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Have Your Students Filled a Bucket Today?

By Beth Newingham on April 7, 2010
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

While I work hard to ensure that I am providing my students with the best academic instruction on a daily basis, I also take time to teach the students in my classroom to be good citizens who care for and respect each other.

While I work hard to ensure that I am providing my students with the best academic instruction on a daily basis, I also take time to teach the students in my classroom to be good citizens who care for and respect each other. While the teaching of these "life skills" should certainly not fall solely on the shoulders of us teachers, I do believe it is important to help build good character in our students. Teachers can help students value themselves and each other when we encourage them to be helpful, compassionate, unselfish classmates. In my classroom, my teaching partner and I call these positive students "bucket fillers." As the Bucket Fillers Web site explains, "'Bucket fillers' are those who help without being asked, give hugs and compliments, and generally spread their love and good feelings to others." Bucket filling is a common act in our classroom and one that does not go unrecognized!

READ ON to learn how we teach and encourage bucket filling in our classroom, see PHOTOS of our bucket-filler chart, and download a PRINTABLE that you can use to promote bucket filling in your own classroom.

Background on the Bucket-Filler Concept


First of all, let me point out that this concept is not something I came up with!  According to the site, "Carol McCloud first heard the idea that a 'bucket' represented a person's self-concept, or mental and emotional health, at an early childhood conference in the 1990s. It was in the 1960s that Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924–2003), first created the 'Dipper and Bucket' story that has now been passed along for decades.  Dr. Clifton later went on to co-author the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? and be named the Father of Strengths Psychology." You can learn more about the bucket-filling concept and even order the children's book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by visiting the Bucket Fillers Web site.




Introducing Bucket Filling to Your Students

BooksAt the beginning of the school year, many teachers take time to create class rules with the help of the students. It is during this time that we read the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? The short book explains to students that we all carry an invisible bucket in which we keep our feelings about ourselves. When our buckets are full, we are happy; when they are empty, we are sad. It is important that students learn that when they fill a friend's bucket, they also fill their own bucket because it feels good to make others happy. At this time, we also introduce the concept of being a bucket dipper. A bucket dipper is a person who hurts other people's feelings, essentially dipping into their invisible bucket. Since bullying is a common problem in schools, the concept of bucket dippers is often referred to as bullying. (Visit the Web site above to learn more if this concept sounds confusing.) 


After we read the book and discuss the idea of filling buckets, we brainstorm a list of ways we can fill each other's buckets both in our classroom and around our school.  After making the list on chart paper, we type up the students' ideas and create a poster that is hung above our bucket-filling display.  (You can see a photo of the bucket-filling display in the next section.)





Invite Students to Be Bucket Fillers in Your Classroom

DisplayI have to thank my teaching partner for bringing this great idea to our classroom!  To promote the act of bucket filling in our class, each student is given his or her own real bucket.  The buckets are kept in a hanging shoe rack that we cut in half and attach to a cupboard in the back of our classroom.  Small, multi-colored pom-poms are stored in the top pockets of the shoe rack.  When a student fills a classmate's invisible bucket, both the bucket filler and the person whose bucket was filled get to add a pom-pom to their buckets.  (Remember, when a student fills a classmate's bucket, he or she is also filling his or her own invisible bucket because it feels good to make others happy.)


GirlsThis activity is an honor system, so students do not need to report to the teacher every time they fill a bucket.  The two students simply visit the bucket-filling shoe rack and add their pom-poms at an appropriate time during the school day. If we do have some extra time in the day, I will ask students to share their bucket-filling stories with their classmates as a way of building community in our classroom.



Should the Teacher Remove Pom-Poms When Students Are Being Bucket Dippers?

This decision is certainly up to the teacher.  However, my teaching partner and I prefer to make this activity a purely positive one.  While students may face other consequences when they act as bucket dippers, we do not remove pom-poms from their buckets.  Our goal is to promote bucket filling and not use this activity as a way to punish students for their behavior.


What Happens When a Student Fills Up His or Her Bucket?

When a student fills his or her bucket, the pom-poms are removed and a sticker is added to the bucket to show that it has been filled up one time.  By the end of the year, students often have many stickers on their buckets.  However, there is no reward for filling up a bucket, and no student is the "winner" for filling his or her bucket the most times.  The activity is designed to intrinsically motivate students: it's not a contest or a competition in which students earn an extrinsic reward.




Holding Students Accountable

AlexYou may find that you need to hold students accountable for their bucket-filling acts to make the activity most beneficial to you and your students.  If you find that your students are just adding pom-poms throughout the day without a real purpose (not being sincere about their bucket filling), you may want to implement a system in which your students must write down their bucket-filling act so that you can read it before they are able to add a pom-pom to their bucket.

We did this for a period of time last year, and it worked well. See the photos below to learn how we used bucket-filler cards to hold our students accountable for their good deeds.




Next to the bucket-filler display in our classroom, we store bucket-filler cards printed on multi-colored paper.  When students feel like they have filled someone's bucket, they put their name on the card and describe their bucket-filling act. Download the Bucket-Filling Form in MS Word or as a PDF.


Card holder

The students can place their bucket-filler cards in the container above throughout the school day.  My teaching partner or I quickly read the cards after the students leave for the day and return them to the students the next morning.  When the students see their bucket-filler card returned to them on their desk the following morning, they can then add a pom-pom to their bucket.  This is nice because it requires students to reflect on their actions, and we can compliment them on their specific acts of kindness.


Culminating Bucket-Filler Activity for the End of the School Year

Personal messagePersonal message At the end of the year, the pom-poms are removed from all of the students' buckets.  The students then write compliments or positive messages to each of their classmates.  The messages are written on small strips of paper that can fit into the buckets.  Students add their personal messages to their classmates' buckets, and the students get to take their bucket full of positive messages home to read.  It is a wonderful way to end the school year, as students love to hear the great things their classmates have to say about them!  My teaching partner and I also type up personal messages for each student on address labels and stick them to the outside of the bucket.



Try It Out!

While this may seem "babyish" to some upper elementary teachers, I think you will be surprised how the activity truly helps students build stronger bonds with their classmates at any grade level.  An atmosphere of respect and care for each other is quickly established and maintained throughout the school year.  However, I strongly suggest reading the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? before implementing this activity in your classroom.  Everything will make much more sense once you completely understand the concept.


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Comments (51)

I am excited to try this out in my classroom. I was wondering what size are you buckets and where to get them? Thanks for the great idea!

I love your bucket filling idea. I am a fifth grade teacher and I would love to try this. I was wondering if you could email me ways to fill your bucket and have you filled your bucket today posters?
Thanks again for the great idea.

I love bucket filling and use it at home and school. It works great with all ages. Check out "A to Z Character Education for the Classroom. " It is an activity book that goes great with the concept. :)

Any ideas as to how to implement this program in a high school classroom? I think these lessons can go a long way to promoting kindness and community, but I am concerned about infantilizing high school students with the "younger child" nature of this concept.

I've seen this done in a fifth grade regular ed classroom. They Love it. Every week it's an assigned student's job to ensure everyone has a bucket filler in their mailbox!

Bucket filling in a classroom environment can have a serious negative impact on young children. While the description of the method discusses how great kids feel when their bucket is full, the impact having an empty bucket can have on a child is serious. Young children do not always recognize that their kind acts are worthy of a pompom for their bucket. While teacher can help small children become aware of their kindness, this is very difficult to do with class sizes that are large. It is heartbreaking to hear a sensitive, caring and respectful child ask, "Why don't. I have any pompoms in my bucket?" Self esteem is very fragile in our young children and while bucket filling has a positive effect on many the serious. potential negative effects are often overlooked because the negative effects are on shy introverted quiet children who don't cause problems in the classroom.

I think if children are filling their own bucket rather than someone else's it avoids the negative consequences of an empty bucket, as children are in control of their own behaviour. The idea (if done correctly) is that their own 'invisible' bucket is filled when they do a good deed for someone and thus, are consiously learning the affect their behaviour can have on others.
It should not be a record of the nice things people have done for you, but of the nice things you have done for people.

I teach high school. Nonth grade. And i think I will use a form of this in my classes! I have more than 80 students, so the shoe racks would be too much, but I think I can use envelopes and cards that they fill out. I am always trying to promote positive thinking and community in my classroom. I think this idea would really work! Thank you!!

I have done bucket filling in the past. I saw your photos and wondered what you do when the buckets get full, so I actually READ THROUGH your blog. Hard to do when there is so much to look at. I really like the idea of adding a sticker to their bucket. I like that this is a student managed behavior. Thanks for sharing!

Hello there. I'm a second grade teacher ready to begin the school year this coming week. I've been searching  the web and pinterest to find out what "bucket fillers" are. I've read about it and I totally want to implement this into my classroom. I understand how it works but my concern is that the concept may die out after the first few weeks of filling buckets. How do you motivate students to continue writing these notes all year long? Do once they put something in someone's bucket , do they get something ... like a marker or such (saw a pic on a website that looked like little markers) in theirs? 

Please help me understand this better. Thanks. 

Happy school year! 

Could you give me some ideas on how to bring this to my sons school? Last year my son was bullied alot and i think this is a great idea as i have talked to many parents that they have faced the same problems with bulling going on here in our town.

Why don't you try going to your Parent Group? I am a PTA President and will be implementing this program at my son's school this year. Bring them lots of info on Bucketfillers, even volunteer to help out with it. You never know! If they are not receptive to the idea then try your Principal or school Social Worker. Again, volunteer to help. Maybe you can be the one that goes into each classroom and reads the book???

Good Luck!!

My daughter will be teaching one of the lower grades this year. She hasn't been told which one yet. My question is, can you use this concept as a group instead of a single child? The theme for the year is monkeys. We were thinking of putting a cloth banana tree in the corner of the room with stuffed fabric bananas connected to a stem with velcro. When a child performs a bucket filling act, he can remove a banana from the bunch and place it in a community bucket. When the bucket is full the children will have earned a specific reward. We are new to this idea and are researching ideas, but so far have only seen individual buckets. We are hoping someone will enlighten us on how this might work for a group.

For those wanting to purchase small buckets, Target it has them right now in their "dollar" section.


Where did you purchase the metal buckets and the shoe rack for the "Have you filled a bucket today?"

You can also typically find them at a Family Dollar store, especially the buckets in the summer season.

I googled "over the door shoe organizer clear", and many places were found where they can be purchased. You could cut the shoe organizer in half so that all students could reach it.


I am currently working with a class of 10 Preschoolers between the ages of 2 and 3. They need a lot of help with positive reinforcement and filling their personal bucket. What is the approach you would take with this age group? Thank you!

I use this with my Kindergarten class and it is a great concept that they can actually understand! I also get great feedback from my parents.

I think that is a good idea I will for sure use it in my classroom I love this website and probably use some other ideas on here also thanks for telling me about the bucket filling.

Okay I am hooked...the bucket filling idea sounds great ....and I wish I had had it for my 6th grade classroom this year...as we had a tough group of students. I will definitely set this up at the beginning of the school year.

Beth, I am wondering if you have read the book the Daily 5 and how you feel about it?

Again, I love your blog and will be on it constantly as I set up my new fourth grade classroom this summer. Thanks so much for being a true educator.



Bucket-filling is completely separate from my classroom economy/behavior management system. (My classroom economy serves 2 purposes: economic instruction and a behavior management system.) Bucket-filling does not include any extrinsic rewards because I want students to be instrisically motivated to fill each other's buckets on a daily basis.

Thanks for your comments!



Congrats on your recent additon to the family! I'm so glad you have enjoyed reading my blog this year! I wish you luck on finding a balance between your 2 passions: motherhood and teaching. It certainly isn't easy! Enjoy the rest of your maternity leave. I hope your are enjoying your special time with your little one!


Beth, I am currently on a mat leave and between changing diapers, feedings and nap time, I have religiously been on your website soaking in all your wonderful ideas. I have currently been organizing and levelling all my books and my hopes for september when I return to work is to implement a reading workshop as well as some other ideas of yours..I just want to say THANKS, THANKS, THanks for being such an inspiration... I also enjoyed reading your blog about balancing motherhood and teaching, it is quite the challenge but as you mentioned being both a mom and teacher are 2 of my passions. Thanks again for all your help and efforts!! Anny

Beth, Thank you so much for the hardwork and obvious dedication you show for the teaching profession. I read your blog all the time and every time I am blown away by your creativy in the classroom! Thank you!

I was wondering how you incorporate your behavior management plan into the classroom. Do students earn "Captain Cash" as an extrinsic reward or are students intrinsically driven with the "bucket filling"? Or is it a combination? Thank you again for everything you do!


Thanks for your thoughtful and informative comments! I look forward to reading the book this summer!

We have been a bucket-filling school now for years. We had the great bucket-filling assembly a few years ago and continue to have the bucket-filler staff return to our school each year to work with certain grade levels. I'm sure that I will love your new book, and I will certainly recommend it to the other teachers at my school!


Hi Beth!

Please let me know how you like the book! The stories are all very positive in their messages, and each bucketfilling character is someone I would like any of my five children to emulate. REAL people, not fictional characters, can be awesome role models if our children just know about them! Would love your feedback after reading True Bucketfilling Stories: Legacies of Love. By the way, Carol McCloud started out in the bucketfilling business by answering an ad in the newspaper placed by my father, Merrill Lundgren "The Bucket Man", the first person in the country to take this message to children. He is still teaching, too, at age 91! His picture and foreword are in the first printing of Carol's book! I worked with Carol for six months before she left and started her own company. She was a pleasure to work with, if only for a short time.

Beth, I am returning to the classroom in September after six years of literacy coaching. I have been a follower of your class webpage and blog for probably four years now and you inspire me DAILY.

It's so funny to read the comment about requests because that is exactly what I was posting to ask you! I was wondering how you manage discipline in your classroom. Is it partially through your classroom economy?

If you could post on the topic of discipline/classroom management for today's children, I would be forever grateful as I trust and respect your wisdom immensely!


Thanks so much for joining our discussion!! It's exciting to see your comment! I just purchased the book you recommended and look forward to using it with my third graders.

Thanks again, Beth

Marianne and Suzan,

While I do not have experience doing this with younger students, I really do think it would work. Of course you would have to do a lot of modeling to show your students what it means to "fill a bucket." Perhaps you (the teacher) could spend the first month of school recognizing students who you see filling other students' buckets before having the kids actually fill real buckets in your classroom. Also, the book "Have You Filled a Today?" is written in way that would make sense even to your young students.

Good Luck!


Hi Everyone! It's wonderful to read your exciting posts about bucketfilling. Have you seen the new book about bucketfilling for older students, 3rd grade and older? It is called True Bucketfilling Stoires: Legacies of Love. It has all 5-star ratings on Amazon and children and adults of all ages love it! Read it, and give me your feedback. Thanks!

Like Marianne, I'm curious: could you do the bucket idea with younger kids? I am teaching kindergarten next year and want to instill the desire to be nice to others without using physical rewards like treats or toys. Is the concept age-appropriate?

Thank you!

The bucket filling idea sounds great! Has anyone done this with PreK, 4 and 5 year olds?

Here is a link to Mrs. Walker's 4th Grade website with lots of great ideas for bucket-filling. Check it out! http://www.steveandcat.net/mrswalker/bucket_fillers.htm


I'm glad you like the idea! Be sure to get the book over the summer so that you can read it to your class in the fall:)


I love this idea! I think I will try it next year. Thanks


I actually like your idea of "blog requests!" Perhaps I will begin adding that to the end of future posts. I prefer to blog about what readers want to know, and I am always trying to decide what my readers want to learn more about!

I am planning to do a post on Math Workshop next month. I will add a "Math on the Water" section to that post so you can learn exactly what it is and how I use it.

Thanks for your suggestion!


Beth, I recently found your website and blog. Thank you so much for sharing your classroom and ideas! I was wondering if you take blog topic requests? I was intrigued by your "Math on the Water" bulletin board and wondered what your routine for math review looked like? Thanks again for sharing your teaching life, I've gotten many good ideas from you.


I'm glad you have found my website to be useful upon your return to teaching! I hope things are going well for you back in the classroom!

You asked about the Word Study Center activities and the word study program we use in our classroom. Last year my teaching partner and I created our own lists for each week of the school year. Each week a challenge list and a regular list is sent home based in students' performance on a pre-test. Students also have individualized words to study based on spelling inventories given at the beginning of the year. On the final test, students are given ten additional words that they were not able to study so that we were able to determine if they have mastered the application of the pattern taught for the week.

After implementing the program for one year, my teaching partner and I have been spending time reviewing each list and making some changes each week. Since the program continues to be a work in progress, we are not posting the lists online until I feel that they are "perfect." The books/programs we use to help us create the lists and determine our sequential teaching of specific patterns for our third graders are Words their Way by Donald R. Bear and Word Study Lessons (Grade 3) by Fountas and Pinnell Words their Way: http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_bear_words_3/ Word Study Lesssons: http://www.heinemann.com/products/002132.aspx

Many of our ideas for word study center activities come from common board games and card games. I just use tables in Microsoft Word to create cards for the games, and I use clipart from MS Word or Printshop to create the board games.

Some of our word study center activities also come from teacher resource books. Here is a link to the Scholastic Teacher Store: http://shop.scholastic.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StoreCatalogDisplay?storeId=10001&catalogId=10002&langId=-1

If you search using the terms "centers" or literacy centers," you will find a variety of useful center materials!

I hope these resources help you out!


What a treasure chest your blog is! I taught for 13 years before taking 5 years off to be at home with my daughter, and I returned to the classroom in January. After years of teaching 4th and 5th grade, I have found 3rd to be a nice change, and I love seeing how you run your classroom.

I'm curious about the Word Study games and activities you mention on your class website. Are these commercial products or games you have created? As I start planning for next year, I would love to create a spelling program like the one you describe. Any resources you can recommend would be welcome. Thanks so much!

Lori L. (comment #4) mentioned a book called "How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids" I just checked it out, so I am adding the link to the book for anyone else who is also interested: http://www.amazon.com/How-Full-Your-Bucket-Kids/dp/1595620273

Thanks Lori!



Congrats on your new job teaching 3rd grade! I absolutely love 3rd grade, as I have been teaching it for the past 7 years. The kids are old enough to really do some great thinking and writing, but they are also still young enough to get excited about nearly everything we do! I taught 5th grade and 2nd grade in the past, and 3rd grade is definitely my favorite! Good luck with your new position! I'm glad that you have enjoyed reading my blog!

Thanks for posting your comments!


Just wanted to thank you. I've been reading your blog and just soaking in everything you do for the past two years. This year I taught kindergarten--my first year--and on Friday I found out I got the job I wanted teaching 3rd grade at another school! I am SOOO excited about 3rd grade. I have done writing workshop in my kindergarten classroom and the kids have done great, but I look forward to how much more 3rd graders can do and completely implementing the elements and structure of a full reading/writing workshop in my classroom. Thanks for being such a great mentor teacher for so many of us!


After I read the students' bucket-filler sheets, I return them to the students and they take them home. I like sending them home so that parents are also aware of the bucket-filling that is taking place in our classroom.



It's great to hear from other teachers who are doing bucket-filling in their classrooms. I'm glad my ideas will help you add to your own bucket-filling activities in your classroom. I'd love to hear about any different ideas you implement in your own classroom to promote bucket filling!



The fifth grade teachers at our school do bucket-filling too, and they agree that it is just as effective in the upper grades as it is in the lower grades. In fact, the 5th grade students are more able to thoroughly understand the concept and internalize the meaning of being a bucket-filler when they are older!

Thanks for your comment!


I love this idea and am going to try it. What do the kids do with the bucket filler sheets that get returned to them?

Beth, Our school has used the bucket-filling idea this year as well. Thanks for all of the addition ideas and ways to promote bucket filling. I look forward to adding a few things in next year.

I also found How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids by:Tom Rath to be a great book to read aloud as well.

I use bucket filling with my fifth graders. I agree that it may seem a bit juvenile, but my kids love it and it has really helped them think of the simple ways to make people feel good. I love using this in my classroom!


Thanks for sharing your creative idea for bucket-filling! I'm sure the students love getting mail!


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