Throwback Thursday {7.10.14} The Power of Popsicle Sticks

I am linking up with Teaching Trio and Teacher's Desk 6 today for Throwback Thursday and Technology Thursday!  I first posted about the Power of Popsicle Sticks at All Things Upper Elementary back in November. 

What's the last professional book that you read that truly impacted your students’ experiences in your classroom?  The answer to that question for me is Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam.
Not a cover that really grabs you and shouts “READ ME!”, huh?  When I found it in my school mailbox, I was quite tempted to set it aside.  However, we had a new ESL director at the time, and she was the one who had sent it to me to read.  I must admit, I wanted to set a favorable impression with her, so I decided that I should at least take the book home over the weekend and skim it...enough to be able to comment on a few topics.  Besides that, in her original email about this book, she had really sung its praises. Was it really all that?

So, home it went with me that Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning, I stepped onto my elliptical machine and balanced the book on the stand so that I could "multitask" while reading.  Wow, was I ever in for a shock!  This book really resonated with me.  I actually couldn’t put it down!  In fact, I finished the book by the end of the weekend! (Keep in mind that I had a 7-year-old and 4-year-old at the time, so stealing time to read at that point in my life was a daunting task…. Who am I kidding?!  It still is!)

In Chapter 3, Wiliam describes a classroom where a handful of dedicated students constantly raise their hands and contribute to the discussion, while the remainder of students in the classroom doodle, daydream, or "fly under the radar". The ultra-engaged students perform extremely well in school, as one would expect.  They are discussing the topic and interacting with the learning materials. Unfortunately, the performance of the disengaged students is suffering, as one would expect. Furthermore, the achievement gap is widening in this type of classroom.

While reading, I found myself thinking about the upper elementary classrooms in which I co-taught.  I had a strong hunch that the low engagement levels Wiliam described was nearly identical to what would be observed in the classrooms I taught in every day.  When I returned to school that Monday, my hunch was 100% verified.  A handful of students constantly raised their hands, while the other students either sat quietly or very obviously “spaced out”.

The very next day, my co-teachers allowed me to put some of Wiliam’s engagement strategies into action, and we noticed a remarkable difference immediately.  Allow me to share a couple of these strategies with you today! Below I describe the #1 change we made that seemed to significantly improve student engagement during lessons.

#1- The Power of the Popsicle Sticks!!

I bet many of you are saying to yourselves, “I have a cup like this in my classroom already!” Of the four classrooms I co-taught in that year, three of them already had a cup of Popsicle sticks with one student’s name printed on each stick.  However, we either weren’t using them correctly or we weren't using them with enough frequency.

We started using the cup CONSTANTLY.  (I’m serious…. We even instituted a “no-hands-in-the-air” policy.  Students didn’t need to bother raising their hands; we drew Popsicle sticks instead of calling on students raising their hand.)  Whenever we asked a question, we would provide wait time (often giving students a chance to talk to a partner), and then draw a Popsicle stick and announce the name. That student was then charged with answering the question.

I admit, I got a kick out of picking up the cup full of sticks at the beginning of a lesson and giving it a little rattle.  Kids would immediately sit up and look around.  It was a nonverbal way of saying “Pay attention…. your name may be called on to answer a question.”

Yes, the “pass” reply was still an option, but if a student passed, the question would eventually be bounced back to them and they would be asked to repeat the correct answer that another student had just given.

One fifth grade teacher I worked with eventually created two cups of popsicle sticks.  She kept one on her desk, and one on the other side of the room.  With that, at least one of the cups could easily be spotted and picked up at any given time.

Have you implemented Popsicle sticks to increase student engagement?  I'd love to hear your comments on their effectiveness in your classroom!

And now to link up with Teaching Trio for their Technology Thursday, I wanted to share a website with you that can randomly select names if you don't want to mess with the popsicle stick!

This website,, has a free random name generator.

Go to the website and click on "Edit/Save" below the spinner.

Delete the names that automatically appear, and enter your own students' names.
Click on the middle button, "Save this list as currently shown".

Your personalized spinner will appear.  You will be asked to provide a password.

Bookmark this link as a favorite for easy future access!

When you use this in your classroom, simply click on the spinner and a name will be selected!

Warning- one thing I do not like about this site is the applause that happens every time you pick a name.  If you have an Ipad in your classroom (or even access to an Iphone!), there is a free random name selector app called Random Name Selector Lite that you might want to check out, as well!  With this app, you can turn off the sound, and names are picked out of a top hat!

Do you know of other random name selector apps or websites?  Please share! 


  1. Thanks so much for linking up for TBT! I've never used popsicle sticks to randomly pick names; however, I have used the Class Tools website that you mentioned in your post. I actually forgot about it when I began using a small freeware program called The Hat to select names. When I was given a new laptop at the beginning of the last school year, I was unable to download The Hat due to security/password protection and skipped the whole random selection process. I'll be heading back to Class Tools once again. Thanks for the reminder. This is why I LOVE TBT posts!


    1. I have heard of The Hat, too! Another teacher recommended it to me. However, when I looked into it, it sounded like the site has had issues with security, so I decided not to download it.

  2. This is a fantastic website! I'm so excited for no more popsicle sticks on my desk. I am constantly knocking them over!! The kids always think I cheat when picking the sticks so now they can see it themselves. Thanks for sharing.

    I'm new to the blogging world! Check out my blog:

    1. Yes, I agree! Having the students see that names really ARE randomly being chosen is a definite advantage!

  3. I have a cup of sticks too, but I never use it as much as I should. I like the idea of a "no hand raising policy". This keeps everyone on their toes! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. I have a top hat with all the names in and use it in the same way - they definitely do sit up when I give it a rattle!
    Growing Little Learners

  5. Love popsicle sticks. I put numbers on instead of names so I can reuse. I also use a random selector on the computer like yours. Great tips!
    The Tech Crazy Teacher
    Teaching Trio

  6. Great ideas. I have recently put two of each name in the cup. This way they do not "check-out" once their name has been drawn. They may have another chance to answer. Teaching Science With Lynda

  7. I use popsicle sticks all day, everyday! I pull a stick after asking a question, I pull sticks to select partners, I pull a stick to select a "mystery person" when walking in the hall, etc. Sometimes if we're in a hurry and I don't use the sticks my kids will say, "Wait, why don't you pick a stick?" They love them as much as I do!
    If you use the classroom management site Class Dojo, it also has a randomizer tool.

  8. I use an app called Stick Pick. It looks like a can with Popsicle sticks in it. You can let the app randomly pick a student or peek, and pick a certain student. You also have the choice of leaving the stick out or putting it back in the can for a chance to be drawn again. It also allows you to pick a blooms level of questioning for each student and you can choose to assess their answer and keep track of that data within the app. It is not a free app, but I found it to be worth the money.

  9. I have four random choosers for my iPhone: iChoose, Random Draw, Decide4U, and Decide Now!