The Stick Jar: One Tool – Many Uses

By Sina Rautman

Imag­ine the fol­low­ing sit­u­a­tion: You want your stu­dents to read out their results, but you are run­ning low on time. Your stu­dents are high­ly moti­vat­ed, and most of them want to share their work with the class, but it is clear from the start that you can’t involve all of them. What do you do now? Pick your ‘favorite’ child? Pick the child who did the best job as an excel­lent exam­ple to the rest of the class? Or would it be bet­ter to involve the shy child and give her a chance to con­tribute to the class? Will some chil­dren feel neglect­ed or preferred?

JarLast sum­mer, I spent three months in the Unit­ed States where I’d been offered a chance to observe dif­fer­ent ele­men­tary school class­es. There I found a solu­tion to the prob­lem men­tioned above. In one class – full of high­ly moti­vat­ed fourth graders – I noticed a beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed jar filled with tongue depres­sors. At first, I could­n’t think of any pur­pose for this glass, so I decid­ed to ask the teacher about it after class.

When the teacher fin­ished the cre­ative writ­ing ses­sion, she asked her stu­dents to read out their results. Time was run­ning out, but the major­i­ty of the chil­dren want­ed to read their sto­ries. Imme­di­ate­ly, the teacher walked over to the jar and ran­dom­ly picked one stick. The stu­dent whose name appeared on the bot­tom of the stick got to read his sto­ry. After five draws time was up, and every­one felt that they’d had an equal chance of being chosen.

I thought that the stick jar was a use­ful tool, so I want to share my thoughts on pos­si­ble uses with you:

  • pick­ing stu­dents fair­ly (alter­na­tive: If you want to equal­ly pick boys and girls, use red sticks for girls’ names and blue sticks for boys’ names.)
  • pick­ing dif­fer­ent stu­dents every time (Use two dif­fer­ent jars – one for not-yet-picked and one for already-picked sticks.)
  • set­ting up work groups with ran­dom­ly select­ed stu­dents (With­draw as many sticks as need­ed for every group.)
  • set­ting up a ran­dom seat­ing order in class (With­draw sticks and put them on the tables/desks.)
  • Task Jar (Stu­dents who have fin­ished their work may pick a stick with an addi­tion­al task.)
  • Vocab­u­lary Jar (Write dif­fer­ent vocab­u­lary on sticks either for a quick vocab­u­lary test or for cre­ative writ­ing prompts, i.e. word prompt stories.)

Cre­at­ing your own jars is sim­ple, and the ways of dec­o­rat­ing them are end­less. All you need is:

  • tongue depres­sors (one for each child in the class) or oth­er flat sticks
  • a jar or glass
  • water­col­ors, col­ored mark­ers, col­or­ful rib­bons, stick­ers, stamps or oth­er decoration

If you don’t have the time to cre­ate your own stick jar, there’s an app for that.

Have fun using this method!

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Sina Raut­mann is a teacher. Her sub­jects are Eng­lish, Social Stud­ies, and Reli­gion. She loves to trav­el the world and get to know dif­fer­ent cultures.