Writing on Desks: A Novel Approach to Skill Practice

  • Situation

    As a math teacher, I must have students practice new problems daily. We typically use paper or worksheets I have prepared. When this part of class begins, I have some students who just sit and do not participate. They are not disruptive but there is also no attempt to try the problems. I know they can probably do the work – or at least attempt it. I do have a few other students who just start talking during this part of class. Is there any way to change these behaviors or motivate them to try the problems?

  • Summary

    There are many ways to motivate students. One strategy is to provide them an opportunity to respond in an unexpected way. If your desks are laminate, allow students to practice their problems by writing directly on their desks using dry erase markers and socks as erasers. This ‘perk’ will be so novel to them as the rule has always been, ‘No writing on desks!’ In addition, many students like using white boards for the sensory input and the independence it affords , but being allowed to write on their desk can greatly increase the motivation. Writing is easier, quicker, and provides immediate reinforcement! Establish simple rules for your classroom and watch student motivation and participation increase.

  • Definition

    Motivation increases when providing novel and unexpected ways for students to respond. Writing on desks provides this unique opportunity and also makes the writing process easier as well as fun.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Laminate desks


    Old socks or rags


    Dry erase markers for all students

  • Process

    1. Begin by telling your students that it is time to start practicing their math problems.

    2. When they take out paper and pencil, quizzically ask them what they are doing. This kicks off the motivation of the ‘unexpected’.

    3. Next state, ‘No, not pencil and paper!’ Take a dry erase marker and demonstrate by writing a math problem directly on the desk.

    4. Give directions for the task with whatever rules are needed for the activity. Specify that this is a special situation where writing on the desk is permissible. State that if students show that they can be responsible with this activity, they will be able to do this again.

    5. Use this motivator to practice spelling, handwriting, or comprehension question answers too.

    Thank you to Christine Nelson, math teacher, for introducing us to this motivational tool!

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Head Over Heels Blog (Blog with description and photos of strategy in action)


    writing on desks (photos of strategy in action)


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