Positivity & Praise for Big Kids

Teaching middle school is hard. Really hard. There are emotions, hormones, strong opinions, relationships, feelings, and so much more. Below are a few strategies I use to keep it positive in the land of the MIDDLE. 
Positivity and Praise

Posi-texts – This gem involves the families of my students. It’s a low lift/high impact activity. When I catch students making great decisions, I snap it, jazz it up with a photo editor (optional), and send it to parents. Imagine being a parent and receiving a text that shows your child being awesome in school!  On the other end of this imagine being a student not knowing your teacher has “caught” and shared this moment with someone you love. 

Posi-notes – The sister to the posi-text is the posi-note. No better way to spread the love than with words. My students really appreciated receiving cards/notes that celebrate something they’ve done. It’s kind of like getting mail. They are a low lift/high impact way of celebrating students. I simply write something about students on cardstock, post it note, piece of paper, or even it type it out and place it on the desk of a student. It’s the ultimate surprise when they realize its for them (not their parents) and is celebratory.

100 Club – There are weekly opportunities for students to join “100 Club,” which connects to the daily learning output. I would rate this as a medium lift/medium impact largely because it takes some motivation to get students invested in top quality work. While there are my top flyers who are always down for perfection, I’ve had to work on motivating students who haven’t always experienced academic success. In execution, I grade student exit tickets (which is sometimes uber time consuming) and then pass out little coupons that say “100 Club.” When students collect five they can grab a “You Pick” card (see below). 


Specific Praise- This is something I love. When students make positive choices, I give very specific praise and recognize. Instead of saying “good job,” I am specific “when you kept asking questions to better understand, it led to a better classroom conversation, and your exit ticket demonstrated…” When appropriate I give the praise publicly so that other students know the actions that are leading to growth and recognition. 


Raffle Tickets – This is an oldie, but a goodie! It’s one of my favorites not only because it’s a low lift, but also because the kids love the idea of randomization. There have even been times when someone who struggles wins and the students are so happy that they won. This melts my heart. EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. The key that I’ve found is to mix up your raffle tickets! I love a raffle ticket that doubles as a note home (example)! Winning! 

Unlock the Magic – This idea was taken from the fabulous Hope King. I love it, but it was certainly a high lift with a medium-ish impact. For clarity I’ll walk you through the steps and what it is. There’s lots of room for teacher adjustments, but I’m going to share how I set it up in my room. The idea is that students earn keys that go do locks. I have nine locks, and 90 keys. There’s only ONE key that unlocks each of the locks so the more keys students earn, the more chances they have of unlocking one of the locks. 

  1. Purchase 9 nine locks from Lowes, or Home Depot. Depending on your classroom, you can decide how many locks you have. I decided to have 9 because I found a cute key container from Home Goods that could be spray painted to match the color of the locks, and it had nine drawers. 
  1. Make copies of lock keys. I bought nine locks with the same key code, and one had a different key code. It’s crazy, but the locks came in packets of four, and all the packs had the same code (on the back of the lock packet). I then bought a one pack that had a different code. I used this one to create the “trick keys” that didn’t unlock the locks. The most difficult part is getting the keys made. I suggest starting with the key that is one that will unlock each of the locks. I had 9 locks so I made 9 copies of this key. Next I made 81 copies of the “dummy” key.
  1. Place a ribbon on each of the keys that matches the color of the bin they will be in. I went to JoAnn fabrics and grabbed ribbon for about $2/each. 

  1. *Creating the keys was financial and time commitment. Therefore, I had to make sure that I didn’t give them to students and risk losing them. I created a bulletin board that matched the colors of the keys. Each time a student earned a key, I wrote their name on the key, and gave them a PAPER copy of the key. On the “reveal” day, students were given the actual key. 

  1. Purchase/Create lock holder (from Michaels). You can find them here, here, and here. 
  1. Invest students in it!  

    Nothing beats the sound when students finally “Unlock the Magic!”


    Pick a Prize – A really simple idea that students love! After collecting five “100 Club” tickets, or for a raffle, I allow students to pick their own prize. I found some cute envelopes on Amazon, and created the prizes. There’s a ton of different selections such as:
    •  Phone Call Home
    •  Artsy Activity with the Teacher
    •  Game Day
    •  Blackboard Time 
    •  Prize Box
    • and more! 

    Scholar Dollars – These can be passed out at will, and traded in for something special, determined by the teacher. My co-teacher uses these with the students and they are obsessed. The only issue she ran into is ensuring that students write their names on the dollars and determining the right prices for the prizes. At first she priced items too low, and found it hard to manage all the dollars students earned. 

    TARGET! – The Target dollar spot has some amazing prizes for students that can be used to build your classroom treasure chest. 

    These are a few of the things I am doing in my classroom, what additional suggestions do you have? I’d LOVE to know! Let’s connect in the comments. 



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    Picture of Tanesha B. Forman

    Tanesha B. Forman

    I'm a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

    Behind the Blog

    Hi, I'm Tanesha.

    I’m a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!




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