Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

The Power of a Paper Clip to Reward Risk & Encourage Thoughtful Questions

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file7731247069025“We’re going to play a game!”….what a thrill that is for students to hear…and then they come back with the obvious question (to them) “Will there be prizes?”. Oh my yes…and what prizes there will be! For you see the only prize you can earn in my class is …a paper clip. But these paper clips are not just your ordinary paper clip. Oh no – I offer the 2″ one – the ‘big’ one as the reward.  And I don’t call them ‘paper clips’. I refer to them as ‘extremely useful office products!”

Now I know what you are thinking. Paper clips? For a reward? Not cutesy Japanese erasers? Well I could spend a personal fortune on those. No the paper clip reward began one day when I had run out of my traditional ‘prizes’. And when they all oohed and aahed I thought “Well – I’ll never have to buy another prize again!”

But these paper clips are not just for games. In fact they typically make their appearance in other ways. Often they appear when a student notices and makes a connection to previous language learning …”Is this like…?”. When a student takes a risk to try to use – and even recombine – new learning in a new way.  When a student asks a question that stops and makes us all think, especially in the areas of cultural practice. The reward can come after a question or comment made while the whole class is working together or while they are working with their table/partner. Either way I like to announce it – to tell the student’s peers who I am rewarding and why. Sometimes when a student poses a question the class will chant “ペーパークリップ!ペーパークリップ!( paper clip! paper clip!). I then remind them that the clip cannot be asked for..it must be earned through thoughtful questions, taking risks and, very occasionally, calling ‘bingo!’.

It’s a small thing I know…but one that is very effective. I found this out when a graduating student gifted me a necklace made from the paper clips he had ‘won’ during his time in class.

Simple but powerful….and ultimately useful …the paper clip!

C

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Colleen for giving me an ‘out’ for being, what I have felt like for years, the only Japanese teacher in the world who didn’t give out material prizes!

    I’m definitely going to give this a try from now on…

  2. Thank you Brenda…you aren’t alone! And the clip is one step away from nothing (I am not a fan of prizes because they become the focus)…yet the clip is enough of something to feel special!

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