Magic Pocket Name

magicpocketThere are all kinds of behavior incentive systems. Not all are practical for the art room where you literally have hundreds of students passing through your room each week. With the high number of students and the limited amount of contact time, what can effectively track behavior, motivate a class and target a specific undesirable behavior? Well, you might want to try the “Magic Pocket Name,” a simple but effective incentive program that I picked up from my colleagues. It can work in concert with other behavior systems you might already have in place.

It works by focusing on a specific undesirable class behavior such as talking without raising their hand, putting their own supplies away without being prompted or keeping hands and feet to themselves in line. For my classes it was paying attention and not talking any time I gave directions. My goal was to get students to focus their attention faster so that the class could receive directions and start working as quickly as possible.

Here’s the rules as you can explain to the class:

  1. Tell the students that you’ve picked one student and written his/her name on a piece of paper or a customized ticket, which has become the “Magic Pocket Name”.
  2. Put that ticket in your pocket and explain to the class that every student will eventually be the Magic Pocket Name.
  3. At future classes, remind the students that you have a new Magic Pocket Name – perhaps let them see that you’ve written it and are putting it in your pocket.
  4. **IMPORTANT: Never announce the name. Since no one knows if they are the “Magic Pocket Name” they all stay super quiet.
  5. Throughout the class, secretly watch that specific student to determine whether they were paying attention, following directions, etc. (or whatever behavior you wish).
  6. If the Magic Pocket Name student demonstrated good behavior, announce their name in line at the end of class.  I’ve found that the rest of the class will show support and applaud the winning student.  It’s really cute.
  7. Tell the students that that student’s ticket will go into a weekly drawing to win a prize from the prize box, or something similar.  Each class should have their own prize drawing with multiple winners.
  8. If the Magic Pocket Name student was not cooperating or demonstrating the key behavior you desired, simply announce to the class that there is no Magic Pocket Name winner today.

**Now, this is important, you never say the name of a student who “lost” the Magic Pocket Name. First, it could potentially have negative consequences by embarassing the student. Second, by keeping the name unknown, they all reflect on their own behavior. It makes them think about their own actions during class. It also helps you rotate your attention through out the class for monitoring student behavior and gives you another piece of data for assesing student behavior. I simply make a note in my grade book to keep track of the Magic Pocket Names. On the other hand, when a student “wins” the Magic Pocket Name, it reinforces their positive actions and develops class comraderie through encouragement as they often remind one another to be on their best behavior.  It’s a simple system that you can use on a regular basis or selectivley with challenging classes.

Hillary Andrlik

Hillary has been teaching art in the Chicago area since 2002 and was named Illinois Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2012 by the Illinois Art Education Association. She received her art education degree from Illinois State University and masters from National Louis University. She is the co-founder and co-author of The Teaching Palette, a blog authored by art educators for art educators, and the digital editor for Illinois Art Education Association. Hillary's teaching strategies and lessons have been featured in numerous media, including School Arts magazine, and she has made several presentations on art education and technology in front of the Illinois Art Education Association and the National Art Education Association. Follow her on Twitter @hilland


  • February 28, 2009

    jan (School_Marm)

    Interesting techinique! I’ve never heard that one before. I can totally imagine the kids buying into it. jan

  • Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee
    February 28, 2009


    I should of mentioned this in the post but, if a kid wins the magic pocket name it doesn’t mean they can’t win again. I cycle through the class list over and over again so they get multiple chances. I make random selections of who is the magic pocket name for each class. This way the kids don’t know what order the names pop up.

    I photo copied my class list, cut it up and randomly pulled it out of a bag. Then I attached the name in my plan book for each week. In fact I had a parent helper do all of the photo copying and cutting so all I had to do is tape. I hope that clarifies any questions someone might have. Remember you can be creative with your incentives every school, teacher and budget is different. In fact, leave a comment on what incentives work in your class room.


  • March 1, 2009


    An alternative to a prize for the pocket “winner” might be a special note go home informing the parents that their child had a great day in class. -A good way to have a positive communication with parents too.

  • March 5, 2009


    Wow, great idea for elementary students. Also, I think that this is a great way to keep track of student behavior. I have approx.350+ art students per week and it is hard for me to remember all the names, let alone their behaviors. I am going to try this technique out with my classes and will let you know how it goes. Do you have a separate ticket bin for each of your classes? For me, that would require 16 bins. What kind of prizes have you awarded in the weekly drawings?

  • March 6, 2009


    Hi Becky! I have 20 classes each week. Each class does have its own ticket bin. I suggest using large manila envelopes for your ticket bins. You can tape them to the wall, use 3M hooks or even use one of those wire desk top file organizers that holds the files upright.

    For prizes I have a lot of Target / Michaels $1 bin items. Like the small containers of play dough that come in the tube. I also have items like stickers, pencils, stamps, super balls, McDonald’s happy meal toys, small stuffed animals, finger puppets, temporary tattoos, small cars (garage sales) and anything else small and silly. You could even ask your local fast food joints if they would donate to your classroom.

    Another great resource is a website called Freecycle It’s a site where individuals give away unwanted items for free! The organizations goal is to keep useful items out of landfills, but it translates into great prizes! I always see posts for bags of small toys and they often end up being the favorite prizes of the kids.

    Theresa’s suggestion of a positive note would be a great prize. I did an informal poll of my 5th graders today and they loved the idea of prize certificates. Their personal favorites were a positive phone call / note home, recess time in the art room, recess computer lab time and to play a game at recess with the teacher. I’m going to start trying this idea out next week with little laminated certificates that can be used over and over.

    Good luck with your “Magic Pocket Name”!

  • March 8, 2009


    I tried your idea of Magic Pocket names starting last Friday and it seemed to work very well, especially with my 2nd grade class that’s been giving me a hard time lately. They were quiet, attentive, and it really surprised me! I did remind them once or twice that I have a name in my pocket and it may be yours, so be careful. I will definitely continue this behavior management technique next week with all of my other classes. Does it work well with your older students? I have students up to grade 4.
    Thanks for the suggestions on where to get small prizes! I will definitely look up that website Also, I really like the certificate that the winner takes home saying they behaved really well in Art class today. That is a great way to communicate the students’ good behavior with parents.
    Thanks again,

  • Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee
    March 8, 2009


    I’m glad to hear you had success with with the “Magic Pocket Name” technique. I use it with Kindergarten through 5th grade. Remember this strategy works best to target one specific behavior you desire to see a change in. So ideally, it’s most effective when used in conjunction with an overall classroom management system already in place like a good behavior chart. I’m excited to hear how the certificates work for you. I’ll let you know the response I get from my students and parents. A big thanks to Theresa for the positive note inspiration!


  • May 31, 2009


    Great idea… however, I can’t see it working with any year level higher than say, year 8.
    But I will DEFINATELY try this with my year 7 classes. THANKS!

    Great site by the way!! I will return….

    adelle :)

  • September 2, 2009

    Marty Williams

    I like this idea too, but I’m having trouble understanding the weekly drawing part. If you have one name in your pocket, and they perhaps are good and have their name put in the envelop for a drawing for their class, (and you meet once a week)–isn’t that only one name in the envelop to draw? Do you meet more than once/week?

    Sorry, maybe its too late and my mind is too fried!

  • September 4, 2009

    Sharon Loveless

    When I read this, the idea immediately appealed to me.
    I teach 33 classes a week, but so far my art students are loving this!!!!
    All I have to do let them see me putting a name “ticket” into my pocket! Because no one knows if it’s their name, my students are really working!
    The classroom teachers are even excited about it.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  • Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee
    September 4, 2009


    If you do the magic pocket name by yourself and not in conjunction with any other teachers then you need to start collecting tickets for a couple of weeks before you start pulling names. And you might only be able to pull names once a month or every other week instead of every week. Maybe you could have two “Magic Pocket Names” a week. There are lots of ways to creatively design this concept to fit your programs needs.

    In my building the music teacher, P.E. teachers and myself did the magic pocket name together. So our students go to music twice a week, P.E. everyday and art once a week. That adds up to a lot of tickets in one week.

    Plus we used our tickets as rewards for more then just the magic pocket name. If a student displayed a great attitude, did something kind or was really working hard; I might give them a ticket. All those tickets went into the same box.

    What made the “Magic Pocket Name” special is that it enabled these tickets to target a specific undesirable behavior with positive reinforcement. It also gave every single student an equal opportunity to win.

    You need to tailor the frequency of your drawings to your situation and population. Good Luck!


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  • […] at ‘The Teaching Palette.’ I read an appealing article titled Magic Pocket Name. Its a simple behaviour management strategy, one worth sharing with you. You can of course read the […]

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