Paper airplanes and classroom management strategies. Can they work in tandem? You bet!

No matter how magnificent your classroom management strategies might be, there are always new situations and trends that surface which challenge the systems you have in place. Our classrooms are evolving petri dishes.

But instead of addressing each new bump in the road by ourselves, we can have our students share in the problem-solving process, saving us time (and our sanity.) And honestly? Once they feel ownership over the process and outcome, the kids’ classroom management strategies often work better than ours.

Paper airplanes and classroom management strategies

Last year, the paper airplane situation was getting out of hand in Room 207. For a few years I had the barely-enforced rule in my room of no paper airplanes. They were distracting and having one fly near me in the classroom was a teeth-gnashing pet peeve.

Like all trends, these pesky planes were everywhere. In cubbies, lockers, coat pockets, notebooks. I even found one squished into my LCD projector once. (Grrr…) And despite the rules I had haphazardly put into place, I was seeing all our good paper being used on these black-market items. I was reminding kids repeatedly of our rule and snatching their flying origami pieces out of their hands.

As you can imagine, nobody was happy. Kids who loved making airplanes saw me as a drag. (Get it?) The kids who didn’t were tired of my hackneyed lectures. And I was seriously considering banging my head into the wall.

Do you have classroom management strategies for dealing with classroom trends like origami?

Class Trend #652: Origami

So after some deep breathing and relaxing with a gin and tonic at home, I thought, “Let me present a series of facts to the kids and see what they come up with.” The next day, I gathered them in a seated circle. Here’s how it went down.

The speech

I need your help. We have a problem and my solutions have not been effective. Here are the facts:

  • Paper airplanes are a form of origami.
  • They are an excellent tool for building and for understanding scientific concepts of flight as well as for developing the math part of your brain. 
  • They are a great way to practice growth mindset, because one often has to tweak the design if the plane doesn’t fly right at first.
  • Some people are making them during class time instead of doing our classwork.
  • Some people are throwing them in class.
  • People are getting distracted by the planes when it’s time to learn.
  • I am getting frustrated because I can’t do my job well with the interruptions.
  • People are using our good paper on the planes, and we’re running out of paper.
  • Instead of using our time learning getting extra play time, we’re using it over and over to talk about paper airplane use. 
 Like Barrel o' Monkeys, your students can come up with surprising classroom management strategies when they work together.

Your students can come up with surprising classroom management strategies when they work together. (Photo by Park Troopers)

I want to find a solution that allows you to use your creativity and develop your brains while making planes or other origami. I truly hate wasting your time and I feel like I am wasting it lately by addressing this topic so often. I also don’t like getting mad, and I feel like that is happening too.

I’d like to have us sit in silence for about a minute so you have some think-time. After that minute, you will take turns sharing your thoughts, ideas and/or solutions to these problems. You can only speak, though, if you are holding the Talking Marker. [I held up a whiteboard marker.] [And yes, to those Breaking Bad fans, I stole this idea straight from Skyler’s Talking Pillow episode. That show was GENIUS.] When the person with the Talking Marker has finished talking, she or he may hand the marker to the next person who wants to speak. 

The results

We waited in silence for a full minute so they could think properly. Then a few kids raised their hands. I passed the Talking Marker to the first and away they went. The conversation went on from person-to-person beautifully for about five minutes. I made no remarks during that time and kept my face polite and engaged, but without favoring one idea over the other. (This tactic helps the more reticent students speak up, as they know their ideas won’t be shot down, albeit kindly.)

Get quiet with your students and try one of the great classroom management strategies for problem-solving with your students.

Giving your kids and yourself silence to think brings out a lot of fruitful ideas! (Photo by Allef Vinicius)

There were a few nonsense ideas thrown about, but for the most part they came up with some pretty nifty ones. Here were the ultimate solutions they decided on.

  • Students can only make paper airplanes during Recess and Quiet Times.
  • Students can not fly the planes while in the school building.
  • Students can fly planes at outdoor recess.
  • They can only use scrap paper to make their planes. Or they can bring their own paper from home.
  • Since we didn’t have a scrap paper bin, we created one and a few kids collected scrap paper from the paper recycling bins throughout the school.
  • If you want to fly your plane at Outdoor Recess, you write your name on it and then place it in the Paper Airplane Bin. Then before going outside to recess, you can go get your plane. After recess you put it back in the bin. You can take it home at the end of the day.
  • If you don’t follow the rules the first time, the teacher takes your paper airplane and you don’t get it back.
  • If you don’t follow the rules the second time, the teacher emails your family.

This was all them. We wrote down the rules. We found two bins and, using small index cards, labeled them “Scrap paper” and “Paper Airplane Storage.”

And we were done.  I complimented them on their classroom management strategies and how kind they were to each other, and we moved on.

You know what was really fascinating? For about three days, this worked brilliantly. Then, suddenly, the kids stopped making paper airplanes altogether. The paper airplane bin remained empty and remained empty for the rest of the year. They lost all interest in it. My only explanation is that perhaps when they get permission to do something, it loses its sparkle.

Classroom management strategies in your room

So did everything go hunky-dory from then on? Of course not. Because, as any teacher knows, there’s always a new trend to take place of the old one. Water bottle flipping. Fidget spinners. Slime. Years ago it was those rubber animal-shaped bracelets. You undoubtedly have a host of trends sweeping through your classroom at this moment.

So how do you begin this problem-solving?

Schedule a time

A small VW bus toy needs a tune up just as your classroom does. Schedule a time for it.

Set a time for your classroom tune up! (Photo by Jose Maria Cuellar)

If possible, let kids know at the beginning of the day that you will be devoting a specific time to discussing “x” as a class and coming up with solutions. Always bring it up in a positive manner: “We have something going on in our class that has been stealing time from both you and me: putty. I was feeling frustrated the other day because we lost so much time on cleaning up putty that had gotten on hands, clothes, and the rug. We didn’t get to a really cool activity I had planned because of this lost time. So I was thinking about it last night and suddenly it came to me: you guys are so good at finding solutions that work for everyone! So I scheduled some time after recess for us to figure this out together so that everyone gets what they need and none of us feels frustrated. We’ll talk more then!” 

Of course, sometimes you need to resolve something immediately, so scheduling a time won’t be efficient. Naturally, go with your gut. But in general, giving them a heads up allows them some time to mull things over.

Setting it up

Sit in a way that encourages everyone to speak. Then, as objectively as possible, list the facts. If there are any positive aspects to the problem, list those as well, as there will be more student buy-in if they know you are on their side.

Go over the rules for discussion. Everyone who is not holding the Talking Whatever is quiet. The person who has finished talking passes the Talking Whatever to someone else. As many people should have a chance to talk as possible; nobody should monopolize the conversation. You might even mention that often the best ideas come from the quietest people.


As challenging as it is, refrain from speaking for as long as possible. Don’t let yourself or the students be afraid of that time. There’s a lot of thinking going on in silence. Relax into it and give them that opportunity. This will also model for them how to be patient with each other.

Once things have slowed down, you can try steering the conversation towards summarizing or pointing out any remaining problems.

For example,

  • “So what I’m hearing from you is that _______, ________, and __________. “
  • “It sounds like there are two points of view: ______________ and ______________. How will we solve this so everyone feels okay?”
  • “The general opinion about _____ seems to be ___________. So far, nobody has addressed the remaining problem of__________. Do you have thoughts about that?”


Spoiler alert. Their first go at a solution may work brilliantly. It may also fail. After all, that is how things work in life. So reiterate the plan to your kids but, just as important, tell them you’ll check in again to see if the plan is working/ sorta working/ failing. Then they can tweak or change their solution as needed.

The sunrise through the trees and over a field.

To change to world, you’ve got to make some changes.
(Photo by Micah H)

Classroom Management Strategies: A stitch in time …

The sooner problem areas can be addressed and the more objective we teachers can be in helping our students frame solutions, the better.

You will save time. Your students will develop pride in their problem-solving abilities and will be more able to problem-solve independently. Their growth mindset will get a hardy workout. Your relationship with your students will deepen and they will feel more comfortable with you and, interestingly enough, will respect you more for —  well — respecting them. And your frustration will quickly wane, making you happier and your students happier.

Your turn

Now it’s time to hear from you! How do you solve problems with your classroom management strategies? What worked for you? What didn’t? OR. What is a classroom management strategy you’ve seen work brilliantly that you want to try?

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Keep changing the world for the better, loves. You got this.


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