Increasing Student Motivation with "Success Folders"

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Motivating students can be very tricky. It’s one of the most studied and discussed educational topics for not only teachers but parents as well! But to get to how we should motivate students, we need to take a look at what has happened to motivation in the first place. To begin with, we now exist in a climate of high-risk standardized testing and an inflexible grading system that means every assignment “counts” in the gradebook. And that can be quite intimidating to a student who is learning something brand new. Just imagine being graded on every new skill every time it is introduced. That’s scary! And constant failures can shut students down to the point where they give up or lose interest in even trying.

That’s where the “Success Folder” can come into play!

What is a “Success Folder”?

A “Success Folder” is exactly what it sounds like! It’s a folder that students keep in class where they place any assignment that makes them feel proud and successful. In my classes, I allow my students to put in any assignment, big or small, from ANY CLASS— not just English. I want them to focus on the positive, not the negative. I want them to be able to go to that folder with pride, flip through the pages, and say, “Wow! Look what I’ve done!” I want them to be able to share these assignments with their classmates and take ownership of what they have achieved.

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How to Implement “Success Folders”

The basic implementation of the “success folder” is to first give every student a file folder. Then, allow students to write growth mindset statements on the folder such as:

  • “Nothing is impossible!”

  • “Work hard and grow!”

  • “Don’t ever accept not trying.”

  • “Don’t stop until you’re proud.”

  • “Explore. Dream. Discover.”

By having students use growth mindset quotations on their success folders, they can reinforce growth mindset concepts that will encourage them to keep working hard.

After students have decorated their folders, instruct them to place in the folder only work that reflects their hard work and effort because those are traits to be proud of. We want students to equate hard work and success, not merely natural ability. Keep the folders in class in a file crate (so that they do not get lost) and allow students time throughout the school year to add to their success folders. Also, allow them time to reflect back on each assignment they have placed in the folder and why they are proud of it and how it shows “success.”

Focusing on growth mindset and also on what students did well can help keep them motivated and take pride and ownership in their own learning. Give it a try and see how it works for your students!


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About the Author

Meredith is the founder and creator of and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.