Competition – Is it a good tool to motivate kids?

I always thought that competition is an excellent way to motivate kids. Many times, I made contests in the class, competitions, etc. I always found it that extra bit more fun when I was a student, if I had to compete against some other students. That’s probably why I really like games. My friends always tell me that I am very competitive and some friends even tell me that I’m overly competitive. It’s true. I make a game out of everything. Even with myself. With anything I do, I try to improve myself, get faster, get more efficient… win.

Just like my life, I run my classes as a place to improve, a place to get faster, to understand best, to get more efficient – and what better way than a friendly competition?!

Recently, however, I find that competition is not for everyone. Most students really enjoy the sense of play, the sense of fun in beating or trying to beat their opponent in a silly competition, but for some kids competition evokes the exact opposite effect. Some students just shut down – they don’t see the point of playing when they have no chance of winning.

I decided to make a list of things I think are good and bad (my pros and cons) about competition in the class. And then accordingly, I would decide whether it’s a good idea for a given situation or not such a great plan for the lesson.


1. Most kids really enjoy the “game” aspect of a competition. Fun = good for learning.

2. This is a great way to get the students to actively participate in the class. They get really involved, and just from the involvement they learn more than they would have by sitting and just passively listening.

3. Great for the bright and fast kids. If they’re usually on the border of boredom, a game / competition will get them motivated to start thinking again. 4. Lets students have a sense of success.

5. If done in groups, can really develope comradeship with the other team members.

6. Some students work best under pressure. Competition is the perfect source of pressure.

7. Works better for older kids. Younger kids seem to take things very personally, and cannot distinguish between playing a game and reality.


1. Not so great for the weaker students. If a student finds himself among intellectual superiors, they will either not participate or else get frustrated with the competition and possibly the subject itself.

2. Not suitable for younger kids. The younger the kid, the easier they get frustrated, and the competition won’t work. Younger kids don’t understand that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, therefore losing is a very traumatic experience.

3. Some students don’t do well under pressure at all. You must know your students well to know which students can succeed under pressure, and which will not. Usually the ones that do well win a stressful situation should enjoy a friendly competition. Those kids that blank out during tests will not enjoy the competition either.

I find that school is all about competition anyway. When we give grades or stickers, we compare the students amongst each other. Even if the students don’t know what other students got on a test or report card, we give them an understanding that an A is the best (like winning) and F is that they lost completely.

I actually had the opportunity to take a whole degree (my education degree) where there were no grades – just a pass or fail. I thought this degree to be a joke. I no longer felt I had to do my best. I knew that even my worst would allow me to pass the courses and I would get my degree. I always blaimed my lack of enthusiasm for the courses on the silly “no mark” system. But sometimes I wonder if I was just programmed by my previous schools and my parents, that this reward system, this mark system, this competition in my blood, made me not care about learning how to teach, because there was no carrot at the end of the string.

I wonder if I am really reaching for what I want, or am I only programmed to reach for a reward?

I think I’ll still use competition in some of my classes, but I will not resort to a competition style game all the time. There are other activities that are fun and don’t necessarily include competition – these activities can be great for all students – not just top of the class.

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