Desk Rent is Due Friday!

Jamie's Checkbook RegisterI realize you may have landed on ReadAloudPlays.com looking for some great reader’s theater to use this spring. If so, please click on the links at left. You’ll find dozens of engaging plays, and because most were originally published in Scholastic classroom magazines, you can rest assured they’ve been fully vetted by pro editors. But allow me to depart from “Happy Directing” for a moment to tell you about one of the most impactful products I offer…and it’s free.

No doubt you’ve had kids ask, “Why do we need to know this stuff?” In my classroom, we spend a lot of time talking about the “real world,” and nothing we do is more “real world” than The Checkbook Project. In my building, we implement it around this time of year with all our 4th and 5th graders. If we waited any longer, the kids would riot!

I want to encourage you to give it a try—and this is a great time of year to do so—but before you do, heed this warning:

In The Checkbook Project, kids maintain checkbook registers. They earn money by completing assignments, attending class, and passing tests. School is their job. They also pay fines for “breaking the law,” pay taxes, and rent or buy their desks. Kids who work hard and consistently attend class tend to do well, accumulating upwards of three grand by the end of May. Kids with poor study skills, poor attendance, or poor spending habits tend to struggle—so much so that some even end up in “the homeless shelter.”

The homeless shelter is a single desk around which kids gather when they don’t have the resources to rent their desks. Granted, it sounds a bit harsh. It may even be a bit controversial. Certainly, it gives me no pleasure to see Stevie, Pablo, or Cynthia crowded around a single desk at the front of the room. But isn’t it better Stevie, Pablo, and Cynthia experience the consequences of poor work ethic in fifth grade rather than on the mean streets of real life? After all, homeless shelters do exist in the real world, and perhaps it’s the threat of landing there that keep many of us working hard.

Click on the cover for more details!Poverty and homelessness are serious problems in America. There are plenty of folks out there facing such grim prospects despite their best efforts. The Checkbook Project isn’t meant to degrade them. Better, the project prompts numerous discussions on the subject. One of my favorites is about how the guy holding that sign on the freeway ramp got there. Students have a host of preconceived notions and theories about homelessness, including that he might not be standing there at all had his fifth grade teacher used The Checkbook Project.

I’ve also seen the Homeless Shelter bring about the best in my students. If you implement The Checkbook Project, you’ll see neighbors help neighbors make rent. You’ll see students push their buddies to get their work done. One year I even had a kid start a charity organization. He maintained a second register in which he collected donations from his classmates and doled out grants to needy students who were short on rent.

I recently received a text from a former student-teacher telling me her administration has told her to disband or at least rename her “homeless shelter.” I wish I were there to lobby her principal and parents, but she’s half way across the country. The best I can do is suggest some politically-correct alternatives. “Group house”, “hostel”, and “shared housing” come to mind. So too does “Dickens’ House” and “Grandma’s Basement.” (Okay, that last one may not be so politically-correct.) Regardless of the name, whether it’s a homeless shelter or merely communal living, it will likely motivate struggling students to work a bit harder.

I created The Checkbook Project over a decade ago to combat what I call “academic apathy.” Over the years it has consistently proven itself to be an engaging way to get kids invested in their studies, teach work ethic, and give kids “real world” experience within the safe confines of the classroom. And because I believe these are essential lessons every kid needs, it’s also free. Every last bit of it. For more details on how it works, click here.

Happy directing!

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Okay kids, fork over those taxes!

Jamie's Checkbook RegisterNo doubt you’ve had kids ask, “Why do we need to know this stuff?” In my classroom, we spend a lot of time talking about the “real world,” and nothing we do is more “real world” than The Checkbook Project. In my building, we implement it around this time of year with all our 4th and 5th graders. If we waited any longer, the kids would riot!

I created The Checkbook Project nearly a decade ago to combat what I call “academic apathy.” Over the years it has consistently proven itself to be an engaging way to get kids invested in their studies, teach work ethic, and give kids “real world” experience in the safety of the classroom. And because I believe these are essential lessons every kid needs, it’s also free. Every last bit of it. For more details on how it works, click here.

I want to encourage you to give it a try—and this is a great time of year to do so—but before you do, heed this warning:

In The Checkbook Project, kids maintain checkbook registers. They earn money by completing assignments, attending class, and passing tests. School is their job. They also pay taxes, pay fines for “breaking the law,” and rent or buy their desks. Kids who work hard and consistently attend class tend to do well, accumulating upwards of three grand by the end of May. Kids with poor study skills, poor attendance, or poor spending habits tend to struggle—so much so that some even end up in “the homeless shelter.”

The homeless shelter is a single desk around which kids gather when they don’t have the resources to rent their desks. Granted, it sounds a bit harsh. It may even be a bit controversial. Certainly, it gives me no pleasure to see Stevie, Pablo, or Cynthia crowded around a single desk at the front of the room. But isn’t it better Stevie, Pablo, and Cynthia experience the consequences of poor work ethic in fifth grade rather than on the mean streets of real life when they’re twenty? After all, homeless shelters do exist in the real world, and perhaps it’s the threat of landing there that keep many of us working hard.

Poverty and homelessness are serious problems in America. There are plenty of folks out there facing such grim prospects despite their best efforts. The Checkbook Project isn’t meant to degrade them. Better, the project prompts numerous discussions on the subject. One of my favorites is about how the guy holding that sign on the freeway ramp got there. Students have a host of preconceived notions and theories about homelessness, including that he might not be standing there at all had his fifth grade teacher used The Checkbook Project.

I’ve also seen the Homeless Shelter bring about the best in my students. If you implement The Checkbook Project, you’ll see neighbors help neighbors make rent. You’ll see students push their buddies to get their work done. One year I even had a kid start a charity organization. He maintained a second register in which he collected donations from his classmates and doled out grants to needy students who were short on rent.

I recently received a text from a former student-teacher telling me her administration has told her to disband or at least rename her “homeless shelter.” I wish I’d been there to lobby her principal and parents, but she’s half way across the country. The best I can do is suggest some politically-correct alternatives. “Group house”, “hostel”, and “shared housing” come to mind. So too does “Dickens’ House” and “Grandma’s Basement.” (Okay, that last one may not be so politically-correct.) Regardless of the name, whether it’s a homeless shelter or merely communal living, it will likely motivate struggling students to work a bit harder.

The Checkbook Project is a splendid behavior management system and a great way to teach kids about money. For more information, including how to download all the forms and procedures, click here.

Two New Plays (and Free Comprehension Stuff, Too!)

Click here to preview or purchase at TpT!I guess you can qualify me as a “Vitamin D Addict.” This time of year, the sun is typically obscured by the greyness of the southern Oregon winter, so whenever it’s out and abundant, I make it a habit to soak in as much as I can. I just can’t bring myself to come inside and work until it disappears behind my neighbor’s chimney. I haven’t been entirely unproductive, however. My Read Aloud Play, A Piece of String, has finally been uploaded to TeachersPayTeachers, and my new play about the New York City newsboys strike of 1899 appears this month in Scholastic’s Scope magazine.

“Newsies” follows a Polish immigrant named Aniela as she embarks on a brief career as a newsboy. Following the Spanish-American War, thousands of children like Ani went on strike to protest the way papers such as William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s Evening World passed their expenses down to the lowly newsboy. It’s a compelling story about kids and child labor similar in theme to my play about Lewis Hine (“Stolen Childhoods”). “Newsies” is exclusively available from my friends at Scope. You can check it out here.

Meanwhile, my adaption of Guy De Maupassant’s classic short story, “A Piece of String,” tells about a habitual liar who gets hoisted on his own petard. When he’s accused of a crime he didn’t commit, his long history of lies make it impossible for him to prove his innocence. The play originally appeared in Scope’s Dec. 2013 edition. As with all my Scope and Storyworks plays, I’ve waited about a year to re-package it for TpT. Part of the reason this one took longer than usual—other than the sun’s pleasant cameo— is that I packaged it with a trio of free Common Core comprehension activities. You can download the free comprehension pack or the whole package. Middle school and early high school teacher s will find this play package to be a great way to introduce students to classic literature. Pair it with the original story to enhance engagement and comprehension. The lessons about good habits and a positive reputation will also play well with fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Plus, your kids will enjoy using terms like “clodhopper” and “coot.”

Finally, Spring is a great time to engage students with The Checkbook Project. It’s math, it’s personal finance, it’s a behavior management program, and it’s entirely free. My own students started last week and are totally engrossed by it. Check it out by clicking on The Checkbook Project tab!

Happy directing!

Are Your Students Paying Enough Taxes?

cover incredible silverRight after Spring Break is when many teachers implement The Checkbook Project in their classrooms, so this week I’m foregoing my usual spiel about reader’s theater to instead offer some checkbook tips.

If you’re not familiar with The Checkbook Project, it’s a classroom incentive program, a behavioral management system, and a math-heavy financial literacy unit all rolled together. It’s completely free, kids love it, and it’s relatively easy to manage. In my classroom we kick-started our economy three weeks ago by giving each student a $50 “Spring Stimulus.” Already I have kids aspiring to be slumlords. “Mr. Lewis, can I buy that desk at the back of the classroom and charge kids a bunch of money to sit there?” asked one student. Another wanted to know when she can take out a mortgage, and a third was already asking about a business license. Still others are already borrowing money from their friends just to make rent.

You can download The Checkbook Project by following this link. Once you do, the following tips will get you off to a good start.

1. Provide help with tax reports. Though not as complicated as the Form 1040 you and I file each April, completing the Friday Tax Report (a key element to the program) is initially challenging for the students. Be sure to file taxes at the end of the very first first week, allow extra time (45-60 minutes), have extra adults on hand if you can, and use a simple 10% tax rate. Once kids get used to filing, you be able to file every other week, you’ll only have to assist your neediest kids, and you’ll be able to raise the tax rate to more complex figures like 17.86%. Their moans and groans will spark a great discussion about how taxes in the real world pay for things like schools, police protection, and sewers.

2. Don’t be too generous. Keep your rewards low and your penalties high. I hand out a $5 bonus for a quiet class, but a $10 fine for a noisy one. I start the project paying fifty cents per percentage points on tests, gradually raising the rate of pay as the trimester continues. For example, if a student gets a 70% (the minimum) on a vocabulary exam, I pay out $35. I raise the rate when I need to increase motivation, but I also decrease it when students are accumulating too great a stash in their checkbook.

3. Charge for everything. You want to strike a balance between student income and expenses. If the balance in their checkbook is growing too rapidly, you’re paying out too much or not charging for things you should. I charge for pencils, snacks, special seating privileges, having to reprint homework, leaving chairs untucked, messy desks, and more. I have a yoga ball in my room students can rent for a day at a time. When it’s in high demand, I charge thirty bucks or more—and all I have to do is say the words, “Deduct $30 from your checkbook.”

4. Phase-in other elements. In Week One we learn how to keep track of our income and expenses and complete our first tax report. At the end of Week Two the kids begin renting their desks. During Week Three I let them begin selling their own items at auction. I wait until weeks Four and Five to let them mortgage their desks, open businesses, and apply for classroom jobs.

5. Don’t be in a hurry to raise desk rent. “Should I buy or rent?” You’ll want kids to wrestle with this question when you begin offering mortgages, but if rents are already excessive, your entire class will become “desk owners” too quickly. One of the richest “teachable moments” is when half the class—the desk owners—have burned their mortgages, while the other half are subject to ever increasing rents.

6. Collect checkbooks every Friday. Doing so makes the student feel more accountable about keeping accurate entries. The only record keeping I do is to write down each student’s ending balance on Friday’s. In so doing I’m able to spot oddities. I can also quickly skim through questionable accounts. When I find one, I usually make an example of him or her with a full audit (and some hefty tax penalties).

For more on The Checkbook Project, visit MackLewis.com and click on The Checkbook Project tab. You’ll find more tips and all the forms you need to make the project a hit with your parents, students, and admins. And in case you came here today looking for information on great Read Aloud Plays, please take a few minutes to explore my site, ReadAloudPlays.com and my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers. Happy directing!