Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mystery Motivators for Classroom Management

Ever heard of "mystery motivators"?  They are advocated in The Tough Kid Toolbox as a way to assist in classroom management.  Basically, a mystery motivator requires a list of things your class would enjoy as a reward (simple, inexpensive things will do:  10 minutes extra recess, drawing time, computer time, listening to music while working, etc).  As they perform the tasks and behaviors you'd like to reinforce, a random reward is chosen from the list (making them a "mystery" for which one will be picked).  

The book gives several ideas for the "random-picking" aspect of the technique, and one is a "yes/no" box.  I think this would be particularly effective for younger students (PreK-2nd).  You can use a shoebox, bowl or anything else.  When the class (not just individual students) performs a behavior you want, write "yes" on a slip or paper or notecard.  When they do something you don't want, write "no".  Put the slips in the box and keep them there until it's time for the drawing.  I would also consider using smiley faces and sad faces in lieu of "yes/no" for the very young ones, since they will probably find them familiar.

At intervals, pick a a slip from the box without looking.  If you pick "yes," they get a mystery reward.  If "no" then they don't.  They should come to realize that the more they are given "yes" slips, the more chances they have for a reward.  Conversely, each "no" slip helps ruin their chances.

I like classroom/team motivators because they help students work together towards a goal.  What I like about the book is that it recommends being SPECIFIC with students about what types of behaviors we want to see.  A "good job" is ambiguous.  We want students to know exactly what they're doing right so they can connect that behavior to the reward; likewise, they need to know exactly what they're doing wrong.  The book suggests using the rules and expectations you actually have posted in your classroom as a guide.  That way, there won't be any confusion about what they're supposed to be doing.  For instance, if the class gets a "no" slip for talking while you are, make sure that rule is specifically posted somewhere for students to see, and that you've gone over it with them.  Pinpointing a few, specific behaviors for the "yes/no" box will help fine-tune the classroom's focus.  If getting out of their seats is your class' biggest issue, make that the one thing that earns "yes/no" slips.  If they have a real problem turning in homework, focus on that.

I would suggest being liberal with the "yes" slips when first implementing the technique, and doing drawings on a daily basis.  That way, kids will have a chance to see how it works and experience the reward once or twice.  Then, I'd adjust the amount of slips and decrease the drawings to once a week.

image: microsoft


  1. What a fantastic idea! Can't wait to try it out.

  2. Thanks, Sue! Glad you like the idea.