Behaviour Management

8 Ways to Motivate Children Without Rewards

Different strokes for different folks is becoming my new behaviour policy. What works for me as a teacher, might not work for you. Ditto if your parent. Definitely, if you’re a child. The more I have studied behaviour, the more I have come to wonder why would you marry a single philosophy when there are so many options out there? Handcuffing yourself to a single set of beliefs just limits your options. Develop preferences for sure. But if your strategies aren’t serving you, the adult you’re trying to advise or the child, it’s time to change it up and try something new. As long as the approach abides by obvious ethical parameters, its an option.

Reward systems usually evoke strong opinions. Adults can love or hate them. They can rely heavily on them or avoid them like the plague. The truth, as always, lies in the middle. I wrote a piece about developing top-quality reward systems but I acknowledge they are not for everyone and different strategies are needed. But how do we motivate children to behave and learn without rewards? Here are eight different options:

  1. Providing Choice is a strong motivator. It gives ownership to students over their learning and behaviour. Depending on the situation, you can offer them a choice over what they learn, how they learn and where they learn. (More on choice here)
  2. Providing Competition motivates students. The teacher can set a challenge for the child to overcome. They can challenge a child to beat their own personal best. In the appropriate contexts, they can even pit children against their peers. Healthy competition is part of life and should be harnessed positively.
  3. Technology always is appealing to students. They will jump at the chance to achieve learning objectives using technology instead of using pen and paper. Creating their work digitally, photographically or through video will inspire them to apply themselves.
  4. Art should never be underestimated. Whether it is creating work using new and colourful stationery or reacting to a stimulus through clay or painting, children are often motivated by presenting their work artistically.
  5. Drama stirs children’s imagination. A topic such as the Vikings can be very uninspiring in a textbook, but if it is brought to life through role-play, freeze frames and conscience alleys, it suddenly becomes a world of fun and motivation to get involved.
  6. Mysteries that need solving stoke a child’s curiosity. Give them clues and the resources and support to solve them and they will work like detectives to scratch the itch and find out what the answer is. 
  7. Surprises aren’t for everyone. Some children who are anxious need predictability. Depending on your class, however, inserting novelty and surprise activities can shake off the funk children fall into if they find routine monotonous. Variety is the spice of life and it adds motivation to the mixture too.
  8. Deadlines are simple and effective. Whether you introduce a short term deadline with a radial timer or a longer-term deadline, these can motivate children to achieve task completion before the deadline runs out.

Each of these eight options provides effective motivation on their own or paired with a reward system. Incorporating them into your daily routine will prevent misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Like what you read?

Every Monday I send a short and free email with one strategy for behaviour, one for inclusion and one small thought, feel free to sign up here.

Success! You're on the list.
Behaviour Management

Making a game of Good Behaviour

There are many reward systems and strategies out there that claim to improve classroom behaviour. One system that comes with a bulk of evidence to support its claim is The Good Behaviour Game. This is a system which is proven to increase the desired behaviours and is relatively easy to implement: a win-win for teachers.

How to play

  1.  The teacher displays the list of desired behaviours in the classroom. As per best practice, these are few in number and positively phrased. They might include rules such as raising your hand to speak, eyes on the teacher when they are talking etc. 
  2. The teacher divides the class into groups with an even distribution of personality types (disruptive children, withdrawn children, studious children etc)
  3. The teacher initially plays the game for ten minutes daily for the first week. Teams get a point if they break a rule. If they have 4 points or more, they do not receive the reward. Visibly display the points so children can be reminded of the score and what is and is not acceptable.
  4. The teacher builds the amount of time the game is played for week after week. 
  5. The teacher slowly changes the rewards from immediate rewards – such as jellies, stickers or stationary – to deferred rewards such as additional free time at the end of the week, stickers, extra PE, access to iPads later in the day.

Key Considerations

Ensure that your rule list is small with simple-to-follow instructions. Ensure that the reward on offer is genuinely motivating to the target audience.

Do not overuse the strategy straight away, building up time slowly is essential to its success.

Changing the teams, times and rewards can manipulate the game to maintain interest over the course of a full-term if this is your desired strategy.

The beauty of the strategy is it can be explained in a very short time, does not require huge resources to implement and has research to back its effectiveness. 

Add it to the toolkit and pull it out when required. Enjoy!

Behaviour Management

Call-and-Response 101

The basics of classroom management are the basics for a reason: they work. Personally, a fundamental strategy for the younger classes that I use is call-and-response chants to get the whole class’ attention before I begin instruction. This is a very simple strategy that can prevent you from having to repeat instructions multiple times or speak over the class to get their attention.

To ensure this basic strategy works, I would advise (as always) explicitly teaching the expected behaviours attached to the call and response while praising any student who fulfils these expectations thereafter to maximise compliance.

Maintaining these consistent expectations and reinforcing regularly through praise or a reward system can ensure the listening skills in the room develop to a high level and students learn to really tune in to your voice when you use this strategy. Over-use can be detrimental to its efficacy and keeping it fresh will help ensure that it works systematically throughout the year.

To keep it novel, I suggest changing the call-and-response every month to ensure that children don’t become immune to it and to remind yourself to reiterate the expectations and continue reinforcing them. I’ve attached below a suggested call-and-response grid that might be useful for any interested teachers:

MonthTeacher CallStudent ResponseExpectation
September“Show me Five!”“Eyes are watching, Ears are listening, feet are still, hands are quiet, you should really try it, you should really try it, listening well, listening well.” (To the tune of Frere Jacque)Everything in the song is completed by the time the song is complete.
October“Hocus Pocus”“Everybody Focus”All children turn and point their finger towards the teacher (as if casting a spell) with their eyes on the teacher and their voice off.
November“Voices” (Loud voice)   “Voices” (Medium voice)   “Voices” (Whisper)“Shhhhh” (Loud Voice)   “Shhhhh” (Medium Voice)   “Shhhh” (Whisper”The teacher calls the first time loudly and the children respond loudly, the second one is responded to quieter before being fully silent and eyes on the teacher following the final call.
December“Zip it, Lock it…”“Put it in your pocket!”The teacher mimics zipping their lips and turning the key while the children mimic putting the key in their pocket before folding their arms and looking at the teacher with voices off.
JanuaryClap a pattern.Children repeat it.Repeat three different patterns. By the end of the final pattern, all conversation has stopped, and eyes are on the teacher with.
February“1..2..3..eyes on me..”“1..2..eyes on you..”Eyes focussed on the teacher and voices are off.
March“Hands on top”“That means stop”Children empty their hands and put their hands on their head with their eyes on the teacher and voices off.
April“Ready, Set?”“You bet!”If the children are ready to listen, they give you two thumbs up while they are looking at you silently.
May“L-I-S”“T-E-N”Children finish their conversation or activity immediately and watch the teacher for their next instruction.
June“Ready to Rock?”“Ready to Roll!”Children do a rolling motion with their two hands before folding them and looking at you attentively.