Paper airplanes are the greatest thing that could ever happen to a kid. 

Seriously. It’s like the kids at Mark Twain had never seen a paper airplane before. We walked into the room and proclaimed, “We’re going to make paper airplanes today!” And suddenly I had twenty kids swarming me wanting me to make paper airplanes.

What do I do? I thought to myself. The question wasn’t really was I going to make the airplanes – I did not – it was how much do you do for your students? Nothing would get accomplished if every teacher did their students’ homework. The same principle should apply even with paper airplanes.

So, first I tried to gather everyone around and show them the process all myself. “First you fold it in half hot dog style then…Are you paying attention? Then…Hey, wait! Where are you going?” Their eyes wandered, their ears picked up on something more interesting, and suddenly I was left their on my own while they still expected me to make their airplanes.

My second approach was a little more successful. I took the ones that still needed help aside and made them go through the steps with me. “Okay, so you take one corner and fold it in. Now, can you do that on the other side?” Little by little their frustration turned into excitement as they saw the finished product come to life: it was a sleek, aerodynamic jet.

I learned a lot from just seeing how the kids reacted to the different approaches I took. (And I’ve noticed this with past classes too.) When you took them out of big groups and away from distractions like friends or other activities going on in the room, they were much more likely to be receptive and responsive to what you were saying. Their attention even lasted longer in one-on-one or small group settings. And when you give them the means to make something that’s theirs – something that’s not just an assignment for them to complete – they’re a lot more likely to share.

Something else I learned is that with just three magic words the chaos that can sometimes be our classroom can be controlled: “If you can hear me, clap your hands.” … Complete silence. And it worked every time. I just wanted to share this because it made me feel good to see this sometimes rowdy bunch of kids freeze and wait for instructions. You could have heard a pen drop. I think this trick is so effective because it’s disguised as a game. Feel free to steal it!


Song Lyric Paper Airplanes: Make two rows with the tables in the room. Have the students sit on one side of the tables—so that students on opposite tables face each other.  Give each student a piece of blank paper. Have them write the first line of their new song on the top of the page. Next the students turn their piece of paper into a paper airplane. Then they fly it across the room—the student who receives, catches the airplane opens it up and writes the next line. The students continue to fly their airplanes back and forth until they finish the song.  Then each student sings his or her song to the class!

-Derek Kellison


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