Strategies to help students self-regulate

02.26.16 | Learning on the EDge | 0 Comments

By Beverly Koopman

I don’t like being micro-managed. In fact, most of every day of my life is organized entirely by me, within a set of external expectations. I like it that way, too.

When I watch children of at play, I see them making choices that regulate and organize their time. Some are very skilled, while others are less so, and at the mercy of the external forces of their lives.

Because society needs more citizens who are intrinsically motivated to work and able self-regulate, and because I think few of us enjoy being micro-managed, I went searching for ways to give my students more choice in our multiage classroom while also maintaining the type of engagement that principals and teacher coaches expect to see during their frequent drop-ins during the school day.

May-do, must-do chart and ‘ketchups’

One of my students’ favorite parts of the week is our Friday afternoon “may-do/must-do” time. A pocket chart hangs at the front of the room with two sections. The top section is labeled “Must-do,” and the bottom is labeled “May-do.”

Inevitably, when may-do and must-do time is announced, someone will give a little cheer, while another student will sigh with relief. This is the time each week that they both need and look forward to.

To prepare, I take suggestions from students for the must-do’s and the may-do’s. Occasionally, several students have late work from the prior week that has not yet been turned in. The assignments are listed on the whiteboard, under a picture of a ketchup bottle and are known as our ketchups. Ketchups are the highest priority. Ketchup students know that I will be checking in on them to see what they need to get these finished up. Sometimes I gather those students on the floor to talk with them. Here are chart examples:


  • Social studies chapter notes
  • Writing — setting paragraphs


  • Thank you’s
  • Choice research
  • Read (always on the may do chart)


  • Science sheet

Only assignments are listed, never names. Students know what they need to be working on, and some kids find having their name on the board humiliating. They know that I will be talking with them about their progress during work time. If they are working on a may-do when I know they have a ketchup to do, I’ll ask them whether they are aware that I don’t have the assignment recorded. This approach encourages students to identify their needs and make responsible choices to meet those needs.

Since implementing the may-do/must-do/ketchup chart in my classroom, students tell me that they feel less anxious, and that they are more motivated to finish their work because they would rather have may-do time than must-do time. This little bit of classroom choice seems to really encourage my third, fourth and fifth grade students to build self-efficacy, the ability to self regulate.

What are strategies you use to intrinsically motivate students to finish their work?  Let’s learn together!


About the author:

Beverly Koopman is a multigrade teacher (3rd, 4th, 5th) at Discovery Elementary School, Buffalo, Minn.

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