Ideas that Stick


This month marks the one-year anniversary of High Tech/Low Tech: Ideas for Every Classroom. As we look back through the archives, we notice that there are quite a few ideas involving sticky notes. This is not surprising. After all, sticky notes represent a perfect marriage between high and low tech. The combination of space-age “low-tack pressure-sensitive re-adherable adhesive” and paper (which dates back to ancient Egypt and China) has become a staple in our private and professional lives. Sticky notes in eye-catching colors can be spotted in homes, classrooms, and boardrooms across the world. Why are they so popular and what advantages can they offer our language students?

A great part of their appeal is the tactile pleasure of attaching and rearranging them. They can be particularly effective for kinesthetic learners, but all learners can benefit from using them in creative ways. A recent study has shown that learners retain more concepts when they handwrite rather than type their notes in class. When we write on sticky notes (and then sort, attach and reattach them!), we are activating our senses and focusing more intently on our actions than we do when typing or clicking on a keyboard. Perhaps this is why even some die-hard techies prefer to use paper planners, and managers will often choose sticky notes, white boards, and flip charts over higher tech options when running a meeting. Another advantage is the reinforcement that sticky notes provide – the message we want to convey is encapsulated in a colorful visual reminder that is on display rather than hidden away in a file. Our attention is attracted and held. In other words, a sticky note makes an idea stick!

We must acknowledge that, although we love sticky notes and their multiple uses, they can become an expensive habit. We have found that the “super sticky” variety can be reused many times, even over several years. They are worth the expense for recurring activities, especially ones in which the instructor creates the sticky notes for students to use (e.g., to label classroom objects, to put items in order on a scale or a timeline, or to categorize vocabulary). For one-time-only activities, especially when many notes are needed (e.g., brainstorming, storyboarding, commenting on a reading), a cheaper low-tech alternative is to use slips of paper or index cards and magnets or tape (or you can invest in a can of spray-on repositionable adhesive).

Of course, there are also more and more high tech options available. Touch screens and interactive whiteboards allow us to mimic some of the tactile properties of sticky notes. Other tools include: Sticky and Sticky Notes (available on iTunes for iPad and iPhone), Sticky Notes 8 and 7 Sticky Notes (for Windows), and web-based bulletin boards like Linoit  and Padlet, which we used to collaborate virtually on our initial brainstorming for this article. Padlet offers the option of exporting content in .pdf form, making it easy for us to pull our ideas together when we began to write. The biggest advantages of these high tech options is that we can save the work we do, reproduce it, and share it easily. But let’s not forget the beauty of combining high and low tech approaches – simply taking a photo of our work transforms it from ephemeral into permanent. The brand new Post-It Plus App goes one large step further, making it possible to capture and digitize up to 50 sticky notes of any size.

Below are just a few ways that we have recently used actual and virtual sticky notes in our classrooms.

Warm-ups: Deana hands her students sticky notes to categorize quickly as they enter the classroom (or puts up virtual ones on her interactive whiteboard). For example, before reading and analyzing recipes, students must first identify and classify the relevant nouns (ingredients, tools, and appliances) and verbs (cooking directions). Anita’s students come in to find notes stuck to their desks with conversation starters that encourage them to use the target language before class. Sticky notes with a fun activity (or a pop quiz) can also be hidden under desks for the right moment.

Comprehension checks and formative assessments: As a low-tech alternative to clickers, Anita has made color-coded sticky note rulers quickly and cheaply like this, offering her a quick way to give feedback, check comprehension, or poll students. The students (or instructor) signal answers by holding up different-colored sticky notes attached to a ruler. Green and red notes attached to opposite sides of the ruler’s tip can signal yes/no, true/false, go/stop, or ready/not ready, etc., depending on the activity. Blue and pink notes can signal masculine/feminine, or four colors (two on each end of the ruler) can signal A, B, C or D for multiple-choice questions (write the color key on the board).

Close reading and inductive learning: Deana’s students posted evidence of close reading, by identifying and then classifying themes in a poem by José Martí. The students later connected these themes to historical figures in discussions and essays about social justice.


We encourage our students to annotate what they read with sticky notes or flags (in textbooks where they cannot write, for example, but not in library books since libraries discourage their use). Students can be asked to consider specific aspects as they read, using sticky notes to jot down a question that occurs to them while reading (marking the note with a question mark), something they found surprising (marking the note with an exclamation mark), or a similarity/difference they noticed to another text (marking the note with an arrow/an unequal sign). Students can also be given sticky notes in different colors for different tasks. For example, they can use one color to write down their favorite character in a reading or film and another for their favorite line of dialogue by that character. After posting them at random on the board, students can work together to match the quotations to the characters as a lead-in to discussion.

Anita’s students practiced the often tricky word order in French questions and negations, working first in small groups arranging sticky notes (one for each word) in all possible permutations, and later working as a class on the Smartboard.



Motivation and goal-setting: In order to help students focus and to encourage mindfulness, Anita has used sticky notes to highlight each part of her lesson plan and to display the key questions of a topic or unit. Deana’s students were able to use the target language to reflect on her school’s expectations for leadership and behavior. Sticky notes were used to identify and classify different behaviors and were kept on display for several weeks to encourage reflection. Students then used sticky notes to write down their personal goals for the year.

Finally, in keeping with our topic, we encourage you to write down – on a sticky note, of course – at least one idea that stood out for you while reading this article. Stick it somewhere you can see it and see if it sticks with you!

Additional resources with educational uses for sticky notes:

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