Management with the Grid: How to Keep Kids Motivated

Andrea KalchbennerBlog, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Manage Better, Personalize Student Learning Better


  • The Grid method can seem like a huge change, but there are some consistencies with a traditional approach.
  • A teacher shares some strategies for management and engagement with the Grid.

“How do you keep kids motivated?!” This question pops up over and over again for educators.  It does not matter whether you teach elementary or high school, or if you use The Grid Method or a more traditional approach in your classroom. Management is important. And every teacher is faced with the task of figuring out how to engage their students in the learning process.

Constants, even after implementing The Grid Method.

Since instituting The Grid Method two years ago in my classroom, my student engagement has shifted and evolved, but some vital things have remained constant. First and foremost, my passion for my subject matter English Language Arts shines through. I cannot expect my students to be engaged in my content if I am not.

I cannot expect my students to be engaged in my content if I am not. Click To Tweet

I am the teacher who can be heard in the neighboring classroom loudly reciting lines from “The Raven” and chasing kids down the hallway asking them figurative language question cards during dismissal. Using The Grid has not changed that for me.

Although I am not doing whole-group instruction on a regular basis, we still come together for those special moments during our mini-lessons, or when I work in small groups with students. 

The next constant for me is purpose. I make a large production when I introduce each new grid. I build it up to be the “best” grid ever and explain the rationale behind each level.

Students are more engaged when they understand why they are doing the work. Levels of the grid should never be “busy work.” Everything has a purpose and builds upon the thing before.  The end goal is your level 4 culminating assessment, or whatever your highest required level is for your grid. 

Varied teaching styles & assessments for engagement.

It is important to include different types of teaching styles and assessments for students within each level, just as you would before The Grid. This keeps students from stagnation and mundane learning.

Sometimes a formative assessment might be a Google Form exit slip, while another time it is a stand up/sit down whole class check in on dependent and independent clauses.

For a summative assessment, students might write an editorial magazine article, deliver a speech to our administration, or create a skit to explain point of view.

If you have students doing the same thing for every grid, they will get bored. In addition, I use a blend of my own tutorial videos and videos from online resources such as EdPuzzle. This way, students are exposed to a variety of learning modalities. 

Classroom culture & management with the Grid.

Another aspect of engagement with using The Grid is promoting a positive classroom culture. You have to model and cultivate a F.A.I.L. (First Attempt in Learning) philosophy, so your students are encouraged to keep trying when they do not achieve mastery on their first try.

Have a positive growth mindset is so beneficial, but especially when using the grid. I always remind my students that the beauty of The Grid is that they can move at their own pace.

Sometimes they will move faster than their peer, and other times they may need to call on a peer mentor. I stress that students have to try just as hard in level 1 as they do for the level 5 enrichment. Each level of The Grid demands the same engagement. 

Class structure & management with the Grid.

The way you design your class structure also largely affects student engagement as well. If all you do is have students work on the grid by themselves every single day, they are going to lose motivation after a while. Just like they would with anything that is repetitive.

I want to stress that it is still important to have a routine, but it should include variety. For example in my classroom, Monday-Thursday are “Grid Days” and Fridays are “Change Up Days.”

On Fridays, we might do a whole group class review using Gimkit or Quizizz, Book Talks, a Social-emotional lesson, team builder, or a proactive/restorative circle. Then we always end Fridays with a dance party as we “dance into the weekend.”

In addition, I am constantly meeting with students, asking them questions, and having them show me their work. Plus, I build opportunities into my grids for students to work with one another. They have multiple times to work with a partner or meet in their own small groups if they wish. Furthermore, my students know that I am going to hold them accountable at some point during the class period. 

My ELA classes are 60 minutes long, so I break it down with an 8-10 minute bell ringer/housekeeping, 10 minute mini-lesson, 35 minutes to work through the grid, and then a five minute goal reflection to conclude class.

While students are working on the grid, I am checking in with each student to assess their individual goal for the day. Then I pull students for small groups and 1:1 conferencing based on their goals and their formative assessment results.

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Keep students motivated through enrichment & extra help.

If students need help while they are working, they use our tracking page. In addition, as they are working, students are allowed to take one 3-5 minute brain break on their own. I have a list of “approved” brain breaks, but students are always encouraged to come up with their own. These individual brain breaks are short and discreet, so it does not affect the learning environment for other students. In addition, there are other times when I will facilitate a whole group brain break too based on the needs of my students. 

In order to keep students who finish early engaged, my level 5 is always enrichment. The opportunities for further learning are endless. I offer suggestions on what they can work on, but the best enrichment opportunities are when students create it for themselves.

I stress to them that Level 5 is their level. It is their opportunity to show me what they know in a learning modality they prefer. Oftentimes, students who finish early are student mentors for those still working on the grid.

On the flip side, I have systems in place for students who struggle to get to my required Level 4 assessment. They are designed to help them be successful.

I have students goal-set each day and fill out a Grid Checklist that requires my signature. So I know ahead of time if they are in jeopardy of not meeting the requirements in time.

When that happens, students and parents fill out a short pre-created note that states the circumstances, and then we devise a plan together to get the student back on track. Typically, I leave my grids “open” one extra week after the deadline for students who need a little bit more time. In some circumstances, I will condense the expectations for students who are working hard, but just cannot handle it all based on their individual situation. 

Management with the grid is about student responsibility.

Overall, The Grid puts the responsibility directly onto the student. They are not sitting at their desk just listening to a lecture. Instead, students are in the driver seat instead of the teacher.

This instantly increases their engagement level because they are taking an active role in their learning. I realize having students working at different levels can seem overwhelming at first, but once you set structures in place, engagement will come easily.

Finally, I firmly believe that students will be engaged if you are. If I am sitting at my desk disconnected from my students, then they will be disengaged too. Let your passion for learning and mastery keep you and your students afloat. 

About Andrea Kalchbrenner

Andrea is a 7th grade ELA teacher from the Chicago suburbs and Lead Ambassador for the Teach Better team. She has been teaching for over 12 years and has a Reading Masters degree. Andrea enjoys networking and sharing her ideas with other educators on Twitter and Instagram. In addition, she loves spending time with her infant son Luke, reading, and teaching dance.