Teaching 9-13 year-olds is not for the faint of heart, and when you haven’t been 9-13 in a while yourself, coming up with ideas to inspire and motivate can be a challenge. So here are a few gimmicks I’ve discovered over my past twenty years in the classroom that help in this arena (most of the time- with a lot of students 😏).
Consider hanging your kids’ best work on a classroom “refrigerator.” Much of the work that we spend so much time correcting, never makes it out of the backpack (or even the locker) and onto real-life at-home refrigerators. Make one for your classroom wall and show how proud you are of your students when they do great work!
Let them brag a little. Years ago I got an Easy button from Staples for under ten dollars, and had the bright idea to allow students to press it when they got a 100% on a test. The pre-recorded voice says, “That was easy,” and students get to show off a little without really bragging. And if you’ve ever seen siblings fight over who gets to press the elevator buttons, you know that pushing those little circles is super motivating to kids. Extra bonus, Staples has international easy buttons if you, like I do, teach Geography, or if you have English Language Learners in your classroom and want to let them brag in their native language.
Pay them off. (OK, not literally…)
Sometimes it feels like the students in front of us in the classroom (though not all, of course) are from households way more well off than we are with our teacher salaries. Therefore, positive reinforcement that motivates them could get expensive. If you create a classroom currency of dollar store coins, tickets, or another type of class money- I use HILLBILLS– it will allow you to reward/reinforce positive behaviors/outcomes right in the moment, while buying yourself time to come up with free or inexpensive rewards that students will appreciate. It also lends to the competitive nature of middle schoolers, as they try to earn more than their peers.
So what are some of those free or inexpensive ideas that students can exchange their hard earned classroom currency for?
- Homework pass
- “Choose your own seat today” pass
- “Leave for lockers one minute early” pass
- “Leave for lunch one minute early” pass
- Locker pass (for use when they forget something needed for class)
- Device Day Pass- students get to listen to music on their device while working
- Early bird access to the classroom (if students gather somewhere when they get off the buses in the morning)
- Teacher lunch appointment
- Book club bonus point books
- Pencils/Cap Erasers
- Baked goods or munchkins to exchange classroom currency for during videos (if district policy/classroom allergies allow for this)
- Prize items donated by parents or school administration (check the party favor section for sticky hands, hacky sacks, etc.)
Get with the Program!
Many organizations have programs- some long established- to encourage and reward kids who put effort into their work.
Pizza Hut continues its “Book It” program which I participated in as an elementary schooler, and which provides teachers with reward certificates good for personal pan pizzas when students meet classroom reading goals.
Baseball Card stores near you may take part in the Topps of the Class promotion, where students who show good report cards in the store receive a free pack of Topps baseball cards. See if a store near you is participating here and contact them to see if they have or would collaborate with you on a flyer you can distribute to students who earn the honor and might be motivated by free cards for their collection.
Try reaching out to your local Applebees, Burger King, McDonalds, or locally owned eateries to see if they participate in their corporate reward program or if they would work with you to create one.
There are also community organizations which have programs where students get rewarded for their learning by helping others. Consider looking into St. Jude’s Research Hospital Math-a-Thon.
Model the Enthusiasm You Want to See
Enthusiasm is contagious, so if they see their adult role model coming into school excited about what everyone will be doing that day, or excited to give a small token in exchange for a student’s effort, they will reflect that enthusiasm back. Most of the time. 😉 -A