Create Inspire Teach

Testing Motivation and Incentives for Elementary Students: Make it Fun!



Sustaining motivation and excitement during testing season can be tough to do. If you’re my friend on Instagram (Hi, Friend!) then you’ve probably seen a sketchy looking box pop up a few times. Well, that box is my secret weapon to combat the dreaded “testing blues” otherwise known as total-testing-burn-out. It’s sad, but oftentimes true… teachers and students face testing burn out after weeks/months of test prep and agonizing data analysis. I’m the first to admit that I somewhat enjoy the state test. My philosophy is ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ so I embrace this time of the year with open arms. As a third grade teacher, I’m the one responsible for setting the tone that my students will adopt for all future standardized tests… after all, third grade is the first year my students will see anything remotely like the FSA. They could either be petrified and anxious, or calm and confident… I do everything I can to make sure they are the second option.

testing motivation and incentives for elementary students

In short, here’s my secret to easing the testing blues:

  1. Keep it positive: No matter what scores your students produced on that weekly test prep assignment, exit ticket, or practice test, keep a positive tone. Your students can feel your energy and will pick up on your stress. Have a conversation with them and ask them to reflect on how they think they did. Were there any questions or concepts that really tricked them? Was there a specific passage or problem they felt confused about? Having an open conversation with your students can yield valuable information to help drive your next lesson and give them the confidence that you’re on their side long before the big day arrives. 
  2. Use the data: Point blank- there is no use in giving any practice assessment if you’re not going to do anything with it. I feel a sense of excitement when scoring practice tests or pulling up data reports. It’s the best way to hone in on what specific students need. You might not be able to hit every target, but if your students had to endure testing conditions, you can endure reteaching a lesson or pulling a small group 
  3. Make them laugh: I found myself going home after school thinking, “Wow, those kids had zero fun today.” That’s so not good. But being aware of it made me change my approach. Small, unexpected actions can boost student confidence and morale during testing season. Little things like spontaneous dance party breaks (1-2 minutes each), requiring students to answer in an English accent or like a robot, 10 pushups or sit-ups for each correct answer, or telling random knock-knock jokes when they least expect it… these tiny behaviors will catch students off guard and remind them that even though testing is very serious, we’re all in this together (*cue High School Musical soundtrack*) and want to make the best of it.
  4. Demand best effort: They might not get everything right every single time, but they should be giving their best effort everyday. In my classroom, we are big on best effort. To learn more about how I instill best effort in my students, check out this blog post on the Behavior Expectations Scale. Best effort is something that I’ve harped on since day one, but it’s never too late to start. If you know your student can do more, show more, explain more, try more, ask them to! We call it “Gold”… I only want to see their GOLD work. Whether it is test prep or a regular day, demand best effort. (But if you ask for it, you have to model it… they know when we aren’t giving our own best effort). I use these fun FREE coupons as an incentive leading up to the test!
  5. Testing Motivation Pack: A few days before our state test started, my students walked into the room to find a raggedy cardboard box with a “Do Not Open” sign on it. The instructions told them it couldn’t be opened until after the test. They whispered to each other and made sure everyone knew it was there (as 3rd graders will do), but I did not say a word, other than reminding them that the contents of the box were for students who give their best effort on both days of the test.  The days leading up to the test, after the introduction of this “Testing Box” were the most productive days my students had ever had! They WANTED TO KNOW what was inside, and they wanted to make sure they were able to get it! (Disclaimer: Every student in my classroom always gets to participate in whatever is inside the box). Sure enough we opened the box after the tests were collected and we were officially done with testing!
    In the box they found:tesing motivation for elementary students

    glow sticks for a dance party
    Kickball and cones for a class kickball game
    -Cookies that were snuck into the box on the morning of the test 😉
    -Free Time Coupon
    -Victory Crown to celebrate our accomplishments (use with sentence strips)

They were SO excited. I think I could have put anything in there and they would’ve absolutely loved it. It was the element of surprise that led to 100% buy-in. Nothing was expensive or outlandish, just fun things that kids like to do. And let me tell you, they were ALL ABOUT that box! 

Along with setting up the Testing Box, I also gave students some motivational swag during the days leading up to the test and halfway through to keep them invested. All of these resources are part of my Testing Motivation resource:
-Door Hangers
-Personalized notes for each student at the beginning of testing
-4 different encouraging notes placed on their desk the morning of each test
-A halfway note to keep momentum going!

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Overall, keeping it lighthearted, focused, and calm can combat the testing blues. Sprinkling in some surprises and moments of laughter can truly boost the JOY in your classroom and motivate students during the weeks/months of testing season!

Click here or on the image below to see more of the Testing Motivation resource that I use every year!

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Challenge your high flyers with an ELA Enrichment Activity that is not your normal test prep!

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How do you motivate your students during testing? I hope you found some useful ideas here! Let’s connect! Follow this blog to be the first to see new posts!

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testing motivation and incentive blog

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