If there is one thing we know about kids, it’s that they have short attention spans and prefer now to later. This is especially true at the beginning of the year.
Teachers, more than any district or schoolwide programs, have the most power to know how to motivate students because they’re on the front lines. They can influence students in a way that kids can actually understand: here, now, today, in this room.
***Obviously, not enough can be said about parent involvement, but that’s a Top 12 list for another day***
How to Motivate Students In Your Classroom or School
1. Praise Students in Ways Big and Small
Recognize work in class, display good work in the classroom and send positive notes home to parents, hold weekly awards in your classroom, organize academic pep rallies to honor the honor roll, and even sponsor a Teacher Shoutout section in the student newspaper to acknowledge student’s hard work.
2. Expect Excellence
Set high, yet realistic expectations. Make sure to voice those expectations. Set short terms goals and celebrate when they are achieved.
3. Spread Excitement Like a Virus
Show your enthusiasm in the subject and use appropriate, concrete and understandable examples to help students grasp it. For example, I love alliteration. Before I explain the concept to students, we “improv” subjects they’re interested in. After learning about alliteration, they brainstorm alliterative titles for their chosen subjects.
4. How to Motivate Students: Mix It Up
It’s a classic concept and the basis for differentiated instruction, but it needs to be said: using a variety of teaching methods caters to all types of learners. By doing this in an orderly way, you can also maintain order in your classroom. In a generic example for daily instruction, journal for 10 minutes to open class; introduce the concept for 15 minutes; discuss/group work for 15 minutes; Q&A or guided work time to finish the class. This way, students know what to expect everyday and have less opportunity to act up.
5. Assign Classroom Jobs
With students, create a list of jobs for the week. Using the criteria of your choosing, let students earn the opportunity to pick their classroom jobs for the next week. These jobs can cater to their interests and skills.
Classroom Job Examples
- Post to the Class blog
- Update Calendar
- Moderate review games
- Pick start of class music
- Watch class pet
- Public relations officer (address people who visit class)
- Standard class jobs like Attendance, Cleaning the boards, putting up chairs, etc.
6. Hand Over Some Control
If students take ownership of what you do in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely). Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class. Multiple choice might be the best way to start if you predict a lot of “nothing” or “watch movies” answers.
After reviewing the answers, integrate their ideas into your lessons or guide a brainstorm session on how these ideas could translate into class.
On a systematic level, let students choose from elective classes in a collegiate format. Again, they can tap into their passion and relate to their subject matter if they have a choice.
7. Open-format Fridays
You can also translate this student empowerment into an incentive program. Students who attended class all week, completed all assignments and obeyed all classroom rules can vote on Friday’s activities (lecture, discussion, watching a video, class jeopardy, acting out a scene from a play or history).
8. Relating Lessons to Students’ Lives
Whether it is budgeting for family Christmas gifts, choosing short stories about your town, tying in the war of 1812 with Iraq, rapping about ions, or using Pop Culture Printables, students will care more if they identify themselves or their everyday lives in what they’re learning.
9. Track Improvement
In those difficult classes, it can feel like a never-ending uphill battle, so try to remind students that they’ve come a long way. Set achievable, short-term goals, emphasis improvement, keep self-evaluation forms to fill out and compare throughout the year, or revisit mastered concepts that they once struggled with to refresh their confidence.
10. Reward Positive Behavior Outside the Classroom
Tie service opportunities, cultural experiences, extracurricular activities into the curriculum for extra credit or as alternative options on assignments. Have students doing Habitat for Humanity calculate the angle of the freshly cut board, count the nails in each stair and multiply the number of stairs to find the total number of nails; write an essay about their experience volunteering or their how they felt during basketball tryouts; or any other creative option they can come up with.
Motivate Students Beyond the Classroom
The idea of cash incentives is a timely yet controversial topic, so I’d like to look at this attempt to “buy achievement” through a different lens. It seems people are willing to dump some money into schools, so let’s come up with better ways to spend it.
11. Plan Dream Field Trips
With your students, brainstorm potential field trips tiered by budget. Cash incentive money can then be earned toward the field trips for good behavior, performance, etc. The can see their success in the classroom as they move up from the decent zoo field trip to the good state capitol day trip to the unbelievable week-long trip to New York City. Even though the reward is delayed, tracking progress will give students that immediate reward.
12. College Fund Accounts
College dreams motivate athletes; why not adapt the academic track to be just as tangible for hard-working student? One way is to keep a tally of both the cash value and the potential school choice each student has earned. As freshman, they see they’ve earned one semester at the local junior college. By second semester of junior year, they’re going to four-years at State for half the price. By graduation, watch out free ride to their dream school.