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My Classroom Management Must-Haves, Part 2: Float Jars and More

By Alycia Zimmerman on August 17, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Last week, I wrote about the color chart that I use to help my students manage their individual behavior choices. The color chart is my saving grace, but it is not the panacea for all behavior woes. This week, I am going to share some more of my favorite management strategies: The Float Jar, Table Stars, and my Homework Black Book.



Last week, I wrote about the color chart that I use to help my students manage their individual behavior choices. The color chart is my saving grace, but it is not the panacea for all behavior woes. This week, I am going to share some more of my favorite management strategies: The Float Jar, Table Stars, and my Homework Black Book.



The Float Jar


Have you ever had an amazing bunch of students who function as a well-oiled machine in your classroom, only to fall apart at recess? Several years ago, this was my class. Every day after recess, I had to spend precious class time settling recess and lunch disputes. I was so frustrated with dealing with problems stemming from unstructured time! How could I manage my students when I wasn’t with them? 

Obviously, this is a complicated issue. I realized that my students’ behavior away from me revealed some underlying issues in our classroom. After I put my finger on those issues, I tried read-alouds, role-playing, and discussions to address these problems, but felt my students needed something tangible to link our classroom values to the unstructured time they spent outside of the classroom. This is where the float jar comes in.

Solution: Float Jar 2

My float jar is simply a large clear container – I use an empty pretzel tub. I introduce it to the class with a dramatic demonstration. Before the lesson, I hot-glue five or six plastic bottle caps together in a row. Then I add water to the jar and float the bottle cap “fleet” on the surface. “These little ships are like our class,” I explain. “We are a community, and together we all float.” Then I drop a stack of pennies into one of the bottle caps, and the students shout out warnings as the entire line of “boats” slowly sinks. “What happens when one member of the community sinks?” I ask the class. My students call out, “They ALL sink!” 

I drive home the metaphor with an explicit conversation. I explain that when we float as a class, all of the members help each other solve problems, follow school rules, and generally take care of each other.

I tell the students that I’ve brought in the float jar to celebrate when they do a wonderful job of floating together when we’re not in our classroom. After a problem-free recess, lunch, or special class, one student measures out a predetermined amount of water and adds it to the jar. When the water reaches the top of the jar, we celebrate with a special team-building activity – a “float party.” Everyday before our lunch and recess period, my students sing our “Float Jar Song” to the tune of Row Your Boat

Float, float, float as one, helping out a friend, 

 Together we float, let’s not sink, floating till the end. 

Table Stars for Terrific Transitions


My students are sprawled in every corner of the room, some working with partners on their continent research. Others are using art supplies to decorate their continent posters, while four more are at a table near the sink making paper-mache maps. It’s time to transition to math, so I give a two-minute warning. However, when my students start to clean up, it seems like it will take the entire math period. I need to motivate them to speed up this transition, while still being neat and organized.

Solution: TableStars

Table stars reward groups for efficient transitions. My students know that I am on the lookout during transitions for teamwork, organization, and promptness. Table groups that impress me during a transition earn a star on the chart. The first table to receive 25 stars gets to eat lunch in the classroom with me and another teacher of their choosing. My colleagues are usually flattered at being chosen as the “celebrity guest,” and they are gracious about joining us during lunch. Now, during transitions I simply stand to the side while my students quietly take care of business.


The Homework Black Book

Problem: Black Book

Managing paperwork is not one of my strengths, so keeping track of my students’ homework assignments used to make me miserable. Every year, I would try a new checklist, Excel spreadsheet, or marking book without success. After chatting about my homework woes with a friend, she helped me devise my homework black book, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.




At the beginning of the year, I fill a black binder with tabbed dividers for each student. After each student's name, I add two pages with a recording form. [Download Black Book Form]

Black book Page
During the first week of school, I dramatically bring out the book and solemnly say that my students do NOT want to encounter my “Black Book of Homework Shame” too many times. I then explain that if they forget to complete a homework assignment, they must independently go to the book, turn to their tabbed section, and record the date, the assignment, their excuse, and complete their assignment.

I next explain, in softer tones, that I understand that we're all human and if a name appears only a few times, this is okay. However, if a student writes in the book on a regular basis, this is a different story! I point out that I will have a record, in the student's own handwriting, of each assignment missed. I can show this to the parents, to an administrator, etc. I stress that I doubt that anyone needs to be concerned because I am sure that they will be responsible and complete their homework in a timely fashion. 

This management lesson takes five minutes, but it has a huge payoff.  The students understand that they are accountable for their assignments and the system provides a teacher-free method of recording homework completion!

I am sure that you have developed many of your own successful classroom management strategies, and I would love to hear about them! Please share your ideas about how you manage homework, transitions, and everything else. Questions and comments are very welcome!


Comments (10)

Love all these ideas. Thank you for sharing. I will be using the black book system for my homeschoolers.

Michelle, thank you for sharing your punch card system with all of us teachers! It sounds like it worked really well to teach your students responsibility and to motivate them to complete their homework. Keep up the great work!

Best, Alycia

I used something called a "Punch Card" with my students. They come in various shapes. A ruler that says, "Sara Rules" or a rock that says "Joe Rocks!" There are markers all along the perimeter for me to hole punch the card. On the back I have various prizes that can be won at certain benchmarks.

The students get punches for each homework they complete and if they are good I'll tell them to take out their card and give them extra punches. If they don't have the card out with homework is to be checked and I come around it doesn't get punched. If they lose it they get a new punch card and have to start over. This teaches them responsibility. Even the the most unorganized kids don't lose their punch cards!

Some prizes are 30 punches: play homeworkolpoy (homeworkopoly.com) 60 choose a partner, etc. The most punches at the end of the card equal the biggest prizes. Use the teacher's chair for a day, sit next to a friend, lunch with the teacher and friends, etc. My kids loved it last year and it motivated them to do their homework!

Toni, I love that idea! Those musical greeting cards are so much fun, and I always feel bad when I throw them away or shove them in the closet. What a fantastic, playful way to manage transitions. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers, Alycia

To help with transitions, I use those greeting cards that have songs. The students know that they have until the song ends to transition or line up. I can change the card at holidays and when the song gets on my nerves. Kids like it so much, they bring in cards that they receive for me to use!

Wow, Jean, thank you for sharing two fabulous strategies with me and the rest of the Scholastic teacher community. I am definitely going to use your yarn-web idea with my students - what a fun and powerful symbol for collaboration.

My students are generally very quiet in the halls, because I make it a pseudo-game. As they walk out of a room, I make a hand signal for our "stealth mode." Then we creep through the halls communicating only with hand signals and gestures. The students love pretending to be stealthy ninjas or commandos, and I love that I don't have to remind them to respect other learners by being quiet. Your team jar approach sounds like another great way to reinforce hallway behavior expectations.

Thanks again for sharing your strategies! All the best, Alycia

Hi Liz, glad to hear that my strategies may be useful for you. Classroom management is such a moving target - what works for one bunch of kids doesn't always work for the next. I'm sure you'll figure out how to tweak these ideas to make them work for your crew. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Regards - Alycia

5 and my name TEAM Dunn. Each time the students travel without disturbing others they earn a marble. If they fail I get a marble. At the end of the week whichever TEAM has the most marbles get a prize. The students have an approved list of of suggestions for their prize of which someone chooses from a box. I Also have a list of suggestions for example silent reading, doing some extra math etc. Any weakness your class may have to improve could be used.

During the first week of school My students and I go out to the school yard and sit in a circle. I have a skien of yarn which I wrap a piece around my finger say something about myself and gently toss the rest of the yarn to another student. This student wraps a piece of the yarn around their finger and tells us something about themselves. We continue until everyone has had a turn. When the last student is finished we have created a huge spider web! I then call out 3 or 4 students names and tell them to drop the web. We discuss what has happened to our web. I then discuss how cooperating creates a beautiful picture etc. WE then cut a pice of yarn and tape it inside our desk. Anytime I see a lack of cooperation I simply say remember the web. The students fall right back on task.

I have some strong suits, but classroom management is not one of them! I'm using ALL of these, ha. Thank you!!!

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