3 Ways to Motivate Your Students


1. Warm Fuzzies

Something that I have used in my class for the past couple years are “warm fuzzies”. (Clearly it’s gotten a little sloppy, as I started with buckets, then cups, now plastic bags, but I love how I can move my behavior board around the room now!!) It’s a pretty cheap way to reward good behavior and has a realistic meaning behind it. In short, any time you do something successfully, help or support a friend, follow the rules, demonstrate good behavior, etc., you receive a warm fuzzy.

Because naturally, when you do something good for yourself or someone else you get a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. Right? :)

The warm fuzzies in my class are different sizes. The size of the warm fuzzy depends on the behavior. For example, pushing in your chair is following classroom rules; however, it is expected and therefore worth a smaller warm fuzzy. Handling frustrating situations in an appropriate way is worth a larger warm fuzzy because it requires more self control and determination to achieve. “It really bothers me when you ____. Can you please ____?” is a hard phrase for adults sometimes so hearing a kindergartener say it is pretty amazing.

2. Rewards based on Reinforcement Surveys

I use reinforcement surveys to create rewards that motivate my students to be the best they can be. I’ve learned that candy and treasure boxes will get most of the kids to follow the rules, but some kids need something a little more meaningful. Little Johnny who is “on red” every day (another reason I do not use color charts) is not going to change his behavior for a beaded mardi gras necklace at the end of the day. It might catch his interest, but so will the student student sitting next to him *who begins to sword fight with his pencil* and the beaded necklace becomes an irrelevant thought and uninteresting object.  The best way to increase behavior from ALL of your students is by finding out what motivates them. So if sword pencil fighting motivates Johnny to get his work done, then let him play with pencils as a reward - but definitely over in the corner...away from all other children.

Finding out what your students are motivated by may seem like an easy task. “I know Little Johnny likes to run around the room so his reward should be extra playground time.” This might motivate Johnny, but he may also think playing outside is too exhausting and doesn’t like to get sweaty. If this is the case, Johnny is not going to be as motivated to earn his reward.

The best way to figure out a difficult student’s motivators is to just ask. 

Find out what they really like and create it into a reward. There are many reinforcement surveys on the internet that are designed for challenging students who really need a specific, well-thought reward. Other students will enjoy just about anything you offer. Almost all of my students get tired of having their shoes on at some point in the day- and I totally understand their frustrations- I hate wearing shoes too! They are motivated to make the right choices by being able to read a book with their shoes off and feel comfy while at school. 

Some of the more popular rewards in my classroom are...

Read to another class

Shoes off for the day

  The photo taken above was the first day I introduced this reward and all student got to “test out” having their shoes off. However, I would strongly advise not having the whole class’ shoes off for long periods of time. There will be a lot of shoes and laces flying everywhere if the fire alarm goes off!

The photo taken above was the first day I introduced this reward and all student got to “test out” having their shoes off. However, I would strongly advise not having the whole class’ shoes off for long periods of time. There will be a lot of shoes and laces flying everywhere if the fire alarm goes off!

Read in the *special* blue reading chair


Teacher’s helper for the day

Want to know what these are? Click here!

Playdoh for morning work


And many others such as...

A good phone call home (I always think it is so sweet when students choose this reward. These are the students that are begging for positive recognition from their parents. I am always SO happy to make these phone calls!)

Nurse helper (walks with hurt/sick students to nurse)

Line leader for the day

Class DJ (Choose our brain breaks!)

Sit at the teacher’s desk for the day

I create new rewards as my students come up with them, but I start with a basic list of reward ideas they can choose from called the Reward Book


3. Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself, whereas acting on extrinsic motivation is done for the sake of some external outcome.

For example, you are extrinsically motivated to go to work because you are getting paid to be there (ok, so teachers are not a good example of this because some of us are actually intrinsically motivated to be at work- we enjoy teaching and gain happiness from it.) However, other people in the world go to work for the sole purpose of getting paid. This is extrinsic motivation. Doing something you don’t want to do in order to not get punished is also an example of extrinsic motivation. When Little Johnny thinks to himself “I don’t want to clean up the blocks right now, but I am going to because if I don’t I know I will get a time-out” is an example of extrinsic motivation. Johnny is following directions, but he’s not very happy. 

One way we can keep students intrinsically motivated is to include them in their own learning. Sharing curriculum standards increases student motivation by giving them a purpose for learning. “Wow! Today we are going to learn about addition! This is an important skill! What are some ways we might use addition in our lives?” Increase student motivation by increasing the importance of learning. 

Goal setting is another way to build motivation for learning. Some students are naturally competitive and intrinsically motivated to do as well as or better than their peers. Others may need your help. Bar graphs are great visuals for students to see growth over time. Reading levels are extremely fun for students to track and are proven to increase motivation! Grade books are no longer just for teachers - students should be included in their progress and goals.

Have you tried any of these strategies? What other motivation strategies do you use in your classroom? I’d love to hear about them - leave a comment below! :)