by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.
You know those little box tops on the packaging of General Mills products? I discovered a way to turn them into GOLD! Well, maybe not literally, but these are some very valuable commodities in my classroom, and they are quite an unexpected motivator!
My school collects General Mills Box Tops – it’s a great program that pays $.10 per box top directly to my school. In an effort to boost collections, my school began a “Who Rules the School?” campaign in which the students could place their box tops in the “boys” or “girls” box, and one box top (or Campbell’s soup label) equals one vote. The box with the most votes wins not only the coveted title of ruling the school, but a free dress day (the students wear uniforms at my school). This always causes a big buzz around the school, so I decided to take it one step further! Since I’d accumulated lots of these Box Tops, I decided that instead of dividing them up half for the boys and half for the girls (which wouldn’t get either side ahead and seemed like a lot of work for me), I would give them away for correct answers during math class. All I can say is…Wow!… participation, correct answers, laughter, smiles, friendly competitive spirit… all of this suddenly increased! Who knew?!
It didn’t stop there, either! The students came into class saying, “I think I got all my math homework right. I can’t wait until math class!” After my initial thought of “Who are you, and what did you do with my students?” passed, I realized I had just stumbled into a super motivator, and I could hardly believe its effects! So of course, as a teacher, I milked it for all it was worth: I used it in other subjects, for when I caught someone doing something without being asked, for those that were prepared for class, and for those that asked good questions during class. The opportunities were endless! I especially liked that it gave an opportunity to reward students who aren’t normally in the class ‘spotlight’ or not as academically strong… pretty soon, everyone had earned rewards.
Perhaps the neatest part of the process was that when we all walked down the hall to the voting boxes, the students had such a proud look on their faces as they deposited their “votes.” Funny…some girls chose to place their box tops in the boys’ box and vice versa (How cute! 5th graders… I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand them!).
Ground rules: I give boys and girls equal opportunity when giving away Box Tops, and I tell them that the Box Tops are to be treated carefully – if they’re lost, so sorry! Also, if your school doesn’t do a school-wide Box Tops campaign, you could easily have a class-wide competition instead, or if you see many classes during the day, change them to “Which Class Rules?” If free dress isn’t applicable, perhaps other prizes could be free homework pass(es), extra recess or computer time, etc.
So, who rules the school? Maybe it’s the girls, or maybe it’s the boys. But in my book, General Mills Box Tops rule, hands down!
Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.