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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teacher Tuesday: Color-Coding Revisited

Back in August I shared my new color-coding system for my classroom, and it turned out to be a popular topic. If you're new to these parts, you can catch up on the topic here:

Today I want to give you an update on how the system has been working, and how I have expanded the system further since my last post on the topic.

First of all, the duct tape on the floor:

The tape has held up really well. I was worried that the students would constantly be picking at it when they were sitting at the circle spots, but after the first couple of weeks they have mostly left it alone. I had to replace 1 circle spot but all the rest of the lines and spots are still the same ones from the summer. Having the colors for their seating has been incredibly helpful! It is so easy to be able to call students by color group when we are transitioning, or point out groups that are doing well as positive reinforcement. Having the circle spots makes it much easier to form a circle for dances and games much more quickly, and having the colors gives them just enough choice on where to sit without allowing too much room for disagreements. I LOVE it.

Then, of course, there is the behavior management board aspect:

The behavior management aspect of the system has been expanded quite a bit so I will come back to that, but suffice it to say that it has been going well. The students even help keep me accountable when I forget to move the minion magnet (to indicate line leaders) and are always keeping track of which team is winning in points!

The instrument color-coding had mixed results for me:

Having the xylophones color coded has been great. It makes it much easier and faster to go to instruments when the students have limited options, and the students are much more accepting of the idea that they will be sharing an instrument with their classmates when I explain that it is their "team instrument" (who woulda thunk?). However, color coding the mallets did NOT work for me. First of all, passing out mallets took longer, not less time, because I had to hunt to find the right color. Second, the tape would not stay on! I had the washi tape on the top of the rubber handles, and they just kept sliding off. It was a good idea but not worth it for me in the end. 

The writing supplies have been another huge WIN:

I don't have students turn in work by teams normally, because that just adds more time to clean up and grading, but on the rare occasion  that they are in the middle of a writing activity and need to save it for the next class period, I have them put their papers in the color coded folders. That way they can get their own papers again without me having to pass them out again, which saves us time.

Ah, the pencils. One of the BEST THINGS EVER to come from this system! I am happy to report that I have not lost a single pencil since the start of the school year. I can't even believe it. The difference is incredible. Last year I went through boxes and boxes of pencils because they just kept disappearing. This year I have only had to stop and look for a stray pencil a couple of times, and I have always been able to catch it before the class leaves because I can quickly count up each team's pencils. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! The students have been much more careful with the erasers on the pencils too, because they know that they are going to be the ones using those same pencils again next time.

OK, so that's my update on how things have been working for me. Now let's talk about the expansion of my color coding kingdom!

This is the bulletin board (a work in progress) that the art teacher put up in the front lobby of our school. That's right folks, the color coding has left the music room and spread across the entire school! We have had a very difficult school year with behavior issues as a school, and the principal came to the staff around October asking for ideas to combat the lack of motivation among the students and staff. This was mine. Basically we took the color teams in my room and implemented it school-wide in a PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and support), Harry Potter-style house system. Let me try to briefly describe what we have done so far (and we already have plans to expand this for next school year after seeing the positive results!):
  • We made little tickets that say "house point" on them and put them in the hands of every single adult in the building. Adults can give tickets to students for positive behavior using whatever scale or system they see fit, and each homeroom has a folder where the students deposit tickets for their color team. Each week those point are tallied in each homeroom and the school-wide totals are posted on this board. At the end of the month, the team with the most points wins a prize (ice cream in the cafeteria, hat day etc).
  • We have started having assemblies once a month as sort of "pep rallies". We do some games, some contests where they can win points as a team, and at the end we announce last month's winners. The art teacher ran a contest to design a mascot for each team, and I had the students write chants/cheers for their teams, so now we use those in our assemblies as well (the mascots are going to be added to the board once we get those copied). 
  • We are doing some special events where students can earn tickets for their team by participating, like "role model day", when they dress up as their role model, or "timely ticket", when everyone who is in their seat on time gets a ticket (we've struggled with tardiness). 
  • Future plans include using the color teams for field day, electing house captains in student government fashion, and meeting by teams for team-building activities and bringing in guest presenters to talk about different careers etc.
This system has been a huge success school-wide. Students are much more motivated, and they cheer on their teammates when they do well. It also helps us as adults focus on more of the positive behaviors as well, and it has improved the relationships between the students and the adults too I think.

I hope this update was helpful for you- have you used a color-coding system in your classroom? Has your school ever tried a house system for behavior management? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments!


  1. I love the school-wide house system. I wonder if my teammates would be interested in implementing something like this...

    Thanks for the ideas!

    Rachel Tanenblatt
    Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

  2. My new school uses a similar system with the "houses" for tracking PBIS points. Unfortunately for my color-coding-self, they only used 5 houses, so no yellow. :(
    When I color-code my instruments, I do not include the mallets, only the xylos, etc. I put the mallets out with the instruments as we are setting up.
    I love what you've done - isn't color-coding the best??!! I think it really helps class go more smoothly!

    1. Ah Nancy, you are my color-coding buddy! It would drive me crazy if there was no yellow... The art teacher had 7 tables labeled with the same colors plus pink, so we tossed around the idea of having those 7 groups for our school-wide system but I just couldn't wrap my head around how I would set it up in my room so we went with my 6 :) It makes my OCD brain feel so much better! :)

  3. How big is your school?
    I LOVE the concept of earning point for your house. Our school is already organized by pods Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green. Each grade level has one of each color. Plus a purple pod with only Kindergarten and 1st.
    I'm curious to know how this will work with my large school, we have about 1,000 students...

    1. I think it would work wonderfully! We only have about 300 students, so around 50 in each team, which is nice when we do team-building things. If you are just wanting to do the points system, then there's no reason why you can't have much bigger groups like yours. If you want to include the team- / community-building aspect into the color groups, then smaller groups would work better. I know many schools have used similar systems, including those with larger student populations like yours.

  4. I love your color groups idea! A couple questions: Do you keep track of points in your classroom for each team, and if so, do they earn a reward of some kind? Also, you said the jobs rotate; do the color groups rotate (the kids in the groups) as well, or do the kids stay in the same group for the whole year?

    1. Good questions :) I used to keep track of points for teams in my classroom, and when I did, the reward was that whichever team had the most points at the end of the trimester got to use the pillows that I normally keep in my reading corner during class. I also put a poster up with the champion color. Simple but it was enough for them! Once the color teams got expanded out of my room to the rest of the building I stopped doing incentives in my room because they were getting incentives for the building as a whole. The jobs rotate but the colors do not- the students stay in the same group for the whole year. The idea is to build a community / family spirit so it is better for them to be in the same team long-term rather than switch around. Let me know if you have other questions!

    2. How did you track points? What did your students earn points for?

    3. I had those little coin magnets you see in one of the pictures above to keep track of points. I gave points for a wide range of things to keep students on their toes and hopefully give lots of different students a chance to "win"- I gave points occasionally for a demonstration of exceptional character, remembering a concept from a previous lesson that others didn't, winning a competitive game in class, etc. Sometimes I announced beforehand that I was planning to give a point to a person or team that did the best job at something, and sometimes I would just announce after the fact that I was giving a point for something that I thought was awesome. The good thing about this kind of system is that it somewhat combats the biggest problem with a point system: encouraging students to only do things for the purpose of earning points (an extrinsic reward). Because they don't know what will "earn" them a point and what won't.

    4. Ok thank you. Did you keep track of points for each class, or were points combined for the entire school? (K-5 students earned points for the red team. If red team earned most points all K-5 red team members got to sit on special pillows.) I hope this makes sense...

    5. The points were combined for the whole school. The whole point of the color group points was to build community within the school, so we did several things to build teamwork amongst team members across the grade levels. The classes had (and still have) their own incentive with moving up the keyboard visual that is next to the colored boxes on my board. So I would announce the winning color to every class that week and everyone on that team got the same chance to use the pillows in every class.