Keeping Joy in the Classroom

How do we keep joy in our classrooms — for both students and teachers?

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Teaching today is nothing like it was in the past. Gone are the days of loose curriculum, infrequent observations by your principal, and learning cursive; we now have structured lessons, unannounced walkthroughs by both the principal and the superintendent, and a lack of downtime.

Keeping joy in the classroom is important for engagement

How do we keep joy in our classrooms for the kids and also for us? Take a look at some tips for continuing to make teaching and learning fun.

1. Use Classroom Decorations

Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and TeacherVision are three incredible resources you can utilize to find educational and fun decorations for your classroom. I have found creative charts to help teach my fourth graders place value, fractions, and geometry. I've also found crafts, holiday decorations, and more.

These websites offer a mix of free and for-purchase items and ideas. In my experience, some of the freebies are incredibly cool, and some of the for-purchase items are well worth the money as well—you just have to be diligent in your search. One of my favorite TpT creators is Jennifer Findley.

2. Supplement the Curriculum

Suppose you're teaching a lesson about how to find the main idea of a text using a particular curriculum. You teach in a fairly similar manner from day-to-day, and occasionally the kids groan before another one of your main idea lessons. Switch it up!

A simple Google (or TeacherVision) search of 'main idea text (insert grade)' produces thousands of results. Take a few moments to look through the absolutely immense amount of resources the internet provides and give your students something new.

Different representations of the same topic not only prevent students from becoming bored, but variation promotes a higher level of student engagement. One of my absolute favorite ways to supplement my curriculum is to use Task Cards, which generally involves 12-24 tasks that relate to inferring, multiplication, word problems, or main idea. In fact, almost any topic can be found under a 'task card' search.

3. Make Positive Reinforcement Fun!

I am a huge proponent of avoiding punishment whenever possible in favor of positive reinforcement. Taking the time to create a system that works for you will undoubtedly result in better behavior in your classroom. Some may think that kids should all have intrinsic motivation, but let's be real: rewards work for adults too!

In my classroom, I have two forms of positive reinforcement—personal and whole class.


For the students' personal reinforcement, I offer tickets. The kids receive tickets for doing something 'good'. The definition of 'good' changes from day-to-day: it depends on my mood, who I happen to notice, and so on. Then, a few times a year, the kids can use their tickets to buy items from my classroom store.

Yes, I supply the items for the classroom store myself, but hoo-boy does it motivate. I get the majority of my items from the Target dollar section, and sometimes I have very generous kiddos donate old toys and things they don't need or use anymore. The kids go crazy for fuzzy socks, pens, pencils, stickers, erasers, stuffed animals, yo-yos, slinkies—really anything. Sometimes I buy party favors in packs of 12, separate them out, and put those in the store. The kids are so thrilled to be able to take home a tangible reward and the incentive is so high that the tickets really promote good behavior.

Other examples of positive, individual reinforcement include using Class Dojo to give students points, which then connect to a parent's email address. This allows for parents to receive updates in real time, which in itself can motivate students, and also helps to keep track of who has been rewarded.

Whole Class:

For the whole class, I bought a 'Catching Compliments' poster from Really Good Stuff. (It looks like my poster is no longer available, but you could use this poster in a similar way.)

When the whole class does a great job in math, or at recess, or at lunch, or during a specialist, or I am just feeling nice, I give them one of the 100 baseballs that came on the Catching Compliments chart. When they collectively reach 100 baseballs, they get a whole class reward. These rewards have included pajamas, movies, chewing gum, bringing in a stuffed animal, reading parties, extra recess, and more. It typically takes my class two to three months to receive all 100 baseballs, and it makes the whole class reward even more special. The same sort of reinforcement could be achieved with a jar of marbles, beads, stars, etc, or with stickers on a chart.

4. Allow for Choice

As much as you can, give the kids choices. While this isn't always possible, there are ways to promote student choice. If your school has an intervention time, or a 'What I Need' (WIN) block, create a menu of student options. Recently, my WIN time menu has included Greek myths, multiplication practice, a persuasive essay piece, informational task cards, and multi-step word problems in math. These activities are considered Must-Do, and if they finish all Must-Dos, they can move on to optional choices.

Another great way to allow for choice is by using Seesaw, a website that allows for students to represent their learning in a variety of ways. I have used Seesaw during assessments to allow students the choice of typing, voice recording, or writing by hand. They definitely enjoy filming themselves talking!

5. Incorporate Fun as Often as Possible

Even though we currently have more on our plate as teachers than ever before, give yourself and your students a break every so often. Throw in a random extra recess for no reason; research shows that variable reinforcement (giving people rewards on a non-set schedule) actually produces the best results.

Include a morning meeting in your day as a part of the Responsive Classroom model to promote classroom community, allow for a greeting, and let the kids share. Let parents come in and run a craft—they love feeling involved, and kids need help with their fine motor skills!

Lastly, include games as a part of education; Pinterest is a wonderful resource for this. My students love the game Prodigy for math help, which is completely aligned with the Common Core standards.

All in all, even though we have a lot going on when it comes to teaching our kids, we owe it to them and to ourselves to continue to make learning fun.

Happy kids make for happy teachers, and a content classroom will undoubtedly produce more effective learning!


How do you keep joy in the classroom? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Want more from this author? Check out Lisa's advice on classroom seating or creating meaningful classroom rules with your students.
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