In my fourth-grade classroom, I sometimes felt like a circus ringmaster, trying to manage multiple groups of students at different ability levels while making sure that all 24 students were engaged in a productive activity. Anyone who has stepped inside a classroom has seen the evidence of disengaged students. Students who are not actively engaged tend to have more behavioral and academic challenges, increasing the amount of time teachers need to spend on managing behavior rather than providing instruction.  

Research has found that students who are more engaged in school tend to be more successful academically and more optimistic about their performance. Parents and teachers continue to be concerned with students’ levels of engagement, especially after observing the challenges of remote instruction.  

Teachers and students tell us that Read Naturally programs are highly engaging. Students enjoy choosing their own stories, the stories are about interesting topics, the progress graphs provide immediate feedback, and moving up in levels and goals is motivating. Yet even with these built-in features, some students need additional incentives to stay motivated, and that’s where our classroom experts come in! Here’s some advice from our teachers on how to keep your reluctant students engaged and motivated: 

Individual Folders With Stickers

Michelle Brenner, Assistant Director of Curriculum at Read Naturally, suggests setting up individual folders for students working in Read Live or Encore. In addition to the free folder materials described here, the folders can include a place for earned stickers. Each time a student completes a story or meets a comprehension goal, they earn a sticker for their folder. (Michelle recommends that students put their stickers on the inside of their folder to respect their privacy.) Each student has an individual "sticker goal," and when they meet it, they earn a small prize. When students consistently achieve their sticker goal, the goal can be adjusted. Involving the students in setting the goal is important, as they are then invested in the challenge. The goal should be challenging, achievable, and based on individual ability.  

Group Goals

Group goals are also fun! Michelle recommends looking at the average number of stories completed or the average comprehension score in the past week for the whole group and setting a goal for the upcoming week. Involve the students in determining this goal. At the end of the week, tally the results, share the averages, and talk with the group about whether the goal should stay the same, go up, or go down. Tie some sort of incentive to meeting the group goal, such as a story readaloud on “Favorite Book Friday.” The advantage of classroom incentives is that everyone gets to participate, but individual student data can remain confidential.  

Class Comprehension Grid

Read Naturally founder, Candyce Ihnot, helps run a Read Live reading lab that offers rewards for high comprehension. In this lab, they set a class goal of a certain number of perfect comprehension scores. There is a grid with open spots for the required number of perfect comprehension scores on the board. The students get to move a star into one of the open spots if they get a perfect comprehension score on their quiz. Once all the empty spots are filled, all the students in the class get a prize. The students get especially excited when there are only a few spots left! They are extra motivated to get their quiz questions correct so that they can help complete the grid.

Raffle Tickets

Raffle tickets can be used in a variety of ways to target a behavior or motivate an individual student (or the whole group). Think about what you want students to achieve, and then offer raffle tickets to those who meet the goal. Here are a few ideas to consider:   

  1. If a student achieves 100% accuracy on the quiz on the first attempt, award a raffle ticket when doing the Pass step.   
  2. If a student gets all of the spelling words correct on the first attempt in the Word List step in the Phonics series or in a Word Warm-ups lesson, award a raffle ticket. 
  3. If a student writes at least four complete sentences that accurately retell the story, start with a capital letter, and end with appropriate punctuation, award a raffle ticket for the Retell step. 

Each time a student gets a raffle ticket for whatever criteria you have set for that day/week, the student writes their name on the ticket and places it in the raffle ticket box. On Friday, draw just three tickets, and award those students some type of appropriate prize or privilege. At the end of each week, put all of the unchosen tickets into a bigger container for another chance to win. At the end of the month, do a drawing from that bigger container and offer an appropriate prize or privilege. As students earn more tickets, the frequency of the raffle drawings may decrease until the incentive system is no longer needed! By that time, students will have learned to carefully complete the various steps.   

Student-Led Rewards

Sarah Jane Schonour, Read Naturally’s Director of Training Materials and behavior interventionist, suggests that having students choose the types of rewards they receive increases motivation. “Having a variety of rewards is helpful," she says. "In addition to stickers, pencils, bookmarks, etc., it’s nice to have some less tangible rewards such as a lunch or game with a favorite adult, a homework pass, or a positive note home. It is fun to ask the students what they would like to earn and mix it up over time so they stay motivated.” Sarah Jane also notes that purchasing rewards can get expensive, so ask for donations of books from families and other teachers. This is a great way to get books into students’ homes!

And More!

Check out this blog post from our training guru, Claire Hayes, for some additional ideas on how to motivate students to pass as many Read Naturally stories as possible. As you know, the more stories students pass, the quicker they will improve.

I hope these suggestions will help you manage your three-ring circus…I mean classroom! Please let us know what incentives you have found helpful in motivating your students and keeping them engaged.