Top Teaching > Beth Newingham > Have Your Students Filled a Bucket Today?

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Have Your Students Filled a Bucket Today?

RijaWhile I work hard to ensure that I am providing my students with the best academic instruction on a daily basis, I also take time to teach the students in my classroom to be good citizens who care for and respect each other. While the teaching of these "life skills" should certainly not fall solely on the shoulders of us teachers, I do believe it is important to help build good character in our students. Teachers can help students value themselves and each other when we encourage them to be helpful, compassionate, unselfish classmates. In my classroom, my teaching partner and I call these positive students "bucket fillers." As the Bucket Fillers Web site explains, "'Bucket fillers' are those who help without being asked, give hugs and compliments, and generally spread their love and good feelings to others." Bucket filling is a common act in our classroom and one that does not go unrecognized!

READ ON to learn how we teach and encourage bucket filling in our classroom, see PHOTOS of our bucket-filler chart, and download a PRINTABLE that you can use to promote bucket filling in your own classroom.

Background on the Bucket-Filler Concept


First of all, let me point out that this concept is not something I came up with!  According to the site, "Carol McCloud first heard the idea that a 'bucket' represented a person's self-concept, or mental and emotional health, at an early childhood conference in the 1990s. It was in the 1960s that Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924–2003), first created the 'Dipper and Bucket' story that has now been passed along for decades.  Dr. Clifton later went on to co-author the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? and be named the Father of Strengths Psychology." You can learn more about the bucket-filling concept and even order the children's book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by visiting the Bucket Fillers Web site.


Introducing Bucket Filling to Your Students

BooksAt the beginning of the school year, many teachers take time to create class rules with the help of the students. It is during this time that we read the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? The short book explains to students that we all carry an invisible bucket in which we keep our feelings about ourselves. When our buckets are full, we are happy; when they are empty, we are sad. It is important that students learn that when they fill a friend's bucket, they also fill their own bucket because it feels good to make others happy. At this time, we also introduce the concept of being a bucket dipper. A bucket dipper is a person who hurts other people's feelings, essentially dipping into their invisible bucket. Since bullying is a common problem in schools, the concept of bucket dippers is often referred to as bullying. (Visit the Web site above to learn more if this concept sounds confusing.) 


After we read the book and discuss the idea of filling buckets, we brainstorm a list of ways we can fill each other's buckets both in our classroom and around our school.  After making the list on chart paper, we type up the students' ideas and create a poster that is hung above our bucket-filling display.  (You can see a photo of the bucket-filling display in the next section.)





Invite Students to Be Bucket Fillers in Your Classroom

DisplayI have to thank my teaching partner for bringing this great idea to our classroom!  To promote the act of bucket filling in our class, each student is given his or her own real bucket.  The buckets are kept in a hanging shoe rack that we cut in half and attach to a cupboard in the back of our classroom.  Small, multi-colored pom-poms are stored in the top pockets of the shoe rack.  When a student fills a classmate's invisible bucket, both the bucket filler and the person whose bucket was filled get to add a pom-pom to their buckets.  (Remember, when a student fills a classmate's bucket, he or she is also filling his or her own invisible bucket because it feels good to make others happy.)

GirlsThis activity is an honor system, so students do not need to report to the teacher every time they fill a bucket.  The two students simply visit the bucket-filling shoe rack and add their pom-poms at an appropriate time during the school day. If we do have some extra time in the day, I will ask students to share their bucket-filling stories with their classmates as a way of building community in our classroom.



Should the Teacher Remove Pom-Poms When Students Are Being Bucket Dippers?

This decision is certainly up to the teacher.  However, my teaching partner and I prefer to make this activity a purely positive one.  While students may face other consequences when they act as bucket dippers, we do not remove pom-poms from their buckets.  Our goal is to promote bucket filling and not use this activity as a way to punish students for their behavior.


What Happens When a Student Fills Up His or Her Bucket?

When a student fills his or her bucket, the pom-poms are removed and a sticker is added to the bucket to show that it has been filled up one time.  By the end of the year, students often have many stickers on their buckets.  However, there is no reward for filling up a bucket, and no student is the "winner" for filling his or her bucket the most times.  The activity is designed to intrinsically motivate students: it's not a contest or a competition in which students earn an extrinsic reward.




Holding Students Accountable

AlexYou may find that you need to hold students accountable for their bucket-filling acts to make the activity most beneficial to you and your students.  If you find that your students are just adding pom-poms throughout the day without a real purpose (not being sincere about their bucket filling), you may want to implement a system in which your students must write down their bucket-filling act so that you can read it before they are able to add a pom-pom to their bucket.

We did this for a period of time last year, and it worked well. See the photos below to learn how we used bucket-filler cards to hold our students accountable for their good deeds.




Next to the bucket-filler display in our classroom, we store bucket-filler cards printed on multi-colored paper.  When students feel like they have filled someone's bucket, they put their name on the card and describe their bucket-filling act. Download the Bucket-Filling Form in MS Word or as a PDF.


Card holder

The students can place their bucket-filler cards in the container above throughout the school day.  My teaching partner or I quickly read the cards after the students leave for the day and return them to the students the next morning.  When the students see their bucket-filler card returned to them on their desk the following morning, they can then add a pom-pom to their bucket.  This is nice because it requires students to reflect on their actions, and we can compliment them on their specific acts of kindness.


Culminating Bucket-Filler Activity for the End of the School Year

Personal message At the end of the year, the pom-poms are removed from all of the students' buckets.  The students then write compliments or positive messages to each of their classmates.  The messages are written on small strips of paper that can fit into the buckets.  Students add their personal messages to their classmates' buckets, and the students get to take their bucket full of positive messages home to read.  It is a wonderful way to end the school year, as students love to hear the great things their classmates have to say about them!  My teaching partner and I also type up personal messages for each student on address labels and stick them to the outside of the bucket.

Try It Out!

While this may seem "babyish" to some upper elementary teachers, I think you will be surprised how the activity truly helps students build stronger bonds with their classmates at any grade level.  An atmosphere of respect and care for each other is quickly established and maintained throughout the school year.  However, I strongly suggest reading the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? before implementing this activity in your classroom.  Everything will make much more sense once you completely understand the concept.


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  • #2 Kelley Hawksley

    Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 12:50 AM

    Okay I am hooked...the bucket filling idea sounds great ....and I wish I had had it for my 6th grade classroom this we had a tough group of students. I will definitely set this up at the beginning of the school year.

    Beth, I am wondering if you have read the book the Daily 5 and how you feel about it?

    Again, I love your blog and will be on it constantly as I set up my new fourth grade classroom this summer. Thanks so much for being a true educator.


  • #3 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 03:19 PM


    Bucket-filling is completely separate from my classroom economy/behavior management system. (My classroom economy serves 2 purposes: economic instruction and a behavior management system.) Bucket-filling does not include any extrinsic rewards because I want students to be instrisically motivated to fill each other's buckets on a daily basis.

    Thanks for your comments!


  • #4 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 03:15 PM


    Congrats on your recent additon to the family! I'm so glad you have enjoyed reading my blog this year! I wish you luck on finding a balance between your 2 passions: motherhood and teaching. It certainly isn't easy! Enjoy the rest of your maternity leave. I hope your are enjoying your special time with your little one!


  • #5 anny

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 08:17 PM

    Beth, I am currently on a mat leave and between changing diapers, feedings and nap time, I have religiously been on your website soaking in all your wonderful ideas. I have currently been organizing and levelling all my books and my hopes for september when I return to work is to implement a reading workshop as well as some other ideas of yours..I just want to say THANKS, THANKS, THanks for being such an inspiration... I also enjoyed reading your blog about balancing motherhood and teaching, it is quite the challenge but as you mentioned being both a mom and teacher are 2 of my passions. Thanks again for all your help and efforts!!

  • #6 Lisa :)

    Saturday, June 05, 2010 at 08:02 PM

    Thank you so much for the hardwork and obvious dedication you show for the teaching profession. I read your blog all the time and every time I am blown away by your creativy in the classroom! Thank you!

    I was wondering how you incorporate your behavior management plan into the classroom. Do students earn "Captain Cash" as an extrinsic reward or are students intrinsically driven with the "bucket filling"? Or is it a combination? Thank you again for everything you do!

  • #7 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 07:07 AM


    Thanks for your thoughtful and informative comments! I look forward to reading the book this summer!

    We have been a bucket-filling school now for years. We had the great bucket-filling assembly a few years ago and continue to have the bucket-filler staff return to our school each year to work with certain grade levels. I'm sure that I will love your new book, and I will certainly recommend it to the other teachers at my school!


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  • #9 Stacey A. Lundgren

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 02:34 PM

    Hi Beth!

    Please let me know how you like the book! The stories are all very positive in their messages, and each bucketfilling character is someone I would like any of my five children to emulate. REAL people, not fictional characters, can be awesome role models if our children just know about them! Would love your feedback after reading True Bucketfilling Stories: Legacies of Love. By the way, Carol McCloud started out in the bucketfilling business by answering an ad in the newspaper placed by my father, Merrill Lundgren "The Bucket Man", the first person in the country to take this message to children. He is still teaching, too, at age 91! His picture and foreword are in the first printing of Carol's book! I worked with Carol for six months before she left and started her own company. She was a pleasure to work with, if only for a short time.

  • #10 Wendy

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 08:42 AM

    I am returning to the classroom in September after six years of literacy coaching. I have been a follower of your class webpage and blog for probably four years now and you inspire me DAILY.

    It's so funny to read the comment about requests because that is exactly what I was posting to ask you! I was wondering how you manage discipline in your classroom. Is it partially through your classroom economy?

    If you could post on the topic of discipline/classroom management for today's children, I would be forever grateful as I trust and respect your wisdom immensely!

  • #11 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 01:36 PM


    Thanks so much for joining our discussion!! It's exciting to see your comment! I just purchased the book you recommended and look forward to using it with my third graders.

    Thanks again,

  • #12 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 01:32 PM

    Marianne and Suzan,

    While I do not have experience doing this with younger students, I really do think it would work. Of course you would have to do a lot of modeling to show your students what it means to "fill a bucket." Perhaps you (the teacher) could spend the first month of school recognizing students who you see filling other students' buckets before having the kids actually fill real buckets in your classroom. Also, the book "Have You Filled a Today?" is written in way that would make sense even to your young students.

    Good Luck!


  • #13 Stacey A. Lundgren

    Saturday, May 08, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    Hi Everyone! It's wonderful to read your exciting posts about bucketfilling. Have you seen the new book about bucketfilling for older students, 3rd grade and older? It is called True Bucketfilling Stoires: Legacies of Love. It has all 5-star ratings on Amazon and children and adults of all ages love it! Read it, and give me your feedback. Thanks!

  • #14 Suzan

    Tuesday, May 04, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Like Marianne, I'm curious: could you do the bucket idea with younger kids? I am teaching kindergarten next year and want to instill the desire to be nice to others without using physical rewards like treats or toys. Is the concept age-appropriate?

    Thank you!

  • #15 Marianne

    Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 06:38 PM

    The bucket filling idea sounds great! Has anyone done this with PreK, 4 and 5 year olds?

  • #16 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 05:45 PM

    Here is a link to Mrs. Walker's 4th Grade website with lots of great ideas for bucket-filling. Check it out!

  • #17 Beth Newingham

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 02:11 PM


    I'm glad you like the idea! Be sure to get the book over the summer so that you can read it to your class in the fall:)


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  • #19 Lisa Ockerman

    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 07:49 PM

    I love this idea! I think I will try it next year. Thanks

  • #20 Beth Newingham

    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 05:06 PM


    I actually like your idea of "blog requests!" Perhaps I will begin adding that to the end of future posts. I prefer to blog about what readers want to know, and I am always trying to decide what my readers want to learn more about!

    I am planning to do a post on Math Workshop next month. I will add a "Math on the Water" section to that post so you can learn exactly what it is and how I use it.

    Thanks for your suggestion!


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