Paper Plates as Teaching Tools? Great!

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Set new tables for learning in student learning spaces.

New table settings create individual learning spaces for students.

If you’ve been serving up holiday picnic fare on decorative paper plates, chances are you have leftovers…not just the kind that need refrigeration…leftover paper goods.

Transform picnic supplies into attractive attention-getting teaching resources. Your students will be surprised and delighted! You will also be modeling conservation.

New clean paper plates are visual feasts. An unused plate is like a blank slate; it’s waiting to be filled with something wonderful. Not just edibles…incredible learning opportunities for K – 5 kids. With crayons or markers in the hands of a creative teacher and/or student, a paper plate can become:

  • a clock
  • a face
  • a sundial
  • a drawing of healthy food
  • an abstract design
  • a maze
  • a frame for a photo
Start saving leftover party supplies now to use later at the start of a new semester. Set aside enough to make individual table settings for learning on desks or tables. Save this post and when the time suits you, follow five steps…

1. Count out paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic utensils, one set per student.

2. Make or use already-made student name tags to set at each “learning table.”

NOTE: The table items don’t have to match. Kids will enjoy a hodge-podge of items. The focus is on how each table item connects with learning. Read on.

3. Buy (or recycle) paper placemats, one per student. Optional: Ask a local restaurant to donate paper placemats for your educational project.

4. Arrange for an assistant (teacher or volunteer parent) to help you “set the tables” after school on the day before you plan to surprise the kids with this attention-getting trick.

5. On “trick” day post a sign on an easel near your classroom door that reads, WELCOME TO __________________’s (your name) CLASS-Y CAFE! Instruct the kids to find their name tags and table settings.

When your class is seated, announce that your cafe’s new tables for learning are much more than what they appear to be!

Ask students to pick up each table piece with you, one by one, and consider its (metaphoric) meaning – its connection to learning…

Placemat – represents a new study space for a new semester.

Paper Plate – stands for a serving dish, ready to receive all subjects, like items from a menu on a plate at a cafe.

Paper Cup – symbolizes drinking up knowledge. NOTE: Describe the meaning of each table item with words that are age-appropriate to your grade level. Even young children will get the basic idea.

Paper Napkin – a reminder to keep your learning space clean enough to show respect for yourself and others in the class-y cafe.

Utensils – are like basic learning tools: pencils, etc. Optional: offer more detail about each utensil. For example, you can say that the knife stands for breaking up a problem into pieces to better handle the challenge.

Open up your new table for learning discussion to allow students to offer connections they think of to make the most of this attention-getting trick. Tell the class that you want them to keep their setting pieces when you clear the tables. They can store them as you direct or take them home.

When it’s time to “eat” you have more options…serve up an edible treat to delight the kids – cookies or some “dessert” to wrap up the experience.

You can also open up a (real) pizza box and give each student a “piece” of paper pizza to put on their paper plate. I’ve formatted my pizza activity sheets with instructions and a pizza shape that kids can cut out after their writing.

Serve up (paper) pizza slices at your learning tables.

Have students write down, inside the pizza piece, five personal goals for the new school semester. Explain that the goals need to connect with learning.

Setting a new table for learning offers other opportunities for teaching…

Decorate your classroom with balloons that include optimistic words related to starting something new, like a school year. WISH, the featured word in my blog pic below, has powerful meaning

Make a wish at your new learning table!

for children and adults. Other words, like LUCK, DREAM and HOPE, connect well with new beginnings, too.

Ask the class, “Does wishing, hoping, dreaming really help get good work done?” “Do we reach our goals by just having good luck? NO! Hard work is the key,” tell your kids.  Ryan Lochte, one of the (American) 2012 gold medal swimmers, conveys this message well. To paraphrase: “It wasn’t luck, or a dream, or a wish, or a hope that  led me to win. I SWAM HERE!”

Well-known athletes in your community or country may have expressed similar sentiments that you can share to inspire students. Google the athlete’s name to check.

Come to think of it, paper plates can also be made into achievement medals, with the magic of colored markers. Have you used paper goods as teaching tools in other creative ways? Please send comments to share.

Setting a new table for learning is especially effective at the outset of a new semester or school year. But, if you and your students relish this attentionology trick, use it with other seasonal themes or at New Year’s, as well.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Stop back by on Wednesday for Mid-Week Focus.

Talk with you soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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  1. […] This can be a class art activity or you can buy inexpensive paper […]

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Students are acting sluggish in class.

Solution: Show "The BIG E," for ENERGY, an enlarged letter E (or other first letter for the word energy in your alphabet), available in craft stores. Remind the class that energy is a must-have item to get good work done. Tell the class to show you "The BIG E!"

Related Posts: Show Off "The Big E"