Starting off with something so simple, the first task to change your classroom to a haven of learning is to grab some Popsicle sticks from a craft store. It doesn’t matter whether they are plain or colored. It doesn’t matter whether they are skinny or fat. Your only purpose is to use them to write students’ names.
Once you have your sticks, begin writing each student name on individual sticks until you have written down your entire roster. Be sure to include last initials of students who have duplicate names within the same class. If you have different students for different subjects, or are departmentalized, then make a class set of sticks for each class. Place the sticks into baggies, so they do not get mixed with one another.
After having your sticks completed, the next step is to find a cup or mug to place the sticks into. Anything will work: a plastic tumbler or even an old garage sale coffee mug with stains on the inside. You could even get creative and have the students help design the cup for you with mug kits they have at craft stores. I either use a large plastic tumbler that is brightly colored (so I am less likely to ignore it) or I have also used an old mug that contained the school’s professional logo. The vital point is not the actual container, but the magical sticks inside.
Your only task left is to use the sticks on a daily basis. Use them to make sure you are randomly calling on every student. The students will realize quite quickly that he or she could be called to answer a question just based on the odds. Also use the names to randomly ask interest questions. For example, if you had two options for an assignment and you personally don’t care which one the class completes, pick a lucky student to choose for you.
If I have projects like posters or story maps that were created by groups of students, I will use the names to choose at random the students who may take the projects home when the unit is finished. Easier than picking, it creates less wastebasket trash, and who can argue with chance?
Grouping is yet another important Popsicle stick function. Sometimes you just want random partners or groups. Use the sticks to keep you from appearing biased or as a villain. The students will openly see you choosing names, so all will have nothing to complain about other than their own personal luck of the draw.
Popsicle sticks are a cheap and an indispensable tool in your classroom that should be used everyday just for some variety. I have been in many classrooms and observed teachers unknowingly calling on the same students day after day. These teachers do not intentionally create this environment, but the simple Popsicle stick trick will alleviate the humdrum of whole group instruction very quickly.
Popsicle sticks are a simple and inexpensive option to having a memory of steel, a fair spinner, or a continuous student motivator.