9 Ways to Motivate Kids

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

We surveyed veteran teachers for their tips on reaching kids.

1. Give students the chance to contribute to your school. At my previous school, we developed a program where our 5th and 6th graders volunteered at 14 different school jobs. Office assistants sorted mail and answered the phones, the activity crew set up the sound system, and tour guides greeted visitors. Kids felt a part of the school and had a sense of purpose. Over two years, attendance improved and discipline referrals dropped.
—Dr. Pam Newell Bradley, Muskogee 7th and 8th Center, Muskogee, Oklahoma

2. Connect learning to real life. Our students do a major “budget project” in which they research a career, buy a house and a car, and pay bills. The kids do stellar work and see math in the English classroom and the value of English skills in math. We do similar activities in social studies and science.
—Michelle Davis, Language Arts teacher, Imperial Middle School, La Habra, California

3. Have a fun incentive for doing well on standardized tests. We held a student skating party after the state assessments. Students who were “caught” using their “super test skills”—highlighting, underlining, and rereading—received special recognition. The next time, we noticed an increase in the use of these important strategies.
—Teri Fulton, New Chelsea Elementary, Kansas City, Kansas

4. Hold a poetry slam! When kids are given opportunities to perform and share in a public forum, they rise to the challenge. They put out their best effort to express themselves, and it takes the learning to a much deeper place.
—Sarah Fitzpatrick, Mercer Middle School, Seattle, Washington

5. Make classroom incentives easy. I motivate my students with Fun Money. They earn class currency when they are showing responsibility, being caring of their classmates, volunteering to read, etc. Each Friday, we trade in the Fun Money for real treats. —Mimi Blackwelder, Destiny Christian School, Seaford, Delaware

6. Tap your community. Once a month, I take 12 students for a limo ride and lunch with the principal—me! Only students with a record of positive behavior for the month—according to their teachers—are eligible for the drawing. The limo company donates the service for free, as do area restaurants.
—Fran Donaldson, Deep Run Elementary, Elk Ridge, Maryland

7. Put yourself on camera. Videotaping is a great tool for class self-assessment. I set up the camera and let it record my classroom for a couple of hours. Then we review it together and make observations. Are students listening to each other, talking out of turn, etc.? By capturing moments in the classroom, we can see them more clearly and make improvements together.
—Sarah Fitzpatrick, Mercer Middle School, Seattle, Washington

8. Hold a debate. An old-fashioned debate is a great motivator. We have two or three a year. My fifth-graders vote on the topics and I divide them into teams. They spend weeks researching and preparing questions before the big event. Debates allow students to be active participants in charge of their own learning. When we’re finished, we write a class book.
—Jackie Levenson, Oakland Gardens School, Bayside, New York

9. Set high expectations. I have come to the conclusion that the best overall, all-around motivation tool is authentic student success. If we set clear goals and expectations for students and then do everything possible to see that they achieve their goals, they become successful. This success motivates kids to feel proud of themselves and do even more. What more could we want?
—Dave Montague, Washington Elementary, Kennewick, Washington

For more motivation ideas from teachers and experts, check out the print edition of the September 2006 edition of Instructor .

  • Subjects:
    Cooperation and Teamwork, Motivation, Responsibility, Pride and Self-Esteem, Teacher Tips and Strategies, Working with Families and the Community
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