I have a class of 1st-3rd graders, and I have often struggled with motivation techniques. They absolutely LOVE any kind of point system, but I never really found one I liked because:
- the more advanced kids tend to dominate the class, and the newer/younger students feel overwhelmed
- the kids aren’t really mature enough to handle losing, so I have to work to make sure everyone has the same number of points (and what’s the point of that?)
- the kids become obsessed with points and forget about the class
Well, today I made a new discovery. I made up a scoring system on the fly, and the kids really responded to it! It’s not perfect, but my class was engaged, there were several “winners” and even the beginners were able to win. Here’s what I did:
- I used one magnet letter for each student (first letter of the name), and I put them all in a line along the top of the whiteboard. It looked like this:
- Then, when anyone did exceptionally well or scored a point in a game, I would move their letter up one level. After a while I had a few letters on the top, a few in the middle, and one or two on the bottom. (I think you could go with more than 3 levels, especially if you have a large class, but this gives you the idea).
- Then, if any students violated a rule (like speaking Japanese during class), then their letter would be moved down a level. At the end of the lesson, whoever is on the top row gets an extra sticker (or whatever reward you are doing).
Now, I don’t usually like to use negatives (like taking away points) to motivate my classes, since I find that positive reinforcement seems to work a lot better. However, using the negatives sparingly keeps everyone on their toes, and with this system no one really seems to mind moving down a level. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect that moving level is less painful than losing points, and it’s also easy to see that there are other classmates with you on the same level so that is also comforting.
I will be tweaking this system as I go along, but the first day was a pleasant surprise!
I have been using this system for a while now, and I am really amazed at how well the kids are responding to it. I have one class that has always been “too cool for school” so getting them to participate was always a real struggle. But this week they were practically leaping out of their seats begging to be called on, and we were only doing a flashcard drill! And when we did the grammar pattern practice, they actually asked to do more! The real kicker, though, was the struggling student who never knew what was going on because he would just space out the entire time. This time he actually raised his hand, and he almost made it to the top of the board.
- When all your students are begging you to call on them, you want to be extra careful about fairness. I can never remember how many times someone has answered, so I have started using dice to keep everything random and to avoid any sense of favoritism.
- If you teach a large class (like an entire elementary school class), you can divide the class into mini-teams and assign each team a letter. I find that 8 is about the right number to have on the board, so a typical elementary school class will have teams of about 4 kids each. You just have to make sure that the kids take turns answering for their team so that one student doesn’t dominate the group.