Motivate Students with Contests and Games

One of the biggest problems facing teachers is the question of how to motivate students. A classroom full of listless, bored students is a sure sign that they need some kind of a kick to get them interested in the material. Here are a few ways to provide that kick.

  1. Give them a way to use the skills they’re learning. One good example is to add a writing contest to make English lessons relevant. For the best effect, find a contest that’s sponsored by an organization outside the school. The Chickasaw Library, for example, is running a contest for students ranging from the 6th grade all the way up to age 24. Entrants are divided into divisions by age and grade, so the competition is fair for all.
  2. Tie multiple subjects together to paint a complete picture. The Chickasaw Library contest mentioned above requires more than writing skills. The subject of the essays is the culture of the Chickasaws. This will motivate students to apply themselves to lessons about that culture and gear them up to learn about other cultures later on.
  3. Try adding some games to the mix. For students from kindergarten to 5th grade, fun and physically exciting activities are very important. Try making a game out of the lessons. One idea is to make simple math problems into physical activities. You can have children use their bodies to form the numbers that answer arithmetic questions.
  4. Make up some little tunes about the material. Young children like jingles, so if you teach them some that include their class material, they’ll remember that material much faster than if you just told it to them from in front of the chalkboard.
  5. Include role-playing. This is a great addition to material about history or other cultures. For young children, it’s fine to have them say some lines and just mime out activities. If the children are in middle or high school, go for a more theatrical style.
  6. Take some field trips. Simply changing the environment will get everyone paying attention; people of all ages perk up when there’s something interesting to look at. To keep grade school groups from getting too unruly to learn anything, break the class up into small subgroups. Assign an adult chaperone to each group.

The main thing to keep in mind is that what a young child considers interesting is not the same as what an older one will find engaging. Children from about kindergarten through 6th grade will do best with activities that don’t require them to wait for much materials preparation.
Do the preparation yourself so that your planned activity will seem spontaneous to them. For example, if you’re going to have them make drawings or play games about a subject, have all of the materials out on a table before you even announce what’s going to take place. Cover the materials with a tablecloth before activity time to prevent them from becoming a distraction.
For a project like a writing contest, learning about the subject is the preparation. This type of preparation isn’t boring because you’re giving a purpose to lessons that would otherwise seem pointless. Still, don’t be too repetitive about reminding them of this fact. Mention it occasionally, but remember that kids will tune out quickly if you hammer on about something. Instead, try decorating your classroom with posters of related images and occasionally drop in a direct reference for a softer approach.