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10 Ways to Motivate the Unmotivated Student

tips for motivating students
Bored schoolboy looking away while sitting at desk with girl in background at classroom

Are you looking for ways to motivate the unmotivated student or students in your classroom? Trying to teach the unmotivated student is hard work. It takes creativity, consistency, and some trial and error to find out what works. What works for one student or group doesn’t necessarily work for the next. Today I am sharing 10 ideas that just might work to reach those unmotivated in your classroom.

10 Ideas for Motivating Students

1. Use Raffle Tickets

The first way to motivated the unmotivated student is to use raffle tickets. Buy a roll of blank raffle tickets or make your own. Each time a student is caught doing good, give them a raffle ticket. Have a drawing each day for a piece of candy or small prize.

2. Desk Pets

There are different ways to use desk pets in your classroom and some teacher systems can get pretty elaborate with habitats and more. One simple way to use this idea is to bring in a collection of smallish stuffed animals. If students are working on task, then quietly ask them if they would host a pet until the end of class. Of course you will need to establish some ground rules first, but desk pets are a hit with younger elementary students!

3. Table Points

Another way to motivate the unmotivated student is to use table points and positive peer pressure. If you have students in groups or at tables, then you can use table points as a way to motivated the unmotivated students. List each group/ table number on the board. Each time the group has everyone on task, give that group a point. Students are really good about motivating (even pressuring) those students not on task to get with it. The group with the most points at the end of the week get a special reward or trip to the treasure box.

4. Class v. Teacher points

This is a similar concept to table points, but this time it is a competition between the class and the teacher. Each time the entire class is on task/ caught doing good then they earn a point. Each time the teacher is waiting on the students for something, then the teacher earns a point. At the end of the week a reward is given to either the teacher or the student. (The teacher needs to make a big deal of their reward if they are the winner so the students see what they are missing out on.)

5. Secret Student

Choose a secret student at the beginning of each class period or day. Remind students that you are watching the secret student. Example, “I am so happy to see our secret student is hard at work.” or “Uh oh. The secret student is not on task.” If the secret student has done well, then announce it to the class for a prize. If the secret student has not done well, inform the students that you will be having private conversation with the secret student to discuss why they didn’t earn the prize.

6. Fun Friday

Since Fridays are often test days, there is sometimes a little extra time in the day to add in some fun. If students have turned in all of their work or had a good behavior week, then they earn fun Friday. Fun Fridays can be what you make of them, but make it easy for yourself. Let those earning the reward play educational computer games, draw, talk or play a game with friends, listen to music, etc. during that block of time. If students did not earn it, they have to complete any missing work or meet with you during that time to talk about how they can earn Fun Friday the next week.

7. Special Centers

I have found that students love learning centers, especially when it involves a game, technology, or science experiment. Use special learning centers as a reward to motivate students. This could be something students earn on a weekly basis or something you want to use after your class has filled up the marble jar full of marbles. Special centers can also be things like Legos, art supplies, computer time, etc.

8. Student Choice for Rewards & Consequences

If your students are not motivated to follow the rules, then it is time to include some student choice. Students are much more invested when they have a part in the decision making. Have students brainstorm reasonable rewards for good behavior and consequences for poor choices. You will be surprised with how much students respond to their own rewards and consequences system!

9. Individual Rewards

Another great way to motivated the unmotivated student is with individual rewards geared specifically for them. With really unmotivated or difficult kids, you have to work to catch them doing something good. Use every opportunity possible to praise and reward this student. Set up a system just for them to earn a special reward like teacher assistant.

10. Make a Connection

The most important way to motivate the unmotivated student that I can give you is to find a way to make a connection with the student. Praise them and do everything you can to shower this kid with positive attention. Learn about their interests and build goals around them. (If she likes dogs, find some cute dog erasers as a reward.) If this students feels loved and safe, they will want to move mountains to please you!


You may also like this blog post, “Teacher Tips for Kids who HATE reading.”

I hope these ideas are helpful! Happy teaching!

ways to motivate the unmotivated student