How to get kids motivated without rewards – Intrinsic Motivation Systems

This is the age old question. How can you motivate students and prompt and reinforce classroom expectations without physical rewards or token systems? How can I get my students to make choices, manage their noise and always put 100% effort into their learning? I do not claim to have the perfect answer but here are some ideas to prompt your thinking and some resources to get you started.

To begin, how far you can go with an intrinsic motivation system totally depends on the grade you have. You need to think critically about your group of students and what they need. Last year I had an incredibly difficult grade, spurred on by a large class, lots of individual needs and one particularly unmotivated boy so my intrinsic system fell apart. As the year progressed it became clear that for this boy to make consistently good choices he needed his own reward system (involving iPad time) and that the grade needed individual reward points (using Class Dojo) to concentrate on their own learning and work as a grade. So I do not think that it can work in every case, sometimes the mix of students requires outside extrinsic motivations.
But every other year in my experience, an intrinsic system can work and is the most rewarding and effective way to truly motivate students.

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I have found the best way to intrinsically motivate children as learners is by raising their awareness of the moments and achievements that are worth feel
ing PROUD of!

To begin, it is important to start using the language of intrinsic motivation. I found that the use of the word proud’ really made the idea explicit and understandable for kids, especially in the junior years.Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 5.36.57 pm.png

  • Talk about what makes students feel proud
  • Predict what might make students proud during the year
  • Brainstorm all the places students could feel proud – many of which many students won’t have ever thought of, even beyond school

My aim with these initial discuss was to tap into these things, respect them and incorporate them into my classroom.

Celebrating and Keeping Track!

The next goal was then to continually celebrate children’s achievements and meaningful accomplishments and support their ability to identify when they have made progress, through the use of explicit learning goals and visible tracking systems.

I have little boxes of ‘Proud’ notes for students to grab and stick into their books whenever they are super happy with their work. They love using them and will independently grab a slip to highlight something they are proud of. This also alerts you to their effort making it so easy to acknowledge when they have tried hard. This so easy taps into and encourages intrinsic motivation!

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I also use a learning journal which I will blog about soon and can be found for free HERE.

In the journal, students develop goals, track their progress weekly, reflect after individual lessons and then celebrate their success. IMG_3962Developing learning goals takes time and you do need to dedicate time to really drive within your grade for the first little while.
But when students get the hang of it, start genuinely ticking off their goals and developing more, the intrinsic motivation is palpable.


I don’t think it takes too much to encourage an intrinsic motivation system over something extrinsic in your classroom. A couple of little shifts and a whole lot of talk about the positives already happening in student’s lives can turn the corner for any grade. Talk about what makes them feel proud! Stop and encourage them to feel proud! Develop some achievable learning goals and watch them light up when they accomplish them! All this is highly motivating for students and worth it!

FIND my Intrinsic Motivation System HERE and my Learning Journal pack HERE.

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Reading Investigation! Be a detective.

Kids love playing detective and the challenge of solving a case. I remember having loved playing detective as a kid and thought the detective genre is a great way to engage for kids in reading. The genre encourages kids to collect clues, make inferences and predictions and write reports stating the facts. This memory inspired me to create an ongoing reading activity based on playing detective and solving a crime using reading skills.

Picture1So I wrote a kid-friendly (rated G) case into four parts and gave it to my kids with a range of accompanying activities where they had to apply their reading strategies into detective reports.

The case challenged students but they were absolutely hooked! Each week they got a different part and I saw them come up and change predictions, make genuine inferences, collect clues and summarise what was going on. It was the best fun they had had in reading groups all year and they loved talking about the case.Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 5.02.35 PM

The best part of the experience was that it provided them with an integrated opportunity to practice a range of reading strategies. They didn’t even realise they were applying the things we had been working on all year.

Have a look if your after a totally engaging reading experience for you kids.

Find it HERE! This reading pack provides you with an ongoing reading investigations any student would love!


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Wow! I have a reading comprehension student (private student) who LOVED this activity so much. He said it is the most fun he has ever had at school. Awesome!!

Wonderful product! Fit beautifully with my predictions lessons. Used whole group spread across a week

Mnemonics Spelling Tricks and Posters

Remember those old spelling tricks you learnt at primary school? Those tricks to spelling ‘because’ or ‘together’ which are now imprinted into your brain? That old traditional way to remember common but often difficult words is coming back in vogue and has real benefits within the junior grades.
I opened up the discussion with my grade 4 students about the tricks they use to spell certain words and was amazed at the mnemonics they reported back. They had been taught some, but they had also created their own in an attempt to remember those pesky words! They were totally hooked so we went about collecting as many words as possible and they genuinely enjoyed learning the tricks and now feel proud when they remember or use them!Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 8.02.34 PM.png

What are Mnemonics?

Mnemonics assist students to master information and to gain conscious control of their learning process. The process involves organising the information to be learnt and then linking that information with something familiar.

Not only can Mnemonics help students retain large amounts of information but the process itself teaches students how they can be active learners in control of their own memories. This process is invaluable as students move up the school as they slowly become responsible for studying and remember information.


How can I use this in my classroom?

My students and I have been collecting the Mnemonics they already know and I have been periodically been introducing new mnemonics weekly. We’ve recorded these tricks into their word study books and have made a display in the classroom for their reference.

I’ve also used the process to encourage students to creatPicture1.pnge their own mnemonics to remember common homophones. At first students had difficulty really thinking about how to pair the word with something meaningful so they can differentiated between two meanings and spellings of the one word.

For example they came up with…

There – it has ‘here’ in it because it is a location word

But the mnemonics they developed have been incredibly worthwhile and have really helped certain students remember commonly misspelt homophones.


Mnemonics is a great way to support spelling and the learning of new information. A fantastic way to get back to those traditional spelling strategies we all loved and importantly REMEMBER!

The posters I’ve accumulated and used as a display can be found here to support any spelling mnemonics program!

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Spelling Scavenger Hunt! A fun, easy activity for ANY spelling rules or patterns!

Want a fun way for your kids to practise a spelling pattern or rule?

IMG_2154This Spelling Scavenger Hunt is a fun way for kids to search the classroom resources and books for spelling rules. Simply select a spelling pattern/rule and give the kids, in teams, 20 minutes or so to search the classroom for it. They need to record the word they found, underline the pattern they have found and record the source of the word.

Afterwards their findings allow forIMG_2159 a fantastic discussion about the rule and for the kids to highlight the things they themselves discovered about the rule or pattern. Having them scan the pages of books for the spelling pattern also allows them to notice the specifics of the rule you are focusing on and differentiate between words.

Free – HERE – Spelling Scavenger Hunt

This is part of a bigger spelling package (with heaps of activities for ANY spelling focus) found HERE

Making Predictions – resources to support kids explaining and reflecting on their predictions!

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There is resource galore for exploring ‘making predictions’ in our reading programs. SO MUCH! Its a pretty easy one to cover as well. Kids understand it quickly and do it naturally.

However I’ve found that most resources available are only skin deep and don’t actually require kids to explain their predictions, using evidence from the text, or reflect on their predictions. And to develop higher order thinking skills, explaining and reflecting are VITAL!!! Nor do I find that resources allow kids to read, stop to make a prediction and then read on to see if they were right.

As a result, I created this resource to challenge the predictions my kids make and require them to go a step further.

Each story is double sided. Students read one side, then stop and make their predictions and explain their reasoning. They then turn to the other side to continue the story to test their predictions. Then students reflect. The predictions, explanations and reflections students gave were 10 times more powerful than the regular one dimensional responses they normally give.

This resource is also differentiated by reading level, so you can give the same story to your strong and weak readers.

Here is an example of the two sides, to one story…

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Have a look HERE if you want to broaden and challenge the quality of predictions your kids are making.

Framing the Curriculum for Inquiry Based Learning! An inquiry into division.

I have been participating in some professional development program which focuses on the ‘powerful’ learning practices. A significant part of this PD is in inquiry learning and developing curiosity in kids – very much in the Ken Robinson mould of changing education perspectives for the future…

Inquiry had always been a daunting and scary prospect, and something honestly I never understood properly…. and my understandings are still developing.

However this PD put inquiry to me in a manageable and practical way.

Frame the curriculum like a question.

It doesn’t have to be a big, expansive unit, full of resources you don’t have. At the barebones, inquiry is allowing kids to try to explore a question, develop their own answers and then present what they find.

This revelation and simplistic view on inquiry has inspired many changes in my classroom. In the smallest context or lesson I have been using an inquiry approach which the kids love! The independence, cooperative learning opportunities and genuine curiosity it can create is mind boggling and truly motivating for children.

Sooooo here is an example….

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Instructions and questions on my whiteboard, with learning intentions.

A run of the mill Maths lesson focusing on the connection between division and repeated subtraction, which would normally be taught in the traditional deliver and listen, followed by a pen and paper activity was turned into a simple question….

How is division similar to repeated subtraction?

Sharing counters for division - inquiry approach to maths

Sharing counters for division.

Kids then chose their groups, they themselves making sure there was a ‘confident’ maths person in each group. Counters were provided for students to explore and they were also encouraged to think back to our multiplication unit to make the connection to ‘repeated addition’.
They went away with a nervous excitement and in small groups I saw them discuss the problem, share their ideas, teach each other and then decide on the best way to present their explanation and what they found.Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 5.52.52 pm

When each group was finished, they shared their findings to the class. All groups had decided to make posters to help with their presentations and honestly all of them understood the concept by the end of the lesson.

The inquiry approach sparked their curiosity and allowed them to construct their own understandings. Not to mention they had fun and had control over their own learning!

Trigraphs for strugglers!

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I had a reader who had significant reading issues last year. He struggled specifically when reading longer strains of word patterns…. when he couldn’t simply chunk or break up the word into small parts. Trigraphs in particular tripped him up, espcially ‘str’ ‘scr’ ‘spr’.

So he needed practice… but I struggled to find anything to support him. Books were hard to find and I couldn’t find anything more than simple word work activities for the trigraphs. I then set out to make some passages for him to practice. We would read them together, then he would rea
d it independently and then he’d complete the comprehension questions to further practice the trigraph (which ultimately helped his spelling!).

If you have readers that struggle with trigraphs or are just focusing on trigraphs as part of your reading or spelling program… have a look!

Have a look at trigraph passages HERE and HERE
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Push and Pull Experiments for 2nd Grade- A Unit of Fun!!! Free Resources

Last term we completed a unit on Push and Pull and Forces. I’ve never had so much fun in a classroom as I attempted to do an experiment every week – the kids very much appreciated it!

To kick off we did a Wondering Wall with the students questions and what they already know. Then we started with the experiments…IMG_2555

Friction Experiments

We discussed friction and created a definition. Then students selected different surfaces to test and in small groups, tested friction with toy cars.

Wind Power 

We explored the power of wind – how it has the power to push and pull. Students then constructed little wind race tracks to test other people in the class. Using a straw, students used wind power (by blowing air) to push a Malteser through the different tracks. The absolutely loved it!


TIMG_2432ea Bag Rockets

A kid favourite!!!! Empty a simple tea bag, stand it on its end, then light the top. The fire will travel down the bag till the very bottom. At that point all the hot air, thats been pushed down the bag cylinder pushes the ashes up into the air – entertaining the kids to no end!!! Gravity then brings the ashes back down. We probably did this experiment 5 times, the kids were obsessed!

Pom Pom PoppersIMG_2735

Students loved this one. Use Pom Poms Poppers to create anarchy in the classroom. Explore the force of pull and how tension can produce a push. Google it for further instruction on how to make them – it is well worth it!

Paper airplanes

In groups of 4, kids made different paper airplanes. Templates and different designs were provided so that each member could make a different kind. We discussed the effects of wind, gravity and thrust (in paper airplanes, our muscles pushing the plane).

Every week the kids looked forward to what experiment we were going to complete. It took me a little while to find a good range of experiments to do during the unit, which suited Push and Pull or Forces. Here’s hoping this little run down helps someone else!

Resources and Templates HERE – FREE!!

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Reading Board Games – Sight Words and Beginning and End Blends – Prep/Kindergarten to 3

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Developing reading fluency can be a challenge, especially if kids are still struggling with their sight words and simple beginning and end blends.

Kids need continual practice reading common words and problem solving simple blends.

These games give your kiddies practice in a FUN way! My kids love playing the games and filling their boards up with the words they have read.

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Find it HERE – Sight Word Board Games

Find it HERE – Beginning and End Blend Board Game

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Teaching Addition and Subtraction with Vertical Number Lines


Taking kids from using their fingers and concrete materials to thinking abstractly about addition or using mental strategies is a massive step. When they begin to add larger numbers and cannot use concrete materials, its hard to scaffold their use of effective mental strategies – like adding 10.

The best way I’ve found to support their addition of larger numbers is by using vertical number lines. Students create their number lines to 100 and use pegs to count on, or add 10 (using the different colours) to add larger numbers together. This activity allows them to visualise and physically complete IMG_2338addition of larger numbers.

A fun application of the vertical numbers lines is ‘Race to 100’, where students start at 0 and roll dice to move their peg up the line. The first to 100 wins. Another alternative is ‘Race to 0’, to practice subtraction.

I have used them multiple times, for counting on, adding 10, adding to 10 and counting down. Students got use to pulling out the lines and using them to calculate addition and subtraction. Perfect for grades 1 to 3.

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HERE is the vertical addition strips – FREE!

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