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Motivation for Middle Schoolers

If you’ve ever taught a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade class, you know that middle schoolers can be unpredictable. One day, they act like they’re growing up. And the next, they’re acting like little kids again.

So what’s the key to getting them to consistently focus on school? How can you get them involved?

Here are a few tips to motivate your students in these last few months of the school year.

  1. Highlight achievements.

    Middle schoolers love to see their pictures or papers posted in public. So if you haven’t started one yet, designate a bulletin board or a “wall of fame” outside your classroom for showing off their best work.

    Be careful, though, with pointing out one student for praise (like reading a student’s paper in front of the class). Kids in this age range get embarrassed easily. Sometimes, complimenting a student’s work privately can motivate better than a shout-out in front of the class.

  2. Reward good work.

    You can pass out prizes like candy or use a points system. Award points for things like having a great attitude, winning review games, and helping around the classroom. Every month or so, let students redeem their points for prizes.

    For extra motivation, include rewards like tickets to school events or gift certificates. Reserve these prizes for the students who earn the most points.

    Looking for rewards that won’t cost you anything? Tell your class that the three students with the most-improved history test scores get to pick the next class field trip. (Have a list of places that these three can vote on.) Or let the student with the best math quiz score pick the next class review game.

  3. Assign classroom jobs.

    Since children like to have important responsibilities, “hire” them for jobs in your classroom! Not only does it help you, it also keeps them excited about coming to school.

    They can help you sharpen pencils, collect homework, pass out papers, and feed the class pet. Or assign someone to help you write on the whiteboard or chalkboard for the day. Pick another student to erase the board. You can even let a student help you create the seating chart (though you might have to make a few adjustments when they’re done).

    Make classroom jobs more fun by asking each student to pick a number between 1 and the number of students in the class. Each number corresponds to a classroom job. But your students won’t know which one they’re picking!

  4. Create an environment they’ll love.

    Do you ever stop to think about how big your influence is in your students’ lives? You may spend more waking hours with them than their parents do. During their time at school, give them an environment where they feel encouraged to grow and learn.

    Since criticism stifles motivation, teach students how to compliment others publicly. Direct them to choose one thing to highlight, describe it with a couple of adjectives, and cite an example. Warn against making back-handed compliments, where you say something negative in order to say something positive. Explain that their compliments need to be genuine, brief, and to the point.

    Then have them exercise that skill. At the end of a presentation, ask for a volunteer to say what they liked about their classmate’s work. You’ll see your students’ confidence build as they get positive comments from their classmates.

  5. Train them to be servant-leaders.

    Students often start finding new interests and discovering their potential for leadership in middle school. As their teacher, you can direct their energy toward serving others.

    Give students who excel academically the chance to tutor younger grades in the library. Students who love sports can assist with an elementary PE class or lead younger grades in games at recess. And those with a talent for organization can help your school office staff.

    Look outside your school for volunteer opportunities, too. Encourage class officers to lead their classmates in projects like raising money for missionaries or writing Christmas cards to soldiers overseas. Let them brainstorm for their own ideas as well. You might be surprised at the service-minded ideas they come up with.

  6. Build relationships.

    One of the biggest ways you can motivate your students is to sincerely care about them. Start conversations about their future. Ask them about their goals. And encourage them to read about their interests.

    But don’t just focus on your students inside the classroom. Pray for them and with them. Try going to their sports games, school plays, or music performances. Pick up on little facts about them—like their favorite color or hobby. Talk to them about their favorite book. Or just listen.

    When you’re genuinely interested in their lives, they just might open up to you—before running off to find their friends. After all, they’re still the unpredictable middle schoolers that we love.