The youngest children need more visual instruction and less verbal lecturing.
For Administrators

Give Them a Nudge: 5 Handy Ways to Help Students Improve

By Brian Gatens December 28, 2015

Change doesn’t always arrive in grand or dramatic fashion (and you should be skeptical when people promise otherwise). Instead, change comes gradually over weeks and months with the help of many healthy “nudges” to keep it moving in the right direction.

Nudges are little things you can do in the classroom that add to the quality of the experience and bring all your students to a better place, both academically and socially. These are five of my favorites:

Communicate visually (not voice-only)

What I’ve learned from watching teachers teach is that the most overused (and perhaps least effective) strategy is to pass along information and directions by merely speaking to students. Saying aloud what you want is a low-effort way to pass along information that seems, on the surface, like an effective use of your time. In reality, telling a group what you want barely works at all, and becomes less and less worthwhile the younger the children are.

If you have to convey long directions or complex expectations, the best route is to write them down and post them where the students can easily see them. Often I see a teacher repeat the same directions to different groups of children. Writing things down for all to see also is a great way to nudge your students in the direction of learning how to communicate effectively and provide easy-to-understand directions.

Send automatic text messages

Automatic text-messaging services provide a wonderful way to keep students and their families involved in classroom learning. Check out a site like and sign up for free one-way text messaging to push out information and updates quickly and easily.

An added benefit is that students and their families will not learn your phone number (nor can they text you in return). Imagine a student is at home the night before a big test and a friendly text reminder arrives right around 7:30 p.m. encouraging them to study. This is an excellent motivational tool — you’re nudging instead of nagging.

Phone home

Email and websites are sufficient for communicating basic information, but nothing replaces a phone call to a student’s home. Try to set aside a few nights a month where you will just sit there and work the phones. Call the homes of your high-performing students to recognize their hard work and to thank their family members for supporting your work. This is a powerful way to build goodwill and also give the parents a great thing to talk about on the playground.

Furthermore, an evening phone call to the home of a struggling student enables you to drive home the point that you care for the student, and helps you learn how much support the family can supply. For all the technology we have today, hearing a teacher’s voice on the other end of the phone is still a powerful moment for students and families.

Keep supplies readily available

This might seem like a small thing, but time and time again, I see good instruction interrupted when a teacher has to help a child get a minor school supply. Keep an ample stash of pens, pencils, erasers, paper, etc., in a handy and easily accessible place.

That way you don’t have to stop your lesson or admonish a child in front of the class if an item has been forgotten. Tell them where they can find it and get back to your lesson. Use time after class to speak to the child if necessary. Classroom instructional time is precious — don’t squander it.

Require students to seek extra help

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a child reviewing their work (and offering direct support) is a powerful growth tool. Too many teachers treat extra help as something students or families have to request.

If students need assistance, whether it’s drastic or just a little extra, make a point of requiring them to see you either during lunch or after school. If they tend to dash out after school ends, try to get word to their last-period teacher that you’re expecting them. I’ve escorted many a student to a colleague’s room. Sure, the children may never admit it, but they appreciate the attention of a caring adult.

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