Jo Lewis describes some active games and motivational techniques.

King or queen for the day?

Would you enjoy being king or queen for the day? I know I would – getting the most comfortable seat, going to break early, choosing who does the best (and the worst) jobs and best of all wearing a tiara/crown! This is just one of the many useful techniques that I noted when observing and helping out in a Yr 5/6 Primary classroom before beginning my PGCE course. The King or Queen is chosen from a pot of class names by another pupil on a daily basis, thus everyone gets a turn and there is an element of surprise each morning.

I was impressed by many clever and thoughtful tactics in the classroom and have chosen 3 favourite games and 5 useful tips for behaviour management / motivation. These can be adapted for any subject or age group!


  • Quick fire questions to be answered on a recent topic in order to be able to go to break – this appears to be a sure way of getting their attention, conducting a (fairly) orderly exit to the playground and revising a few concepts! In a similar fashion a snappy round of a ‘Simon Says’ type activity will often bring an unsettled class back into focus.
  • ‘Heads down, thumbs up’. This is a modern version of squeak piggy squeak, which replaces sitting on laps with squeezing thumbs. Most of the class keep their heads down with their hands in a ‘thumbs up’ position and their eyes tightly shut. Four members of the class are chosen to become the ‘squeezers’. They each squeeze one student’s thumbs and return quickly to their place at the front of the class. If any of the students guess the correct squeezer they swap places and become the new champion. It can settle a chatty class brilliantly!
  • Shoot times table: two students stand back to back and make guns with their fingers. Both walk three paces forwards and ‘blow’ the end of their gun. The teacher calls out a times table question, the first child with the answer ‘shoots’ the other child with their finger gun and calls out the answer to the question. The student who gets the right answer stays up at the front to defend the title.

Motivational Techniques – 5 tips

  • Many social groups enjoy and benefit from traditions – they often provide the glue that binds the group. Classes are no different. One specific tradition that I have enjoyed is when a deserving student can choose a particular type of applause. It can be an ‘Elvis’, a ‘tomato ketchup’ or a ‘firework’ – use your imagination. I’m sure the children will!
  • £££££ Children, just like adults, are very motivated by money! This can be used as a reward system in the classroom by giving ‘notional’ amounts of money, say, 1p or 2p for excellent work, correct answers in class, being helpful etc. In a class of older children one of the children can be given the task each day of keeping a tally. The children can then ‘save’ in order to buy from stock kept by the teacher – this could be sparkly pencils, fancy rubbers etc. A price list could be on display in the classroom. There could be the occasional sale and possibly attractive offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ just to add interest and realism!
  • If the idea of money doesn’t appeal, raffle tickets may provide an alternative reward. Again, these could be given for good work or behaviour and placed in a large container. At the end of the week or half term a couple of tickets could be picked to receive a prize.
  • Pupils eat a snack and have a drink after break – they are not so likely to chat/whisper if they are busy eating and drinking! This needs careful management and clear ground rules as it may contradict some teachers’ ground rules for the classroom.
  • Children use a system of illustrated ‘traffic lights’ in their books, which indicate to the teacher how confident they feel with that topic or concept. For example, Stop You’re Confusing Me, I Can Do This But Can We Practise?, or I Can Do This Work! may encourage less confident children to ask for help.

Finally, there are a variety of useful teaching tools that I have been very impressed by during my observations. One of the simplest yet most effective of these is the mini whiteboard. (When I was at primary school there were no whiteboards, let alone miniature versions!). Often they are used as a quick and easy concept check and if combined with ‘5,4,3,2,1, show me your answer’, the teacher can even ensure that each individual’s own work is held high above their heads. Obviously, all teachers have at least four pairs of eyes, so quickly viewing all boards around the classroom should not present a problem!

Jo took a PGCE (Middle Years with English) having previously worked as a recruitment and training consultant, FE lecturer and TEFL teacher.


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