Motivation for Students: Proactive Language In Classroom Anchor Chart

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Today I’m wanting to share with you how to use proactive language as motivation for students and the anchor chart I made.

Motivating Students Is a Challenge

If you are an avid follower of my crazy teaching life, I’m sure you are aware of my recent move this year to a new school. For the last six years I taught at a Title I charter school in a Texas suburb. I recently made the move to a larger school district into another Title I school. Trust me when I say that not all Title I schools are the same. I went from a low-income charter school where students requested admission to a low-income public school. Now, both schools are awesome and have their challenges. However, I feel that I have grown tremendously as a teacher the last few months.

Anyways, the school I’m currently at is the vast majority low income with a lot of lack of motivation. It amazes me that kids so young can have such little ambition. But, they know nothing different. I came into this year with 36% of my 60 students passing the previous state assessment. Never in my life had I seen scores quite this low. I began the year with high hopes that slowly faded.

It took a few days to finally realize that not only did I need to change my mindset, but my students needed to as well.

These students were making the choice to be unsuccessful. They were capable of greater things and I knew it. What I needed was for them to see it also. This is when I decided to initiate Proactive Only Thinking in my classroom. I have seen things before about proactive thinking (we are a 7 Habits school), but I thought it was particularly important to associate it to math–my students’ least favorite subject by far.

My Proactive Language Anchor Chart

Here are the basic contents of my proactive language anchor chart.  I have two versions as you can see below.  (I changed things a bit over the years.)

What should I say instead?

  • Instead of I can’t do math, say I’m going to learn math.
  • Instead of it’s good enough, say is this really my best work?
  • Instead of this is too hard, say I’m going to have to work and put forth the effort.
  • Instead of I’m not good at this, say making mistakes will help me improve.
  • Instead of I don’t get it, say what am I missing?
  • Instead of I don’t like math, say I’m going to change my mindset.
  • Instead of I’m not smart, say I am smart!


The day I created this proactive learning motivation for students anchor chart, I hung it up on the whiteboard without bringing any attention to it. A few students read it or noticed it there. After introducing long division, a student finally remarked that it was too hard and they didn’t get it. Believe it or not, another student referenced my anchor chart. Without me even say anything!

It was a moment of pure teacher satisfaction.

Teaching Proactive Language

At this point, I stopped my lesson and starting talking about the contents of the chart. I began by telling them that I was thankful for every single one of them and that I truly believed they could all be successful. We talked about that if you make a mistake, you try again and again until you get it right. I explained that they were all going to fail at one point or another, but that it didn’t matter if they learned from their mistakes.

These kids had a choice: to be responsible for their learning and put forth the effort to learn or make the choice to do nothing. If you do nothing, there’s only one outcome…failure. If you try, you at least have a chance. I told them that I no longer wanted to hear any of the phrases on the left side of the anchor chart.  Instead, I wanted them thinking the thoughts on the right.

I don’t know what happened that day, but after two days of long division, (including decimals) almost every single student mastered it. Their entire frame of mind changed. I allowed them to see my faith in them, and they finally felt a sense of success.

I created this proactive anchor chart two months ago, and I have not once heard those negative phrases about not getting it or math being too hard.

Proactive language as motivation for students can make a huge difference in a person, and amazing things can happen. I hope this can make an impact on your students as well. Please share other ideas on ways you have motivated your students!

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