Whenever I come across a new way to motivate students, I hold onto it like a lost treasure. I haven't yet found the silver bullet of motivation that works for all students, but I've found something discreet that works for me across multiple age groups.
One day, I wrote a note on a 7th grade student's paper commending him for being such an active participant in a previous day's discussion. The note was so well-received by this student ("I'm going to put this on the refrigerator tonight so my Dad will see it!") that it got me thinking about I should really be giving more positive reinforcement to students for all those wonderful things they do throughout the day, and make sure that the message gets home to parents as well. Having lived through the teenage years of dinner-time-talking (grunts, groans, eye-rolling and a lot of "I don't know"s), I wanted to come up with a way for information to flow home once in a while. Parents love hearing those message from teachers, but middle school students aren't very good at delivering them.
I decided to get business cards made up with a simple message that I could attach to a paper, or toss on a student's desk during the course of the class without much fuss. While there are many places to have business cards made, I found great deals through an online company called Vistaprint. I had 500 cards made for under $10. Here is what they looked like:
The 7th and 8th graders enjoyed getting them tossed onto their desk during our class discussions. It made me want to expand my idea to other areas. I began commending them for taking out a book and reading, for keeping their journals up to date, and even for kind acts that I caught them doing. When I took on a new role that brought me into classrooms of younger students as well for writing lessons, I tried them out. They were a hit there, too.
Now I have all types of cards that I carry with me, to use no matter what the occasion. When I walk into a second grade classroom, I'll see the kids taking their pleasure reading books out in hopes I'll give them a card for being caught reading. They seem to collect them now, and I'm fine with that. I'll continue to get different cards made up, and I'll continue to hand them out for as long as they work....
Let me know if you have a great motivational tip. I'd love to hear about it!