Salting the Oats

Oct 08, 2019 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


Teachers understand that students enjoy a good contest. The possibility of winning a coveted prize or a tasty treat can inspire even the most reluctant student to strive for success. But how can we as teachers leverage that innate desire to win something fun in our own students? In today’s blog post, two experienced IEW teachers share some fun ideas for “salting the oats” in their own classes.

First up is Lori Verstegen, author of several of IEW’s popular theme-based courses. She has created an innovative ticketing system that students love. Following that is online instructor Kim Murphy, who shares her unique twist on incorporating tickets into her teaching.

We hope these two veteran IEW instructors inspire you to create your own ticket system that ignites your students’ interest and motivates them to do their best.

From Lori:

I’m always amazed at what my students will do for tickets. I purchase a roll of raffle tickets from an office supply store. In addition, I make 5-, 10-, and 25-point tickets printed on colored paper. (A table with two columns and five rows works well.) Students may earn tickets in many ways. 

The first thing the kids look for when a graded assignment is returned is not their grade but how many tickets they earned. The power of tickets in this case is that they are a tangible way of saying, “good job,” and everyone likes positive reinforcement. Here are ways assignments can earn tickets in my classes:

  1. Checklist requirements met = 5 tickets

  2. Each vocabulary word added and used correctly = 1 ticket
    I put a maximum of 30 for this. Each of the theme-based books includes vocabulary words. I allow students to look ahead and use any words for the current year, and I also allow students to use vocabulary words from previous years. The maximum makes it fairer to students new to my classes. It also helps avoid too many vocabulary words being awkwardly crammed in.

  3. Outstanding elements of style = 1 ticket
    I try to find at least one element to acknowledge in every paper. I write these at the bottom of each student’s checklist as I am grading his or her paper. Each is worth one ticket.

  4. A picture = 5 tickets
    This may be cut and pasted from the Internet or hand drawn.

In addition to the above, which apply to every assignment, I sporadically have contests such as “best title” or “best decoration.” Students email me their submissions the day before class, and I cut and paste them onto a list. In class students vote for their favorite without knowing to whom each belongs. (They may not vote for their own.)

I also play a variety of review games in my classes. Many of the Teacher’s Manuals for IEW’s theme-based books include suggestions for incorporating games into the lessons. In a classroom setting, most games are team games. I break the class into three teams. Each player of the winning team gets ten tickets; each player on the second place team gets five tickets.

The students “cash in” their tickets twice: during the class before Christmas break and during the last class of the academic year.

For the Christmas gift exchange, I have the students do the following:

  1. Each student brings a wrapped gift.

  2. Students put their tickets in an envelope with their name and number of tickets written on the outside and turn them in to you. You organize them from least to greatest.

  3. The student with the least number of tickets chooses a gift and opens it.

  4. The next student now may choose a new gift or take the one already opened. If he takes the one opened, the first student now may open a new one.

  5. Continue in this way. Each time a new student is called up, he may take an opened gift or open a new gift. Each time a gift is taken from someone, he has the same options.

  6. There are a few rules regarding “taking” the gifts.

  1. Each round, the same gift may only be taken three times. After three times it is frozen for that round only. A new round begins every time a new player is called up, and all the counting starts over. This way gifts will not be “frozen” for the students with the most tickets.

  2. No take-backs. A player may not take back the gift taken from him in the same round it was taken. However, he can take it back in a new round.

  3. No one may take from the student with the most tickets. This student will go last and, therefore, have his choice of everything that has been opened (plus the one unopened).

The game ends when the last gift is opened.

I handle the end-of-the-year auction a little differently.

  1. Students bring one to three items to auction to class (unwrapped). These can be new, or they can be items they have at home and think someone else would like. I fill in with items from the dollar store and with candy. Two items per student total works well.

  2. Students put their tickets in an envelope with their name and number of tickets written on the outside and turn them in to you.

  3. On a whiteboard you write the students’ names and number of tickets in order from greatest to least. Instead of having students physically hand you tickets when they buy and sell, you can add and subtract from their totals.

  4. To begin, ask the student with the most tickets which item he would like to have auctioned first. When he chooses, he is bidding, so he should choose something he would like. Bids must begin at 25 or higher.

  5. Students who would like the item continue to bid. The highest bidder receives the item. His bid is subtracted from his ticket total and added to the total of the person who brought the item. (Note: I set a maximum of 100 tickets to be added, regardless of how many tickets were paid.)

  6. Repeat this process, letting the second student listed on the board choose the next item. Then the third student, and so forth.

  7. Important: Once a student has purchased an item, he may not bid on another item until everyone has bought one item. (This means that the last person will get his pick of what is left for 25 tickets.)

  8. Once everyone has one item, it is open bidding for what is left.

From Kim:

My students earn tickets for every assignment they complete, and they can also earn them for winning title contests and reading their compositions aloud in class. To accommodate for the range of ability and IEW experience, a student can earn between 3 and 6 tickets per assignment. That way there is not a huge difference between what the “best” student earns and what the struggling student can earn. I want them all to feel rewarded for their work!

In a class of students, I will place the graded compositions into stacks based on how they naturally separate in points. For instance, if an assignment is worth 40 points, I may have 3 stacks: 39–40 points get 6 tickets, 35–38 points get 5 tickets, 30–34 points get 4 tickets, and anything below earns 3 tickets. Very often, for the youngest students, I’ll just have two stacks. My default is to make sure they are encouraged and want to continue to try.

I ask parents to donate at least one thing to the semester-end auction. Most provide several items. These range from water guns, slinkies, and slime to yummy snacks like chips, chocolate, and candy. I recommend parents check the dollar stores and the $1–$3 bins at the front of a box store. I tell them to shoot for something $4 or less.

Students sometimes lose their tickets or forget to bring them on auction day. After this trauma, I have learned to keep a list in my planner of what the ticket spreads were for each assignment. That way I can 1) award the right number of tickets for students who turn in their work late, and 2) make an estimate of how many an average student will earn throughout the semester so that if a student forgets his tickets, I can offer a reasonable ticket credit the student can use for auction day. This record-keeping is vital for me because I do the auction for four classes of elementary and middle-school students, about sixty students total.

We always have more items than students, so I do the auction in “rounds.” Each student must have won an item in Round 1 before we can move on to Round 2. That way every student wins at least one thing.

It’s fun to watch the students stare each other down as they’re bidding on that elusive Lego® minifigure or that sparkling can of Pringles®. I often think they will feel cheated that they worked all semester to win a can of Pringles, but I’ve never heard a complaint. They really seem to be motivated by the tickets themselves, and what they win at the auction always seems to be worth it to them.

Favorite story: A mom once came up with the idea of donating a “mystery item” for the auction, and kids were reluctant to bid on it. When the student who won it opened it to find a $5 gift card to a popular fast-food restaurant, the kids learned that lesson well. Now they anticipate the “mystery item” because they know it’s going to be something really good! And of course, now I put a mystery item in every auction because it’s so fun for me to watch their reactions.

Lori and Kim have shared some excellent ideas for motivating students through their use of tickets. Do you have a game or other system that you use that rewards students? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to share it in the comments of this post.


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