Reading For a Straw: A ‘Eureka’ Moment

Sometimes, the simplest reward can motivate kids. Take the 1 cent Pixy Stix…

A Chrysler assembly plant and Green Giant packing plant were the chief employers in the small northern Illinois town where I began my working career fresh out of college, an elementary school teacher for five years before transitioning into a life long sales position.

I had 32 students at a time when classroom size was not a high priority, especially in this rural blue collar town. The work was hard, fun and challenging. It’s teaching!

In elementary school, you teach the gamut of subjects: math, social studies, language, handwriting and reading. Specialists visited weekly to teach art and music. There were no computers in the class, nor the school, nor anywhere except big, temperature controlled rooms in office buildings.

Lesson plans were followed, accordingly, as we covered ‘new’ math, old history and the wonders of science. But reading, and reading for pleasure, piqued the kids’ attention the most.

A time was set aside daily for reading aloud, students rested or doodled while listening to Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Charlottes Web, The Old Man and The Sea and others. The daily read was a hit, for the students and me.

But how could I motivate the kids to read more themselves and even stand up to talk about it? I found one answer by noticing the kids enjoying one of their favorite snacks, Pixy Stix, the sugary treat in a straw.

Pixy Stix* had been around for years. I loved them as a kid, myself. Not only popular but these treats were cool looking with their varied colors. And, they were cheap, a penny a straw. I bought a hundred to get started.

The plan, read a book and get a Pixy Stix. It was an instant hit. Yes, gimmicky, but there was more to it. And the results were profound. Every student read a book, two books, three books and more. Sure, the reading tapered as the year progressed, but the drop off was insignificant. And most surprising was the level of enthusiasm from some students who were lower achievers in the general subjects. I was ecstatic having this ‘Eureka’ moment.

Here’s how the project worked:

  • Select a book and show me
  • Fill out a book marker with title, author and student name
  • Report back to me upon completion and tell me a few things about the book
  • Give an oral report to the class (voluntarily)***
  • Staple the bookmark to the bulletin board display and select a Pixy Stix

I remember one student, in particular, who never raised his hand in class but gave the best oral reports of all students. Made my day!

My books are my ‘trophies’



Instagram: @srbottch

*From Your Dictionary: ‘Pixy Stix: A confectionery item in the form of a (non-edible) straw filled with sweet-and-sour powdered candy .

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Retired in 2013 after 5 years as an elementary school teacher and 40 years as a sales representative to begin anew as a school crossing guard. SMy essays/stories are a way to communicate through the telling of personal experiences. One reader said about my blog stories, "...these are like a cold sip during a marathon run, simple, real life events". Another offered about my blog, “it brings some sense of normalcy not easily found in the modern world.”

50 thoughts on “Reading For a Straw: A ‘Eureka’ Moment”

  1. That was a terrific idea. So many times, kids are intimidated by reading a book by themselves. A little incentive will often do the trick. I’m sure you made lifetime readers out of many of them. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darlene, the book markers were just strips of colored construction paper. You would think they were Olympic medals the way the kids treated them. The reading bulletin board had a few hundred bookmarks stapled to it. I bet it did kickstart some good reading habits.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Anne, thank you for those nice sentiments. You know, I think about some oft hose kids and that they’re all grown with kids of their own. I hope they remember me. More importantly, I hope they took safe if their teeth after all that sugary stuff I gave them😂.


  2. What a wonderful stroke of genius! I did not love to read until I was an adult. I love those Pixie Stix so I would have been motivated! Just think of the influence you had in those lives. Great achievement I would say!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Such a nice sentiment, Maggie. I try to keep them simple and maybe a little poignant. Nah, just simple. If you ever go on Instagram, check out my photos, some good and some okay. You have a great rest of the day🥸

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I went to school before any rewards were available for giving book reports. I am afraid my teachers were more inclined to use the stick(a call home) than the carrot. For some of my classmates speaking was a true ordeal, but we all complied. Very different times for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Yes, I suppose. But, it sure created excitement around reading. And I think the reward was a springboard to strengthening good long term reading habits, and a sugar tooth.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember reading a book in high school as an assignment. I chose ‘Death Be Not Proud’ by John Gunther. I got a D on my oral report. The criticism? Teacher couldn’t believe that I didn’t like the book. My reading went kinda downhill after that. Obviously, she didn’t know about Pixy Stix 🤓. Thanks for being ‘on board’.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I especially like the oral report part of your project. Creating these safe experiences for children (especially those fearful of speaking in front of others) is essential. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Build their confidence, and they’re much more likely to do it again and perhaps take a greater risk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved my sales job. I had a company car, a sales territory that required travel a couple of nights a week. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and helping them make decisions to find engineered solutions to their assembly designs. It was a challenging job with a certain level of prestige snd it was always changing, lots of variety. Remember, ‘nothing happens until something is sold’😎

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jennie. I wish you could have seen our bulletin board. Picture this: a section probably 3’x4’ with a folder full of Pixy Stix stapled to the center. As a student (4th/5th grade) finished a book, he/she would staple their bookmark to the board. Eventually, we had scores and scores of colored strips of construction paper bookmarks encircling the diminishing Pixy Stix, which had to be replenished time to time. It was a hit. The only requirements were to show me their book, then tell me something about it before getting the sweets. It was fun for them and extremely gratifying for me. ‘Eureka’, a breakthrough moment, something teachers strive for in their work, as you know so well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can picture this! You never told me this wonderful story before. I didn’t know you were a champion reader-aloud. I should have known that. You’ve always had a way with children, Steve. Thank goodness! By the way, in my day it was called Lik-M-Aid. I remember the straw like sticks.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wish I had a picture of it. We did fun things. For example, my first year with 4th graders we played the stock market. Every kid had a job and earned ‘money’ in the form of credit to their account. Then, they waches picked a stock to buy and watched their ‘fortunes’ rise or fall. We’d check the newspaper stock listings weekly. One kid got really rich and kept buying more while some went bust. Fun times. I a
        PDI had a mother who supplied us with big pieces of cardboard from the Green Giant plant which we used to make explorers trade route maps. More fun.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Alfie is a bit too progressive for me but I could meet him halfway on the homework idea. It does seem a bit excessive when you see elementary kids carrying backpacks like rucksacks. Also, when I think about it, kids’ interests do help them learn. I bet Alfie has a sweet tooth. Thanks for contributing, Jim. I enjoyed your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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