Link Up! Cumulative Form and Classroom Management
I had to take a minute or two and share this fun little classroom management strategy that I stumbled upon. It all started as I began to look for another way to teach cumulative form. In case you’re not familiar, a cumulative song is just a song with a simple verse structure that gets modified by adding in something new each time you sing it, making each verse longer than the verse before. I love cumulative songs like the Court of King Caratacus, An Austrian Went Yodeling, 12 Days of Christmas, The Green Grass Grew All Around, and She’ll Be Coming Over the Mountain. Cumulative songs are great fun for 2nd grade (introducing), 3rd grade and beyond. Kids have so much fun ESPECIALLY if you introduce a new action for each of the different verses. For example, with “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” we add in a new action with each new set of words: wave cowboy hat for “yee-haw,” pull on horse reigns for “whoa back,” and so on.
Well, I had one class that was having a particularly difficult time understanding and identifying the cumulative form and they were also having a big behavior management problem. This was a class of talkers who were constantly getting out of their assigned spot and messing with the kid next to them. I needed an incentive to get them back on track and keep them on task for the whole lesson. Bonus points if it could help with teaching the cumulative form.
One day when I was picking up copies from the printer I noticed something. Our printer is in the math resource room and as I was waiting for something to come through printer I started looking through the math manipulatives. I found all sorts of cool games and geometric shapes along with some other fun math-related manipulatives. Then I found this amazing jar of colorful plastic links. No doubt the general ed teachers use these to teach patterns and create science projects. I had an idea so I grabbed my copies from the printer and also grabbed the jar.
The next time my kiddos came through the door I said “I have some special prizes for kids today. I’m going to hand out these links to whoever is doing a great job sitting in their assigned spot and raising their hand to answer questions.” Well, immediately a lot of the kids went to their seat and sat right down. I awarded one link to about 5 different kids who went and sat quietly. Then I said “I’m going to keep handing out links to anyone who follows directions and participates well today. I’ve got a couple options for prizes and whoever ends up with the most links at the end of class gets to choose whichever prize they want.” (I didn’t tell them, but I had suckers, pixie sticks, School Bucks, etc. These are sort of standard prizes at my school but the idea that they got to choose and that they didn’t know exactly what they’d get was a cool incentive for them.
Amazingly, kids began to immediately change their behavior. As a whole, students were more attentive and began to participate more frequently. Also the link worked as a “fidget” toy so that had something to move around in their hand even while they sat quietly. If someone started to act out I could reward the kids around him/her and the acter-outer kid quickly realized they weren’t earning any links. For answers sometimes I would hand out two links and sometimes I would hand out one link. When we watched a video later I circulated through the class and dropped links into the laps of anyone who was watching quietly.
We went on through class learning and singing “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” and adding in new actions with each verse. Along the way I tossed out links to kids who gave me answers, were singing, or maybe who needed the “attaboy” to get back on track. I made sure to give links to the kiddos who has some behavior problems and reward them doing the RIGHT thing. Right before the end of class we talked about the definition of cumulative form ad how you keep adding in new verses and words with each new time through. Then I made a connection between the words cumulative and accumulate. A kid raised his hand and said that he had been accumulating links just like we were accumulating new actions and words in the song. It was an awesome connection moment that he did all on his own (and he earned two or three links for that great answer).
At the end of class I gave out a prize to whoever had the most links and by the end everyone had at least one link. Many of my troublemaker kids felt great about this day because they earned at least a few links for doing a good job. To get them to line up I said, “Anyone with one link can come up, put away in the jar, and then be the FIRST in line.” Kids with one link liked this because even though they had the least amount of links they got an award when lining up. “Anyone with two links can come up, put their links away, and then line up.” I made sure to verbally congratulate kiddos for having so many links as we went on.
Pros – What Worked
The links worked really well for kids with behavior problems. They were absolutely motived to earn links and get the chance to choose their prize. If they were sitting quietly and following directions I would toss them a link. This type of reward also made it especially easy to award those quiet kids who always do a great job and pay attention but sometimes get looked over. Students responded immediately and the links didn’t get abused or become a problem most of the time. Another pro was that I could toss links across the classroom (which kids thought was fun) and didn’t have to worry about it hitting/hurting someone since they’re super light plastic.
Compared to other little rewards that I’ve used in the past, I like this a little better because I don’t have to waste class time peeling stickers off a sheet and I’m not giving away sugar to each one of them. I also like it because it’s a reward that keeps on giving. They put the links away at the end of class and I can immediately reuse them unlike stickers, suckers, school bucks, etc. which have to be replenished at some point. I didn’t care if a couple links “walked off” with the kids because I had a jar of 1,000!
Cons – What I Might Change
All in all, this seemed to work well with this difficult class, so I tried it with another of my “trouble” classes. The next day I had some of those difficult kids asking “Are you going to hand out links again?” At that point, I counted it a success. If they were motivated to earn/learn then something was going right.
Do you have any thoughts about how you might make this work in your classroom or ideas on how you would modify the reward system? I’d love to hear your suggestions so that it makes this behavior reward even better! Share in a comment below!