3 Ways to Help Kids Do Their Best

Did you ever say something totally unplanned while teaching that really stuck with your kids? For me it was the expression "stick figures in a hurricane!" I have used those words again and again, year after year, but here is how it started....
I was talking to my class about doing their personal best work, taking their time, making their pictures match their words, yada yada yada. To emphasize my point, I was modeling how carelessly some of them were working. "If I only look at your picture, it looks like you are writing about stick figures in a hurricane!" I quickly drew a stick figure and scribbled all over it. They all giggled and insisted they NEVER do that, but the example stuck with them.  I made a big X over the picture and hung it on the board. Eventually there was a whole collection of stick figures in hurricanes hanging on that board.  During inside recess, the kids would crack themselves up as they would draw them and then beg me to add them to the board.
They were being silly at recess, but the expression worked. When they were illustrating their work, I could sometimes hear them say "NO stick figures in a hurricane!" They would concentrate on making a meaningful pictures, adding details, and coloring carefully.

Here are 3 simple tricks to avoid having stick figures in hurricanes:

I have found that you really have to TEACH kids how to do their personal best work. Each year I make best work anchor charts with my class. We talk about the characteristics of our best work. I like using I can statements because it emphasizes the fact that they CAN do it! This one is for illustrations:

We spend a lot of time practicing how to do our best work. Spending time practicing our personal best is just as important as practicing any other classroom routine! You can get the anchor chart and all of the practice pages here.

I will model how to do our personal best throughout the year. One of my favorite ways is to make an example and a non-example right in front of the kids. Before I pass out a paper to my kiddos, I will hang two of the papers on the board.  I will carefully write and color on one of them. I work at the speed I would really work if I needed to turn the sample into someone, which is actually rather slow. (You don't have to finish it, just do enough so they get the idea.) I will write and scribble on the other really quickly. Be prepared for giggles- it's so funny to watch a teacher be messy!
I take a step back and ask the kiddos which one is my personal best. Of course, they will all point to the neat paper. "But I got done first with this one! What is wrong with it?" I will say as I point to the non-example. Be prepared for the world's most brutal critics! They will tell you how it looks terrible, how you didn't even try, how you were rushing, and how it's the messiest thing they ever saw in their whole entire 6 years of life.

3. LIE
What??? That's right- sometimes a little lie can work wonders! I usually use these fibs when I am trying to encourage  my kiddos to do their best. Here are two of my favorite best work lies that work like a charm:

I was talking to my friend Mrs. B, who teaches 6th grade, and she saw your work on your desks. She said it is better than some 6th grade work! Can you believe it???

Can I take a picture of  you working?  I save pictures of kids doing their personal best in a special album... No sorry, you can't see it right now. It's at my house.

What do I do with all those beautiful papers I get? I put them in the Best Work Basket! I keep in on my counter. When I see someone who has done their personal best, I let them put their paper in the basket. At the end of the week I pull out 3 or 4 papers and those kids get to eat lunch in the classroom with me! You can grab the basket labels for free here.

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