The Bottle, the Roll, and the Fishing Pole

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Everyday objects have proven to be effective teaching props for Marilyn Englander.

The other day, a teaching colleague showed me some fancy new curriculum materials she’d bought to teach social emotional skills. This is fundamental work for students. Kids can’t learn unless they feel they have friends and there is trust in the group.

But I chuckled, thinking of the very simple tools that have served me well for years: the bottle, the roll and the fishing pole.

A kid who feels anxious about acceptance will make incessant bids for connection. He’ll fish for compliments, and that’s a surefire way to drive a wedge between him and others.

One day I fashioned a silly miniature fishing rod out of a pencil, a bit of string and a bent up paper clip. When Jeff once again started begging for praise, I pulled out my pole and dangled it in his direction. Of course, everyone giggled, including Jeff. Irritation faded, and Jeff got the message. Other kids learned the lesson too.


Students were horrified, though, the first time I set out an empty toilet paper roll during a class discussion.

"What’s that thing supposed to mean?" Bill shrieked.

I slowly raised an eyebrow.


“OK, OK, we get it,” they all mumbled, “Replace supplies of things we use up.” Impressive how fast they responded.

The water bottle utterly mystified the class.

We were discussing recent incidents of lying, and the kids tensely waited for the boom to fall. I set a cheap plastic bottle of water on a tray and announced: “This is our supply of group trust.”

Dramatically, I paused, then shoved a push pin into the side of the bottle: “This is what happened with the first lie.”

We watched water dribble out of the hole, draining our metaphorical trust bank. I punched in another hole, “And this is the cheating on yesterday’s quiz.” Everyone moaned... and then honest conversation began.

With an abstract idea suddenly become very real, kids were energetic in problem-solving. My students still refer to the bottle, the roll and the fishing pole. Simple things can teach important lessons.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator and founder of REAL School Marin.