Saturday, November 23, 2013

Spark Student Motivation to Clean!

I'm linking up this morning with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching for Spark Student Motivation Saturday!  

My motivational idea is about getting your students to clean!  I know, I know, it's not in the common core, but it's an important life skill nonetheless. 

Back when I was a teenager, my mom would never have believed I would grow up to be the neat freak that I am today.  My room was forever a disaster area with piles of clean clothes, piles of dirty clothes, books, papers, and even the occasional leftover food item turned science experiment.  So, all you parents of teenage slobs out there...there is hope for your teenager yet!

I begin on the very first day of school instilling in my students an appreciation for a clean work space.  I ask them if they like the way the classroom looks right now, and tell them how long I worked to get it looking this way.  Then I explain that it is now up to them to help me keep it looking so nice.  At the end of the day I announce, "It's time for Mystery Trash!".  I walk around and write down three things that need to be picked up or straightened.  Of course, you have to be sneaky about it, and not write it down right after you look at it.  That would be too easy.  One or two of the items will be something like a piece of paper on the floor, but the third item must be a stumper that my students would probably never notice, like this...

That Pippi Longstocking book is not straight on the book rack.  We can't have that!  After I write down the three things, I tell my students that if they find one of my three things, they get a piece of gum.  I have to make sure they understand there is no running, pushing, etc. or I honestly think that my students looking for garbage would look like shoppers at Walmart on Black Friday! 

And they're off!  Kids are picking up and straightening like their parents would never believe!  

(Okay, not everyone's motivated to clean, but this guy reads like crazy all the time!  He just finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy!)

If they are missing my Mystery Trash, I will announce, "Still two left!", so they know to keep looking.  I try to keep an eye on my Mystery Trash items, so I see who picks it up or straightens it to avoid arguments about who really did it.  On the first day of school, they never get all three items, because they have no idea the level of OCD they are dealing with!   Then I send everyone back to their seats to hear what the Mystery Trash was.  I announce the first couple and give those students their piece of gum.  Then I tell them the one that didn't get done.  "See this kleenex box?  It should be exactly in the corner of the table!"  Or what's wrong with this picture?

Come on!  The pencil cans and sharpener need to be straight and facing out!  You should hear my students groan on that first day when they hear what the third one was!  But then, they get it!  The next day they are straightening everything!  It's a beautiful sight...

I have other things I do instead of Mystery Trash too like, "When I call your group, you need to find three things to pick up or straighten and then get in line."  During afternoon bathroom break I always give them three options...take a bathroom break, sit at your seat and read, or clean!  I have even occasionally given each student a wet wipe and had a contest to see who could get their wipe the dirtiest by cleaning.

Hope these tips help you get your classroom ship shape!  Check out all the other motivational ideas at Head Over Heels for Teaching!


  1. Stephanie, you are hysterical! I feel the same way about a neat classroom! (Like, I can't teach if a sign in crooked or there's a post-it on the floor!) Actually, we could probably tie it into Common Core with the speaking and listening standard! LOL! And, you're right, they go crazy over finding that Mystery Trash-you made me laugh about Black Friday! Mystery Trash is kind of like Black Friday for them! Great post! Thanks so much for sharing and linking up!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  2. I have used a mystery piece of garbage before but I love this idea even more - three items - not just garbage but OCD like organizing items too!! Can't wait to use this on Monday!!

  3. Stephanie,
    I LOVE THIS! This post could have been written by ME...all of it! I used to be the biggest slob ever. My parents ripped up the carpet out of my room when I moved out because I used to sit on the floor and do my was everywhere. I was a mess....not anymore!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'

  4. What a great ideas and it is wonderful that they don't feel nagged to do it. I am going to have to give this a try, my room is so messy this year, candy or gum will certainly motivate my crew. Thank you for sharing this great management technique and life skill!

  5. I love the way you do your third one! I've done mystery trash...but I've never been that sneaky. You've just inspired me!
    Hunter's Teaching Tales
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  6. I love this idea. I've never tried it, but I will. Soon!

    Fit to be fourth