Motivating students to do their best

Ok, friends!  Let's be real for a second.  

Am I the only one who gets a teeny, tiny bit frustrated when you look at the work your students have done during centers while you were working with reading groups (or math groups)?   If I am, please feel free to stop reading right now.  

But like most teachers, I spend the whole first month of school teaching, modeling, practicing, reteaching, and guiding students through the process of centers in our classroom.  I don't pull groups until October.  I do pull some kids one on one to do some testing in the beginning but I take many breaks and walk around the classroom to point out the positive and redirect the negative.  After each session we have a class meeting and discuss how it went.  We review procedures.  We celebrate the students who were working hard.  By the end of September it feels like they really get it.

Then, between the time on that Friday when they "get it" to the following Monday when we actually start guided reading ----- they FORGET!!!  I don't know what happens.  They forget where to find the centers (same place as the whole month before).  They forget where to turn in finished papers (same place as before).  They forget their names on papers.  They rush to finish their work.  Ahhhhhhh!!!!!

So naturally I start to question myself.  Did I rush into this?  Did I not model enough?  But then I remember a little thing called Gradual Release of Responsibility.   I can't expect them to be 100% perfect on their own, when the previous week they were used to me monitoring and redirecting.  I needed to still take a few minutes in between reading groups to walk around and do this.  The reason they were so good was because I was right there with them.  I can't just desert them now!  

One lesson learned!

The next thing I did was find the students (in this case there were really only 3) who really tried their hardest during centers and did their best work.  They had been working quietly and followed directions.  Plus, the work they did showed great effort and just what I was looking for.  

So instead of pointing out the other 15 kids whose work was sub-par at best, I celebrated these 3 kiddos so everyone could SEE what I was looking for.  They got stickers and their papers were hung up on the board for all to see.  I also rewarded these 3 kids with an amazing thing called CHOICE!  

They earned a star on the center chart, which meant they got to do Bonus Centers after they finished their other centers.  They could choose where to go next.  I have found that choice is always motivating. 

They could choose a center card from this little bucket and place it in the center chart in front of their name.  Some bonus centers only allow for a couple people, so once it's full the other students have to choose something else.  Since there were only 3 of them doing this, they didn't fill any of the centers.  

My goal is that eventually most, if not all of the students, will earn Bonus Centers.  For those of you who do strictly Daily 5, you already know how motivating choice can be.  Although I do not follow Daily 5 at this point with my centers, these bonus centers have a twinge of Daily 5 infused in them.  The choices for Bonus Centers for now are:  Listening Center, Games (phonics and word work games), Read with a Buddy, Big Book Center, and iPads.  In case you were wondering, their normal centers are: Word Work, Writing, Spelling, and Pocket Chart.  

I've told the students that they can all EARN Bonus Centers, but they can also LOSE Bonus Centers.  They get to keep the star in the chart as long as they are doing their best work during center time.  I'm hoping this will help my kiddos stay motivated and keep thinking about trying their best.  

What do you do in your classroom to keep kids motivated to do their best work?  How do you manage centers?  I'd love to hear what works for other teachers too =)


  1. Ummm are you spying on us?! Do you have cameras set up in our room because we are going through the Exact.Same.Thing!!! Just when you think you're safe to send them on their way-BAM! They quickly remind you that they are still 6 & 7 and sooo not independent yet!

    We love the idea of revisiting their work and acknowledging those who did a fabulous job. The power of suggestion from their peers. Such a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing Melissa :)
    ~Christy & Tammy
    Fluttering Through First Grade

  2. I love that you focused on the students who were working to the best of their ability. That will definitely work wonders with the others! I wanted to let you know about a fun thing I'm doing for Halloween. It's a Treat Bag Exchange. Please check it out if you get a chance and share with your friends so they can get in on the fun too!