Encourage Neat Work Habits without Using Rewards

Getting children to care about their school work and do things neatly can be a challenge. As a result, many teachers offer rewards to encourage neatness. This, of course, is counterproductive, because it doesn’t instill the self-discipline to focus on producing neat work. Here are a few options to try instead of resorting to rewards.

  • Talk about neatness. Whatever you put your focus upon will increase!
  • Talk proactively. In other words, before a lesson begins discuss with the students what a great job would look like. This helps those children who really have no idea of what a good job looks like and it helps the other students who might not care too much about neatness otherwise. It sets everyone up for success.
  • Have the students build criteria for “a good job.” You can write their replies on a chart or make it into individual checklists that students can refer to. Then, bring it out prior to each new learning session where neatness is important.
  • Give specific and individual feedback as the students are working. For example: “That ‘g’ is exactly the right shape. Now, you’ve got it! Continue making ‘g’s’ like that!”
  • Encourage students to analyze their own work and make their own judgments about what looks good and what they might like to improve upon in the future. At the start of the next lesson, remind them that they had already thought of some way in which they wanted to improve their work and ask them to take a minute to reflect on how they will improve today. 

Remember, a sticker or other reward will be lost by tomorrow. But developing the self-discipline to focus on quality work will stay with children forever.