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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  • #21 Denise

    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 04:45 PM

    I recently found your website and blog. Thank you so much for sharing your classroom and ideas! I was wondering if you take blog topic requests? I was intrigued by your "Math on the Water" bulletin board and wondered what your routine for math review looked like? Thanks again for sharing your teaching life, I've gotten many good ideas from you.

  • #22 Beth Newingham

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 03:24 PM


    I'm glad you have found my website to be useful upon your return to teaching! I hope things are going well for you back in the classroom!

    You asked about the Word Study Center activities and the word study program we use in our classroom. Last year my teaching partner and I created our own lists for each week of the school year. Each week a challenge list and a regular list is sent home based in students' performance on a pre-test. Students also have individualized words to study based on spelling inventories given at the beginning of the year. On the final test, students are given ten additional words that they were not able to study so that we were able to determine if they have mastered the application of the pattern taught for the week.

    After implementing the program for one year, my teaching partner and I have been spending time reviewing each list and making some changes each week. Since the program continues to be a work in progress, we are not posting the lists online until I feel that they are "perfect."

    The books/programs we use to help us create the lists and determine our sequential teaching of specific patterns for our third graders are Words their Way by Donald R. Bear and Word Study Lessons (Grade 3) by Fountas and Pinnell
    Words their Way:
    Word Study Lesssons:

    Many of our ideas for word study center activities come from common board games and card games. I just use tables in Microsoft Word to create cards for the games, and I use clipart from MS Word or Printshop to create the board games.

    Some of our word study center activities also come from teacher resource books. Here is a link to the Scholastic Teacher Store:

    If you search using the terms "centers" or literacy centers," you will find a variety of useful center materials!

    I hope these resources help you out!


  • #23 MaryAnn

    Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    What a treasure chest your blog is! I taught for 13 years before taking 5 years off to be at home with my daughter, and I returned to the classroom in January. After years of teaching 4th and 5th grade, I have found 3rd to be a nice change, and I love seeing how you run your classroom.

    I'm curious about the Word Study games and activities you mention on your class website. Are these commercial products or games you have created? As I start planning for next year, I would love to create a spelling program like the one you describe. Any resources you can recommend would be welcome. Thanks so much!

  • #24 Beth Newingham

    Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 04:23 PM

    Lori L. (comment #4) mentioned a book called "How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids" I just checked it out, so I am adding the link to the book for anyone else who is also interested:

    Thanks Lori!


  • #25 Beth Newingham

    Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 02:54 PM


    Congrats on your new job teaching 3rd grade! I absolutely love 3rd grade, as I have been teaching it for the past 7 years. The kids are old enough to really do some great thinking and writing, but they are also still young enough to get excited about nearly everything we do! I taught 5th grade and 2nd grade in the past, and 3rd grade is definitely my favorite! Good luck with your new position! I'm glad that you have enjoyed reading my blog!

    Thanks for posting your comments!


  • #26 Teri

    Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 09:50 AM

    Just wanted to thank you. I've been reading your blog and just soaking in everything you do for the past two years. This year I taught kindergarten--my first year--and on Friday I found out I got the job I wanted teaching 3rd grade at another school! I am SOOO excited about 3rd grade. I have done writing workshop in my kindergarten classroom and the kids have done great, but I look forward to how much more 3rd graders can do and completely implementing the elements and structure of a full reading/writing workshop in my classroom. Thanks for being such a great mentor teacher for so many of us!

  • #27 Beth Newingham

    Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 10:23 AM


    After I read the students' bucket-filler sheets, I return them to the students and they take them home. I like sending them home so that parents are also aware of the bucket-filling that is taking place in our classroom.


  • #28 Beth Newingham

    Friday, April 09, 2010 at 03:17 PM


    It's great to hear from other teachers who are doing bucket-filling in their classrooms. I'm glad my ideas will help you add to your own bucket-filling activities in your classroom. I'd love to hear about any different ideas you implement in your own classroom to promote bucket filling!


  • #29 Beth Newingham

    Friday, April 09, 2010 at 03:15 PM


    The fifth grade teachers at our school do bucket-filling too, and they agree that it is just as effective in the upper grades as it is in the lower grades. In fact, the 5th grade students are more able to thoroughly understand the concept and internalize the meaning of being a bucket-filler when they are older!

    Thanks for your comment!


  • #30 Marlene

    Thursday, April 08, 2010 at 10:01 PM

    I love this idea and am going to try it. What do the kids do with the bucket filler sheets that get returned to them?

  • #31 Lori L.

    Thursday, April 08, 2010 at 08:06 PM

    Our school has used the bucket-filling idea this year as well. Thanks for all of the addition ideas and ways to promote bucket filling. I look forward to adding a few things in next year.

    I also found How Full is Your Bucket? for Kids by:Tom Rath to be a great book to read aloud as well.

  • #32 Eileen

    Thursday, April 08, 2010 at 01:27 PM

    I use bucket filling with my fifth graders. I agree that it may seem a bit juvenile, but my kids love it and it has really helped them think of the simple ways to make people feel good. I love using this in my classroom!

  • #33 Beth Newingham

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010 at 04:25 PM


    Thanks for sharing your creative idea for bucket-filling! I'm sure the students love getting mail!


  • #34 BJ

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010 at 02:55 PM

    Hi, I also do "Bucket Fillers" in my 3rd grade room.
    Twice a month I randomly pull 2 student names from my basket. Then each student is given a bucket filler form and is asked to write a positive comment about the 2 chosen students. I then collect them and mail them USPS. The kids love it and love getting mail of their own. It's an easy way to fill their "buckets".

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