The students would always show up with them; stacks and stack of yellow post-its. My pile in the cabinet would grow year after year with graduated student names, not quite collecting dust, but definitely not being utilized. We used them for reading sure, after all, how else would we mark all of our thoughts, but other than that, I had not understood the power of the post-its quite yet. That changed a few years, when after an aha moment prompted by a student, I finally realized just how much power a small post-it can really hold.
So what can you use them for beside the obvious?
Give your reluctant speakers a voice. Every year I have a few students that have so much in their heads but seemingly few ways to express it. Whether it be due to shyness, self-doubt, or any other barrier, these students would rather the teacher think they don’t know an answer than share it with the class. Behold the mighty post-it! I speak to my students beforehand, hand them some, and ask them to write down their thoughts, their comments and questions as the discussion progresses. At the end, they hand them in to me so that I can see their thinking. Often I use them as a way to affirm their thoughts as well, hoping to build their self-confidence.
Level the playing field. Some of my students are really quick thinkers that usually get it right the first time, others are more meticulous, sifting through various opportunities, possibilities, and methods before finding an answer. Rather than make our sharing times a race for who is the fastest thinker, I have students write down their thoughts. If a child is done, I ask them to add more while we wait for others to think through their answers. I can walk around and see their thinking without them feeling the pressure to come up with something brilliant on the spot.
Creates visual thinking maps. This goes hand-in-hand with having them write thoughts down as a class; if students continue to add their thoughts, they can lay them out in front of themselves as their thinking hopefully deepens. They can also all add more thoughts to something they had previously written and see their thinking grow. It is quite powerful for a child to see how much they have to offer to the world in terms of their ideas.
As a quick assessment. I always have small groups created for possible re-teaching but nothing beats my post-it groups. Once we have done our mini-lesson, I ask students to apply it right then on a post-it and hand it to me. I can quick flip through them and immediately see who needs to be re-taught or just needs a check-in.
A story starter. Sometimes I have students brainstorm possible topics for a new writing assignments and then lay them out on a table. Everyone can then shop for ideas for stories and borrow others by simply taking them. For students who have no idea what to write about, this can be an easy way to get started.
As surprise book recommendations. If a student loves a book, I ask them to place a post-it in it with their thoughts or recommendation right in the book. That way when the next student open it up, they get to see another child’s thought, whether it is from someone they know or someone they don’t. The power of a student recommendation cannot be replicated.
An affirmation. I have been doing the “I have noticed…” post-its for two years and I cannot tell you how fun it is to hand to students. All it is is a post-it starting out “I have noticed…” and then whatever great thing I have seen. Sure, they take time to write but the students take them to heart. Every year, I have a few students leave them on my table as well on their own accord, I keep them all.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.