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Tools for Teaching: The Amazing Sticky Note

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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This week, I watched a science teacher use sticky notes in a very creative way. To check for understanding, the teacher gave each student a sticky note and asked each of her science students to give concrete examples of the vocabulary that they had learned in class. As the students exited the classroom, they placed the sticky note on the door. After the students all left the classroom, the teacher collected the sticky notes and was able to tell right away which students understood the concepts and which ones needed some targeted assistance.

This not only helps the teacher, but the students also were able to confront their exact understanding of what they had learned and intuitively they understand the clear message that what they did in class today was important and they are expected to learn.

This got me thinking of all the other ways we use sticky notes to help students learn. We give students "way-to-go!" recognitions on sticky notes. I find that the more specific I am with my praise, the more power it has to reinforce the behavior. I put a note on a student's paper that complements her on her neat writing, and the next day, this student was much less withdrawn and more active in her participation. As a principal, I have seen teachers respond positively when they receive a positive sticky note about something great that I saw in a walk-through observation. Even email and texting have not replaced a well-placed sticky note for powerful communication.

In the Spanish classes I taught, I would use the small sticky notes to provide extra credit points as a reward for student participation and effort. I took a rubber stamp of a toucan that said Bravo! and created my Bravos! right on the sticky notes. If students made attempts to speak Spanish, answered correctly, did something nice, or won a game I would give them these by pealing off a sticky and placing it on their paper. The competition to obtain one was often fierce. The nice thing about this kind of extra credit is that the students are the ones that have to keep track of it. Because they are sticky, all they have to do is stick them on a test or a quiz. I put limits (only five Bravos! could be used on any quiz or test), so they couldn't save them up for the final. I also frequently had auctions of stuff that I got at workshops and conventions that they could bid on with Bravos!

Some of the ways I've seen sticky notes used in classrooms:

  • When reading difficult passages from technical texts, I have seen teachers encourage students to summarize what is being stated on a sticky note and then place the note in the margin so it sticks out a bit to make it easy to find in the future
  • Students use sticky notes to organize their folders, study cards and notepapers
  • Students storyboard their writing with sticky notes so they can be moved around. This matches the idea that not all of us think sequentially, and allows students to take advantage of ideas spawned out of order
  • Some students (particularly boys for some reason) when they get a pad of sticky notes seem to always want to draw the antics of stick men on the bottom of each one so that when they flip the pages, it appears that the stick men are moving. This actually requires planning and higher order thinking
  • Students comment on other student papers or work and give suggestions for improvement and compliments on sticky notes
  • Students sticky notes to identify things in the classroom, label items in a target language, or categorize items by type
  • Gallery walks in which students analyze poetry, quotes or philosophies by placing their responses on sticky notes
  • Teachers use colored sticky notes as disciplinary measures, green notes being exemplary behavior, and red ones warning of impending discipline if behavior doesn't change
  • Here's a recent Edutopia video that shows how one middle school teacher uses sticky notes to help her assess her students.

Who would have thought that simply putting a bit of semi-sticky glue on the back of a small piece of paper could be so powerful for student learning? How do you use sticky notes in your classroom?

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Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Comments (17) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Renee Murray's picture
Renee Murray
Instructional Coach at Holmes High School, Covington, KY

Don't forget that students can write on the sticky side, too. When you do a gallery walk but want students to have original ideas, have them write on the sticky side. You can then have a revealing of all comments at the end.

Amanda Parashar's picture

I created a rainbow like mural with blank sticky notes of different colors on a bulletin board for vocabulary and hung a marker with string to the bulletin board. When a student used a vocabulary word that we had learned in Language Arts in conversation, they got to go over to the mural and choose a sticky note to write their name and the word on. The mural got populated with names and words and was beautiful and once all the sticky notes where full, we took them down and let students put up a new colorful pattern of blank ones.

Penelope Vos's picture
Penelope Vos
Primary teacher from Australia, author of "Talking to the Whole Wide World"

Some of these ideas are great, and some actually need the colour and/or stickiness, but a lot of these don't.
"Stickies" are a problem for paper recycling, and encouraging kids to waste new paper unnecessarily is good for 3M, but not for the parents who buy them or the planet that sucks up the dyes and the glues and transport fumes.

Michelle Benedict's picture

Another option is to laminate strips and Velcro them to a surface poster hanging on the wall. Students could use dry erase markers to write their answers and no wasted paper!

Kasie Varney's picture
Kasie Varney

This is a wonderful way to see how much a student has learned throughout the lesson. I find it best to write two math problems on the board and have the students write their answers on the sticky note and hang it on the door as they walk out. It is an easy way for me to check for correctness. Many times, the students are more willing to try becuase they know others will be looking at their work. I have also found that writing little "Fabulous Work" notes on the sticky note and handed them to the students really encourages them!

Cassie Love's picture
Cassie Love
Graduate student working on my Masters in Reading and Math

WOW! I really liked the ideas you presented in this posting. I personally LOVE sticky notes and now I have a new use for them while subbing in different classrooms! I have experience in using them in small group settings. The group leaders will give points, starts or smileys if the kids are being good and on task. I can now evolve them into more of a functional use! Thanks for sharing your ideas and observations!

Morgan Cremin's picture
Morgan Cremin
5th Grade Teacher from NYC

I agree that sticky notes can be used in a variety of ways across all content areas. I use them in writing workshop to genereate seed ideas and for sequencing. In reading workshop my students use them in their independent reading books for stop and jot. I've also used them in math and science for graphing data. They are a wonderful way to assess studnt learning. I can have the students leave tem on the door or desk and then sort them into groups. I can quickly assemble small reading groups or identify children I need to confer with or maybe choose a topic for a minilesson. However, I also agree that they can be wasteful and expensixe. Luckily my school provides some but I have also requested them on my supply sheet. In regard to them being wasteful I encourage my students to use both sides and to always use the smallest one possible. In addition we have done math problems to get an idea of how many we were using as a class. We agreed that it was too much so we have cut back considerably.

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Author & Speaker, ADE , Founder of

Have you tried the Sticky Notes app for iPad? I've used it with my fifth graders during Reader's Workshop and it's great for independent reading, book clubs and literature circles. Check out some examples of how I've used this app in my classroom:

Susan Weikel Morrison's picture
Susan Weikel Morrison
Science Education Program Developer, Sci-Q Systems

I've seen small sticky notes used to create seating charts. This makes the charts easy to change when you change students' seating. If you photocopy the seating charts weekly, you can make notes about students on their squares, date the chart, and save it for future reference.

I've also tended to have long rows of sticky notes on my desk. On each was a something that needed to be retaught and a list of students that needed reteaching. That way, whenever there was a spare moment, I could meet with that group for a mini-lesson while others were doing seatwork or a project.

Ciro's picture

Another great resource I have found is A lot of teachers have been using it for Teaching students about the legislative process,
Finding a piece of legislation by identifying issues you care about, and writing a persuasive essay about it, and Helping students understand how current events lead to new bills. For more information you can email

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