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60-Day Option to Rise Above the Occasional Slump

Does it feel like it yet? It’s that time of year … again! Does it seem like your students get off task more quickly than usual? Do they move more slowly from one task to the next? Are they showing signs of boredom more often?

If you’re like most teachers I work with, you are noticing drops in student energy and motivation right about now. In fact, you might even be feeling the same drop yourself. If so, keep reading.

We’ve got a fool-proof plan to ensure student ENERGY and MOTIVATION are at their PEAK as we enter the next stretch of the school year.

The Research

This month’s issue will thrust you into some of the leading factors of the energy and motivation drop so many students feel this time of year. And, let’s be honest – students aren’t the only ones who feel it. It is possible you are feeling it too.

Most schools are designed for stability. That is both good and bad. Contributing to the “downside”, schools seem to foster the monotony of 1) the daily routines, 2) learning the same thing again and again, 3) teaching the same thing again and again, and being in the same space every day, all day.

By this time of year it can all feel a bit, well, monotonous!

Here are three monotony-busters that are guaranteed to boost the energy and motivation level in your students (and you). Use these three tools to design a personalized 60-Day Energy Plan.

Where and how would you get started? Read on – I’ve made a list for you below!

  1. Novelty: Perhaps one of the fastest and easiest ways to counter the monotony is through novelty. This can be anything new, unexpected, or out-of-the-ordinary. It can be an activity, physical setting, or teaching style. The brain is intrinsically motivated by novelty. Fortunately, novelty enhances learning and memory retention (Oudeyer, Gottlieb, & Lopes, 2016), and it breeds creativity (Gillebaart, Förster, Rotteveel, & Jehle, 2013). So, if you feel like you’re in a rut with your teaching, novelty can unlock the door to fresh new experiences. You’ll get some ideas in a minute.
  1. Physical Activity: Keep student energy up by doing a quick energizer EVERY 20 minutes. Trust me – it is worth the time investment. You’ll get the time back with these well-researched results: Students who are physically active have better memory, better attendance, better classroom behavior, and perform better academically (Michael, Merlo, Basch, Wentzel, & Wechsler, 2015). In fact, there is a HUGE effect size on student learning with classroom energizers (Erwin, Fedewa, Beighle & Ahn, 2012).

Want to ensure your students are motivated to participate in the energizer? Let them decide what energizers they enjoy the most and put them in a jar to be drawn out when an energizer is needed. You might even consider having a student or group lead the energizer. Autonomy (giving students choice) is a HUGE motivation and engagement booster (Lazowski & Hulleman, 2016; Cheon & Reeve, 2015). Remember, more of them, less of you this time of the year.

  1. Challenge: Challenge is a self-energizing tool for students. With some researchers citing students already know 50% of what is being taught, it’s no wonder many students have low levels of energy and motivation (Nuthall, 2007). When we lower our expectations and design tasks that are easy for our students, we are (unintentionally) creating challenge-avoiders.Students become smarter by seeking and tackling challenges. This challenge-seeking mindset is a hallmark of highly successful learners (Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015). Increase the challenge, and then watch your students come back for more. We’ll show you how to set higher challenges in a moment.

Practical Application

Need some extra help in creating your 60-Day Energy Plan? Here are several specific strategies to get you started:

Novelty for Students:

  • Rotate the classroom for a day. They can change seating assignments, learning stations, or teams.
  • Each student takes on a famous character in history, entertainment, politics, science, etc. that they would like to learn from and model him or her. Have students set the standards for which persons can be selected from history so the class stays safe and sane (no Jack the Ripper characters). Allow them to gesture, move, and speak in that person’s voice during the class.
  • Everyone on a team brings a prop relevant to the topic being learned that week and shares it with the class. Then the class rotates to the next team. Over two months, many amazing props will show up.
  • A new learning activity or assignment they’ve never experienced from you (ask a colleague for their best lesson and modify it to fit your class).

Novelty for You:

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes. Go online and find a new way to teach your next lesson.
  • Read from a fresh source each day. Find a book, blog, or podcast you’ve been thinking about that will inspire you to upgrade your teaching. New ideas will spark novelty.
  • Dress the part of a character for the Friday class (tell your principal in advance). Check out Dave Burgess, who dressed like a pirate (Teacher of the Year!).

Physical Activity for Students:

  • One song dance break (24K Magic, Shut Up and Dance, or Can’t Stop the Feeling).
  • Three simple yoga stretches (
  • Simon Says (do this giving two commands at a time, but your students will do either the 1st or 2nd command – you choose, but not both).
  • Power Walk and Talk (share “how are you feeling today?”, a content summary, or 3 gratitudes or dreams and goals).

Physical Activity for You: (Yes, give yourself the gift of more energy!)

  • Commit to spending just 12-15 minutes a day moving your body – walking or doing yoga are great ideas. It will calm you, center you, and give you more energy. Check out if you need some guidance.
  • Want an extra boost of energy? Cut out 50-80% of your sugar consumption.

Challenge for Students:

  • Utilize the retrieval ideas from last month’s Brighter Brain Bulletin. This will help students realize they have actually learned something this year. That feeling of success (or competence) is a top motivating power tool worth using again and again (Ryan & Deci, 2013).
  • Give students less time or resources (i.e., no notes or book) to complete a task.
  • Have them review a recently learned topic with a classmate by only using pictures they draw and gestures (no talking).
  • Challenge your own mindset around what your students are capable of doing. Then give them a task slightly more challenging than what you have in the past.

Challenge for You:

  • Challenge yourself to find the purpose (the “why”) behind every lesson you teach. Find a way to explicitly share that purpose with your students.
  • Identify a student (or two) with whom you don’t have the best relationship, then challenge yourself to invest in that student.

This time of year can be a phase of low energy, and yes, it can even be boring or depressing. If that’s true for you, own it and ask for support to make some changes. It can also be a time to renew and revitalize your energy and motivation – and that of your students. The choice is yours. Rally together with your students around the strategies above to keep EVERYONE’s energy and motivation soaring instead of slumping.


Cheon, S. H., & Reeve, J. (2015). A classroom-based intervention to help teachers decrease students’ amotivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 40, 99-111.

Erwin, H., Fedewa, A., Beighle, A., & Ahn, S. (2012). A Quantitative Review of Physical Activity, Health, and Learning Outcomes Associated With Classroom-Based Physical Activity Interventions. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 28, 14-36.

Gillebaart, M., Förster, J., Rotteveel, M., & Jehle, A. C. (2013). Unraveling Effects of Novelty on Creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 25(3), 280-285.

Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed And Growth Mindset In Education And How Grit Helps Students Persist In The Face Of Adversity. Journal of International Education Research (JIER), 11(1), 47.

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016). Motivation Interventions in Education. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602-640.

Michael, S. L., Merlo, C. L., Basch, C. E., Wentzel, K. R., & Wechsler, H. (2015). Critical Connections: Health and Academics. Journal of School Health, 85(11), 740-758.

Nuthall, G. (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: Nzcer Press.

Oudeyer, P., Gottlieb, J., & Lopes, M. (2016). Intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and learning. Motivation – Theory, Neurobiology and Applications Progress in Brain Research, 257-284.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2013). Toward a social psychology of assimilation: Self-determination theory in cognitive development and education. In B. W. Sokol, F. M. E. Grouzet, U. Muller (Eds.), Self-regulation and autonomy: Social and developmental dimensions of human conduct (pp. 191-207). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Willis, J. (2014). Neuroscience reveals that boredom hurts. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(8), 28-32.

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