip chains are inexpensive and easy, but they help students set goals for their classroom behavior and performance.
Patio Chair – Buy the hard plastic lawn chairs that are on sale here at the end of the summer season. You might buy just one or one for each of your marking periods. With some imagination and materials such as glitter, paints, stickers, ribbons, buttons, etc., you can transform the chair into a magical place for students to sit as they share during Self-Selected Reading and Writing Blocks. An additional purpose served by these chairs in many classrooms is a reward system. Each time a student is “caught” doing something good, they are given an extra ticket for a drawing to be held at the end of the marking period or at the end of the year, depending upon how many chairs you can sacrifice. Then a drawing is held, and one student wins the Share Chair and can carry it home. Just imagine that student curling up in his room at home with a good book to read in his own, special chair!
Pom-Poms (or Firecrackers!) - You won’t believe how easy it is to make your own colorful pom-poms for cheering and chanting the Word Wall words. (By the way, we’ve discovered that boys don’t necessarily embrace the idea of waving pom-poms. But, if you call them firecrackers, they’ll wave them feverishly!) You’ll need a paper bag (lunch size). (*See note below on bags.) All you’ll need is one or two bags per student, clear tape, and scissors. Keep the bag(s) flat and hold them by the end flap. With scissors, cut strips at intervals of ¼” to ½” from the open end to the edge of the bottom flap. The result will look somewhat like a hula skirt. Now, with the cut bag laid flat, tightly roll the solid bottom flap from one side to the other. This forms a handle for the pom-pom. Use tape to secure the handle so that it won’t unroll. The cut strips will form the pom-pom fringes. It’s pretty and fun!
(*Note on paper bags: A colorful bag is best, although the standard brown or white will serve the purpose. Two bags together will make a nice, full pom-pom, but, again, one will serve the purpose.
Magic Reading Sticks – To make these useful print trackers, individual pointers, and/or clue finders, just take craft sticks—one per student. Dip about an inch of the end of each stick into some white glue. Then, immediately dip the glued end into some glitter. Arrange the sticks to dry. Once dry, they become great tools for each student to use during reading or any time you want students to find something specific on a page.
Swat-It Posters - These are great fun for reviewing vocabulary words, math facts, spelling words (including Word Wall words), content facts and many other uses. You’ll need two pieces of poster board—any color including white will do. You’ll need 20-25 figures for each poster. Two good choices for these are either die cuts of cute shapes or pre-cut sticky note pads. Arrange the shapes on each poster and paste them down. (If using the sticky notes, you won’t have to add paste. If using die cuts, use paste sparingly.) Now, laminate the posters separately. Purchase two fly swatters. (Dollar stores usually have unique ones!) You’re all set for a game that your students will love. If you’re reviewing Word Wall words, write words atop each of the figures so that they’ll stand out on the poster. Put the same words on each of the posters, but write them in different locations. Hang the posters on the wall of your classroom. Arrange your students in two teams lined up in front of the posters. The first person on each team is given a fly swatter. You’ll call out one of the words. The first person to swat the correct word gets a point for their team. Then, they go to the back of the line, and the next person steps up to swat the next word you call out.
Think how this can work with math facts, vocabulary words and definitions, answers to content area questions, rhyming words, etc. The possibilities are endless!
I hope that some of these tools will prove useful to you and your students this year. Have a wonderful school beginning! Take advantage of the clean slate and go for it!
Cheryl Sigmon has been an educator for nearly 30 years as a classroom teacher, a Dept. of Ed. language arts consultant, and currently as a seminar presenter, trainer and consultant in schools and districts around the US and Europe. She owns her own consulting firm, Sigmon & Associates, Inc., that brokers consulting services. She is co-author with Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall of the bestselling Teacher's Guide to Four-Blocks and author of Modifying Four-Blocks for Upper Grades. Also, she is the author of numerous other professional books on literacy, including a writing mini-lesson series, Just-Right Writing Mini-Lessons (grade 1, 2-3, 4-6) and her newest comprehension mini-lesson series, Just-Right Comprehension Lessons (grades 1-6) with Scholastic Publishing Co.
On a personal note, she and her husband, Ray, live in SC, where they enjoy their state’s beautiful beaches and spend time with their three daughters, two grandchildren, and a multitude of grand-dogs and grand–cats!