Let the Games Begin!

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Core scripture: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Message: Every teacher wants it.  We desire that total buy in.  The entire class motivated to do what is right, striving for excellence, pushing each other to succeed.  Sadly, this type of motivation does not naturally exist in everyone.  The teacher, acting much like a coach, must drive the class to want to do well.  But how?  How can we engrain motivation in our students’ hearts?

We must challenge them.

Every kid likes a challenge.  They need that extra incentive to make them want to try hard.  I begin every quarter by letting my students pick a new theme for the class challenges.  This quarter the theme is Netflix shows or movies.  I then allow each class to pick a school appropriate mascot to represent their team.  This quarter we have Stranger Things, The Office, Walking Dead, Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse, and Infinity War.  Need some ideas?  Pick things they enjoy.  Here are my middle school challenge themes from recent:

  • Fast Food Restaurants
  • Superheroes
  • YouTubers
  • Video Games
  • March Madness Teams
  • Animals
  • Memes
  • Celebrities
  • Music Genres
  • Countries in the Olympics
  • Cartoons

It is then that the class challenges begin.

These kids know from the get-go that they are working for a class party at the end of the quarter.  To get total buy in, there has to be a little excitement.  Every day begins a new challenge.  Some are fun.  Some are goofy.  Some are academic.  Some are behavior-based.  Some are ridiculous.  Some are team-based.  Some are individual-based.  Some simply have to be captured on video.  Through the years I have tried it all.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Challenge the kids to be in their seats at the bell.
  • Challenge the kids to an overall class average on any assignment.
  • Challenge the kids to a trashketball game.
  • Challenge the kids to behave well at library checkout.
  • Challenge the kids to follow directions.
  • Challenge the kids to come prepared.
  • Challenge the kids to perform an interpretive dance of a poem read in class.
  • Challenge the kids to a trivia question about yourself.
  • Challenge the kids to remember what their classmates shared about their weekends.
  • Challenge the kids to recall a fact from a previous lesson.
  • Challenge the kids to see how quick they accomplish a mundane task.
  • Challenge the kids to see a piece of trash on the floor and pick it up.
  • Challenge the kids to push in their chairs at the end of the hour.
  • Challenge the kids to an overall class average duel.
  • Challenge the kids to be kind throughout the period.
  • Challenge the kids to a trivia question over the theme they chose.
  • Challenge the kids to behave well with a substitute.
  • Challenge the kids to act out a scene from a story they are reading.
  • Challenge the kids to wear spirit clothing on spirit day.
  • Challenge the kids to have their iPad charged up to a certain percent.

The possibilities are truly endless.  After each challenge, I will pull up the document on my screen to show how each class has done throughout the day, and then I will scroll down to the leaderboard.  My classes will either cheer or groan at the results.  You will see leaders begin to emerge, calling out things like, “Come on guys, we are better than this!”  As students trickle into class, positive peer pressure overwhelms them from others.  “Get the homework copied down!”  Or, “Come on, take a picture of the schedule!”

Sometimes the class challenge is a mystery.  Other times I will give them a hint.  Sometimes I throw it down clearly and boldly, expecting greatness to happen.  If you expect greatness, you get greatness.  Much like Jaime Escalante says in the famous teacher movie Stand and Deliver, “Students will rise to the level of expectations, Senor Molina.”  He proceeds to declare that all the students need is desire.  For me, these class challenges have provided a wonderful buy in for motivation and desire.

Although the prize of the class party looms at the end, the kids need smaller incentives along the way to keep them motivated.  This year I started allowing them to compete for the rights to have different prizes on Friday: free seating, iPad gaming time, leaving class one-minute early, or even taking them down to the gym for 10 minutes of free time can work wonders.  This week I am going to allow the winning class to choose the songs I play on my speakers during passing period.  (Lord, please do not allow them to pick Baby Shark!)

Over halfway through the challenges, I will start throwing down bets.  Classes will bet insane numbers of points over crazy stuff like class averages, behavior, top individual scores, or even games we play in class.  I can see dinner table conversations now … “Hey, mom, Mr. Daniels let our class BET today!”  Old students from previous years will flood my room before and after school to see which classes this year are winning.  It has become a Daniels legacy.

As the quarter comes to a close, the winning class always gets a class party.  I will bring in soda (typically three two-liters of their liking), and the rest of the class will sign up for treats.  It always turns into a buffet of sugar, including cookies, brownies, chips, candy, and cupcakes.  I let them feast on their treats while learning, normally taking on the role of a server to get them whatever they want.  They love it!

Each quarter begins a new challenge.  Sometimes I will allow the kids to start talking smack.  I will say to one class, “Man, 2nd hour picked YOU guys to bet against.  They think you are soft!”  Or I might write down a silly quote on the bell work screen from one class to another.  Things like, “Hey, team Stranger Things … the Walking Dead are feasting on you!”  Last week I put up a picture of Dwight Schrute from The Office saying, “You just lost to the Assistant Regional Manager, Dwight Schrute!”  Kids will flood my room to see the silliness there.

So, what are you waiting for?  Challenge your kids!  There is nothing like a little friendly competition to get them going.  Keep it simple, keep it fun, and provide plenty of choices for the kids.  The rest will take care of itself.

Let the games begin!

Challenge: Begin to set up a class challenge system.  If you are an elementary teacher and only have one class all day, you could split the class into smaller teams, do boys vs. girls, or have them compete against different grade level teachers.

Just for fun: Mr. Reynolds talks here about the point system he uses to manage his classroom.  Check it out!


Prayer: Father, I pray that my students will be fueled to succeed through friendly competition.  May you propel them to greatness this year!  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized


  1. Thanks! I totally neglected to set up an incentive system….. Usually i do weekly raffles. This sounds fun.

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