Without rewards, how can I encourage neat work habits?



I don’t want to use stickers to motivate my primary students to print more neatly.  Any suggestions to encourage them to take more care with their school work?


Here are some things that my teaching partner and I do in order to help build neat work habits over time:

1.  We talk a lot about neatness.  I’m a great believer in the idea that whatever you put your focus upon will increase!

2.  We talk proactively.  In other words, before a  lesson begins we discuss what a great job would look like.  This helps the kids who really have no idea of what a good job looks like and it helps the other kids who might not care too much about neatness otherwise.  It sets everyone up for success.

3.  Sometimes we have the students build criteria for “a good job.”  Sometimes we write it on a chart paper or make it into individual checklists that students can refer to.  We bring it out prior to each new session of writing.

4.  Along the same lines, we sometimes orally build Discipline without Stress Hierarchies with the kids to pinpoint characteristics of operation on each of the levels with respect to certain activities.  See this link for some examples:  The spelling and reading hierarchies are ones we often talk about with our grade ones.  We find that kids become very motivated by these hierarchies if we refer to them often.

5.  We talk a lot about the satisfying feelings that are associated with working on Level D–In other words we talk about how it feels when you look at a piece of work and know that you have put forward your best effort in completing it.

6.  We encourage the kids to compare their current “best job” with a similar piece of work from earlier in the year.  For example, each child in our class has a math binder in which they complete calendar activities every day.  On the first day of October, I had the students look at their September calendar and pointed out to them, that after a month of number-writing practice in Grade One, they probably would be able to make their October calendar look even neater than the September page.  We talked about how this was an opportunity  to improve their work. We talked about how it would feel to do an even better job than the month before.  Every day for the first week or so of the month, we would look back to the September page and compare the number writing to the October page so everyone could feel proud of their accomplishment.  We do the same thing in their journal, in their printing book and in their drawing book.  Frequent opportunities to reflect on individual progress encourages students to want to make continual improvements.

7.  We give specific and individual feedback as the kids are working.  That “g” is exactly the right shape.  Now, you’ve got it! Continue making “g’s” like that!”

8.  When we do printing lessons, we always make a point of letting the students know that printing correctly and neatly isn’t just something to be concerned about during printing time only — it’s something that should carry over to their every assignment.

9.  One year, with a particularly messy class, my teaching partner, Darlene, had a special set of pencils that she brought out whenever the class was to do a writing assignment.  The pencils were only used for writing assignments — never for math etc.  The fact that she had these special pencils out sent a silent signal to the class that neat work was especially important at that time.

10.  We encourage the kids 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, we 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.  If they are doing a row of “s” letters, we ask them to circle the one that they feel is their best.

11.  If the child is particularly pleased with a piece of work, we quietly ask them if they would like us to xerox the page so that they can show it to family members at home.

12.  We try to create opportunities to use their work in meaningful ways so that there is a real reason to be neat and tidy.  For instance, we often do pieces of writing that will go into a memory scrapbook, on a bulletin board or will be used to accompany a piece of artwork in a display.  For example, last year for 6 weeks, all our writing projects were linked to the making of a “Dinosaur Museum” to which we invited all the people in our school and our families.   The kids made various types of “fossils”and wrote about how they were formed in nature.  They made informational dioramas about various individual dinosaurs, and wrote explanations of how the teeth of dinosaurs were related to their diet.  Because the kids were so motivated to create a Dinosaur Museum for real visitors, it was easy to get them to write as neatly and as well as they could — they had a real reason to do so.

Hope that some of these ideas will be of use to you!