Last Pen Standing

IMG_7040Got a set of blank labels kicking around an old desk drawer? With thirty seconds worth of creativity and a bit of face-to-face conversation, you’ve just created a high stakes year-long competition that you can revisit throughout your class at any time for an instant shot of game-changing adrenaline.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Write your initials on each of the labels. I used circular stickers like you might find at a yard sale, but any sticky label will work.
  2. Meet with small groups of students while the rest of the class is busy completing one of your other onboarding activities, taking one sticker apiece and wrapping it tightly around the top of each student’s writing utensil.
  3. The game is “Last Pen Standing,” and once a student has received a sticker with your initials on it, they are automatically entered into the competition. Rules are simple: at random intervals throughout the year, you get to call out “Last Pen Standing!” with a countdown starting at 10… 9… 8…
  4. Students have ten seconds to retrieve the very same writing utensil that they first had on their person on the very first day of class. Any student who is unable to produce their pen(cil) is out of the game. Last Pen Standing by June is the winner.

Some clarifications:

  • No, students do not have to actually write with this same utensil every single day of class. This game is simply a materials check to make sure that they’ve still got it on them at select intervals throughout the year. The possibility that the game can be resumed at any time helps keep everybody honest, and savvy players will start bringing two writing utensils (their original and a backup) to class every single day.
  • If you’re worried about anyone trying to game the system by secretly swapping their sticker onto a new pen(cil) at any time, feel free to kick the activity off by taking group selfies with your kids and posting the photos to your class’ LMS or Twitter feed. Instant accountability, and everybody is engaged from day one.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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