Holidaze: 3 Ways to Motivate Positive Behavior as Winter Break Nears


Winter break. Spring break. Summer vacation. As the days and minutes tick down to the final bell, the classroom buzzes with excitement.

Winter break. Spring break. Summer vacation. As the days and minutes tick down to the final bell, the classroom buzzes with excitement. Students’ attention wanders away from the teacher. They lose focus on their classwork. Disruptions and discipline problems rise as they get more and more hyped up for vacation.

Though teachers may be tempted to ease up on their rules and let things slide, this is the ideal time to maintain consistency in classroom management.

Here are 3 ways to make class time extra special to recapture students’ attention — and keep them engaged and learning — until that last bell rings.

1. Keep behavior expectations high and heighten rewards for positive behaviors.

At this time of year, it might be tempting to overlook behavioral infractions, but this is the perfect time to remind students of how important it is to maintain positive behavior every day.

  • To keep students focused on the positive, double the frequency or intensity of rewards. If students regularly earn behavior points or scholar dollars, double the number of points they can earn for behaviors you’d like to see in the classroom. Or, if students typically get to earn “Friday Fun” activities for positive behaviors, have them also work for some special “Wednesday Fun” activities to break up the week and keep them on track.
  • Continue to narrate the positive behaviors you see each day to reinforce those expectations.

2. Channel students’ energy in positive, productive ways.

Since students will likely have extra energy, you’ll need to find ways for them to expend it in positive — rather than disruptive — ways.

  • Use movement to keep students engaged. Give students opportunities to “earn” movement breaks for positive behaviors. When students reach their goal, allow them to move around freely, or stretch, or stand and sing a holiday song. Or, you can blend in movement with learning, e.g. hand clapping or finger snapping along with the recitation of multiplication tables or at the end of a reading passage. This will help them expend that extra energy so they’re ready to focus on your instruction when they sit down again.
  • Provide opportunities for students to work with partners or in small groups. This allows them to talk and interact with their peers in a productive way, while keeping the focus on their classwork.
  • Create short-term incentives or boost your existing incentives. Create a larger goal for students to work toward — beyond the normal behavior expectations — to give them something to get excited about. For example, in addition to rewarding individual behaviors, reward certain class behaviors with double points during the month of December. These points can then be applied to a holiday movie or holiday party. In addition, during the last week before break, choose three behaviors; the students who exhibit those behaviors the most consistently during the week will be the “rock stars” of the holiday party with special honors and privileges.
  • Create themed contests that reinforce the behaviors that make up your ideal school culture, e.g. a “Holiday Values Week” or “December Excellence Contest.”

3. Make ordinary things special by adding some holiday sparkle.

Students feed off of their teacher’s energy. So if teachers are positive and productive in the final weeks of school, students will be too.

  • Give assignments or projects a holiday twist, e.g. “The 2015 Holiday Biography Project” or “The Red & Green Reading Challenge.”
  • Rename common rewards or incentives to have a holiday or break theme. For example, instead of earning scholar dollars, during the month of December students can earn “scholar snowflakes” or “reindeer rewards” that are worth double points.
  • If students earn tangible rewards like tickets or scholar dollars, produce them in festive colors.

Spicing up the regular classroom routine will give students something to look forward to, which will help the days pass faster for both teachers and students. By channeling students’ excitement into positive behavior, you can make the most of your instructional time and motivate students to work extra hard in the classroom. Then, when that final bell rings, students and teachers will feel especially proud of their accomplishments!