Achievement Parties: Motivating Your Students to do Their Best


The best kind of student motivation is intrinsic to the process of learning, but sometimes students need an additional incentive to inspire that extra push toward excellence. What if you could offer hardworking students a rewarding experience that is both educational and fun? In this video, Deana Swanson explains how she uses achievement parties to motivate her students to invest some extra effort in their work. In addition to sharing ideas for party themes, food, costumes, and activities, Deana describes how to structure the criteria so that all students have a reasonable chance at participating.

Could just be a class party, if you wanted to celebrate the end of the quarter. We like to make it an achievement party. And again, I’ve seen that it works. The first one, we let everybody come so they know how fun it is. After that, they have to earn it. And we have three different levels.

First Level

The first level is they have to have an 85% or higher in every subject, so they have to have a B or better. And in every single subject. So if they have an 84 in one subject—and what we do for that is we give them little checks along the way—after three weeks, after six weeks, so they know. And that way they’re not all of a sudden they get the report card and, “Oh no! I didn’t know!” They know. They know ahead of time and they can attain toward that.

Second Level

The second level is if any of the students are in any type of learning or resource room or they’ve had some difficulties, they need to have a 77% or above. They need to have a C average because for them that’s working really hard. And it’s an achievement party. We want them to achieve. And so we feel like they have to work hard to get that C. Then that’s their level.

Third Level

And then the last level is some of the students just really, really struggle. And they’ve had all the testing, and they’re getting all the help they can. And they still, no matter what we do or they do, they still get a 30% or 40% on a test. They’re trying really hard. They’re in resource room. They’re getting private tutoring, but they just can’t pass. And our goal for them is you have to turn in every single assignment. If you have one incomplete, then you’re off because, for them, that’s achieving.

So you can either have just the whole class: “We’re going to celebrate the end of the quarter. We do it at the end of every quarter.” Or you can set the different levels like that.

Historical or Cultural Theme

And really, I try to pick something from history. If it’s a world history year, I will usually do the country, like we had a Chinese one or we’ll do a travel one where they go to different countries or something like that. But we try to make it more from that time period.

We even did like a diner one year, like for the 50s and 60s where the staff—and again, we always serve them—we make it kind of fun. They have to be polite. But we put on poodle skirts and roller skates, and we’re serving them hamburgers and stuff. And we always have some activity with it.

Finding Ideas

But anyway, so those are just some ideas, and I’m willing to share all my ideas and menus and everything if anybody wants them. But all you got to do is come up with your theme. And again, usually I’ve got two or three ideas out of my history book that I’m teaching, and I grab my sticky note and write, “Mongolian party.”

So research the food. What food did they have? And some of the first ones we do are just like a Mexican party. And we just have Mexican food.


Get a few decorations. We hang a pinata up, maybe make some of those tissue balls. You buy the tissue paper for a dollar, make flowers out of them, hang on the ceiling.


Some games. We try to find a game from that culture or from that time period, and that can be a little bit challenging.

Dividing Responsibilities

But again, different staff, usually somebody will help with the food, a parent or a teacher. I’ll usually come up with the costumes and the decorations. Another teacher will come up with the games. So we kind of divvy it out that way.

Minimal Cost of Costumes

And then costumes, and these can be so easy and so cheap. People think they have to go buy million dollar costume. You don’t. You can go to a thrift store and find whatever you need and maybe get from the remnant pile at the fabric store, a sash or something like that. That is something else I look for at thrift stores stores. If there’s anything that looks like it’s from a different country or graduation robes, you can get those for a dollar. And they’re just these long black robes. And then you stick a sash around your head with something and you’re a Bible guy.


And then if your school board will permit it, play some music from that time period. And again, we always make sure at one time we even found hymns that were from this culture. But research and just get a couple of songs and play. If you play that music in the background, you have some decorations up.

The staff, the teachers are dressed up, serving them food, and you’ve got some tacos or whatever it is from that culture or from that time period. And then you play a game, and it’s a wonderfully fun evening. It’s educational. It gives them something to look forward to.


They will ask me, “What’s my grade? What’s my grade?”

And these are something 8th graders. These aren’t third graders. They’re trying to make good grades. They’re motivated, and it’s a good bonding time for everybody to get together and just have fun in an educational setting, learn about another culture, actually experience another culture, and just have some good bonding time and some fun memories.

And I like to hang things and leave the decorations up or, I make them a bookmark that says whatever, and we try to kind of keep that going. “Remember, that was really fun? You want to make good grades for next time.”

So that is something else that I really enjoy doing that I think is very worthwhile that motivates the students and is educational as well.

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