How A Gluestick Works

ChapStick. Released under GFDL.Image via Wikipedia

As a teacher, it is important to capitalize on teachable moments. A small discussion, comment, or even an action from a student can lead to a brilliant impromptu lesson.

Case in point, last week I noticed that a student in my class was applying chapstick to her lips every few minutes. Her chapstick was becoming a distraction to her work. Not only that, but she was wasting a resource that should have lasted her a few weeks.

I immediately saw a connection to the glue sticks we have in the classroom. Quite often the students don’t roll down the glue and affix the cap properly when they have finished using it. Other students roll the glue all the way up to the top, or apply too much (like my student was doing with her chapstick)

I found a glue stick that was just about empty and held it up for the class.

“How does this work?” I asked.

One student replied, “You take off the cap and then put it on the paper.”

I did what she said and placed the glue stick cap on a piece of paper.

I said, “Come on, you should be able to explain how something as easy as a glue stick works?”

This is actually a good exercise in using precise language. And it is not as easy as it sounds. I was trying to challenge my students.

It took a while but they were finally able to direct me to use a glue stick correctly to glue two pieces of paper together.

After that, I held up the glue stick and asked the students, “How many parts do you think a gluestick has?”

Most of the students yelled out “4” but one said “5”

I took apart the gluestick and we examined each piece. I drew each piece on the Smartboard as well.

We could now see that a gluestick is a simple machine consisting of 5 parts. “Great answer!”

Glue sticks and Chapstick are built the same way.

Here are the component parts;

1) The handle that you turn is actually a screw. You can see it once you take off the top part that holds the glue.

2) The piece that screws on to this is a platform but we used the term “nut” for this exercise. The screw mechanism is like a bolt and the nut attaches to it.

3) Next we have the glue itself. This is the part of the glue stick that gets used up.

4) The casing or plastic shell is the next piece.

5) And finally, we have the cap or lid.

I was then able to talk about why we should be “Wise in the use of our resources” – an old Scouts Canada motto that has really stuck with me.

We only have so much resources in the world and in the classroom. We need to use the things we do have in a responsible manner.

Sure, this impromptu lesson took 20 minutes of my day that I had planned to teach something else, but this lesson was


We compared our lip balm and looked at the volume of ointment in each container.

Mine won.

We talked about natural resources and how they should be managed, taken care of, and not wasted needlessly. 
A glue stick is a simple machine made up of 5 component parts.


Being able to communicate clearly and give instructions is a great skill. 

Figuring out how a glue stick works and how to instruct someone to literally follow your directions takes critical thinking skills.

This was one of the best lessons I delivered all year long and it was sparked by what was happening in my classroom at the time. I didn’t plan this lesson. In fact, it was actually a disruption to my day but good teachers can recognize these teachable moments and cash in on them.

I hope you have found this post useful. It is part of the Teaching Tip Tuesday series that I run here on this blog. As of now, there are over 100 useful tips, tricks, lessons, and ideas for you to peruse. 

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2 responses to “How A Gluestick Works”

  1. Hi Chase – what a great lesson .. but you missed the most useful tip of all perhaps .. saving money for their personal budget, or parents' budget ..

    I remember after the war (I know!) .. but it's so pertinent now .. we looked after everything so carefully .. so carefully! If we were given something we were very lucky, we were always made to save half .. and to have that budget – it's always stood me in good stead.

    Now we need to impart it to our kids – because they're going to need it, we've been profligate recently .. and money doesn't grow on trees .. we had flour and water paste as kids ..

    We're into those days again ..

    But what an amazing lesson & I bet they remember it for many a long year and will recall it in the years to come as parents, or grandparents .. when we've long gone ..

    Good for you – cheers Hilary

  2. Hi Hilary,


    I want my students to understand the value of things. This disposable world we live in doesn't have them thinking that things actually run out. They seem to think there is a limitless supply of everything at the store.

    I even talked about non-renewable resources in this lesson and talked about the price of gasoline.

    All in all it was a great lesson, and you've left a great comment.

    Thanks again!