Motivators: Finding Ways to Increase Student Application Usage for Purpose

What motivates you? Is it praise? Is it a tangible reward, like a gift card for coffee, food, or a drawing from a student? Is it intrinsic, such as a feeling you get from knowing you did your best or helped someone? If you’re like me, it’s a combination of these, and depending on the situation, different motivators sometimes work better than others. 

 When we teach character traits and motivations, we are teaching that a character is driven to action because of a motivating factor. Analyzing the text and determining the motivating factor is key to understanding character motivation. When I teach this concept, I share with my students that we are all motivated by something. Every action we take, positive or negative, has a driving force behind it. As teachers, just as identifying the motivator is key to understanding a character’s actions in a text, identifying what motivates our students can be a key to success in the classroom!

 We know that a successful lesson includes differentiation in order to reach as many learners as possible. Successfully motivating students can also require differentiation. Understanding what motivates each student and tapping into that can help lead to the student’s success. I have found it is important to try different strategies to motivate, and experiment with different combinations until you find what works for learners. I have also learned that sometimes a motivator that works one day will completely flop the next, and what works for one class may not work for another class at all! Sometimes my great ideas for motivating end up crashing and burning and have to be retooled or scrapped altogether, as you’ll see below.

 This year I made it a personal goal to motivate my students to use their computer time more effectively. I incorporated several motivators, including a tracking chart, certificates, and a sign-up wall. I’m excited to share with you what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned along the way.

Data Tracking Chart

I started this school year with a fancy tracking chart to record student computer usage minutes at the end of each week. This worked for a little while, until students realized they could log into the session and receive minutes on the tracking chart whether they were actively working or not. 

 Using the reports in HMH Teacher Central, I was able to track how many minutes students were logged on each week. This worked great at first, until I started noticing students were not completing segments. The tool in HMH Teacher Central allows you to dig a little deeper and individually analyze the number of minutes a student spends on each segment. About five weeks into the year, I noticed one student spent 433 minutes on Gecko Power. Compared to how much time other students were spending on a segment, this was an unusually high amount of time. I talked to him about how he was using his time, and he admitted he was not as invested in the segment as he could have been. His usage time for subsequent segments was less, which indicated he knew I was monitoring how he was spending his time on the computer, which in turn motivated him to spend his time more productively.  

 Shortly after this discovery, I ditched the tracking chart. I realized it was not working for my students, and decided to stop using that as a motivator. For me, tracking and rewarding this way  seemed counterproductive. Rather, I began using the data in Teacher Central to have discussions with students. I began conferring with them, asking them about their segments, pointing out when they were finishing quickly or taking a long time to finish. This data allowed me to more closely monitor my students’ progress and use this information as a better motivator than a tracking chart. 

If a tracking chart for minutes has worked as a motivator for your students, by all means continue to use it! I just found that my students were racking up the minutes on my tracking chart for simply being logged in, and they weren’t using the time productively. Digging a little deeper into the data helped me discover that this attempt at motivating did not work best for my classroom. 


At a READ 180Universal coaching session, I was introduced to the certificate generator in SAM. This tool has been a game-changer in motivating my students! I use this tool to create and print certificates for students when they complete a computer segment.

It’s super simple to create certificates in SAM. Here’s how:

I usually enter “Completing Segment” on line 1, then the segment title on line 3. Doing it this way populates a certificate that looks like this:

I print the certificates on Fridays, sign them, and hand them out at the end of class on Mondays. I don’t have access to a color printer, so the certificates are simply black and white on plain white paper. Some of my students are really jazzed to receive a certificate, and others not so much. 

 Imagine my sheer joy to have recently discovered that one of my students, who has been with me for two years, has been saving all of her certificates! She has been carrying them around with her in her binder since August of 2017. She is proud of herself and her accomplishments (as she should be!), and this pride helps motivate her to continue working hard! 

To help me keep track of which certificates I need to print on Fridays, I have students write down the title of the segment they have completed on a clipboard. When they have completely finished a segment, before they choose a new one, they write it down on a document like this:  

Sign-up Wall

This little gem has been a game-changer for me! I decided it would be great for students to see what segment their peers are on, so they could talk to each other about the segments. I laminated the segment descriptions and added space for them to write their names. Using a whiteboard marker, students write their name under the segment they’re working on. When they finish a segment, they erase their name from the one they completed and write it under the new segment title they have selected. In addition to being a way for students to talk about the segment more with each other, this wall has also been a great visual for me. I can easily see which segments students are on, as well as tell which ones aren’t being utilized as often. Students like it because who doesn’t want to use a whiteboard marker? I know it’s one of my favorite parts of being a teacher!

 How do you discover what motivates your students? What are some of the successful motivators you use? How do you know when something just isn’t working for your classroom? Have you too tried motivators that crashed and burned? I’d love to hear from you!



Jessica Button is a fourth generation teacher, having been preceded in teaching by a great grandmother, both grandmothers, and her mother. She earned her B.A. in Education in 2006, and her Masters in Reading Education in 2010, both from Arizona State University (Go Sun Devils!). She has been teaching at her current school since 2007, and has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. She was hired as her school’s Reading Specialist in 2016, and currently teaches READ 180 Universal Stage A to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. Jessica strives to help others achieve their dreams of becoming teachers, working as an Associate Professor for Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, and also serving as a mentor to Teacher Candidates. She is passionate about building relationships with students, and greatly enjoys helping them unearth their strengths and learn to find reading fun! In her spare time, she loves to read, hike, cook, and spending time with her family and friends.

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