How to Get Elementary Students to Become Accountable for Doing Their Work

by Lee Grayson

A shiny paper star once worked well as a motivating device for an elementary student, but many modern junior scholars need more than a star to develop sound accountability skills. Experienced parents have more up their sleeves than a box of stars, including using a sophisticated system of rewards and consistent methods to encourage student accountability. Developing accountability in primary students and self-responsibility for their work isn't difficult, but it does require planning.

Cause and Effect

Students understand the importance of accountability when shown the relationship between the cause and effect linked to student actions. Parents demonstrate this process by using consistent forms of praise and rewards to encourage student academic achievements and sound work habits. Setting down a system of clear standards, including a daily timetable for completing homework, helps elementary students understand the effect of good work habits and high academic grades.

Goal Setting and Tracking

Effective accountability systems help children set goals, both small and large, and encourage self-monitoring and formal tracking to reach these goals. Using a symbol chart to record accomplishments helps students set goals. The charts help students quickly see their results each day. Upper elementary students typically have the ability to focus on achievements for longer times, while students in the lower primary grades generally focus only on daily or weekly goals and achievements.


Rewards give elementary students physical items or special permissions for quality work. Motivations also include praise and public recognition, according to John Shindler, co-director of the Alliance for the Study of School Climate. Stickers and similar small awards generally motivate young learners at the lower-grade levels. Parents using reward systems that incorporate opportunities for increasingly sophisticated duties and privileges help children develop higher levels of accountability.

Life Examples

Modeling desired behavior helps young students learn accountability. Upper elementary students understand the practical application of being accountable for actions by listening to role models and reading stories about people mastering personal accountability. Community members, such as local business owners and successful high school students, offer valuable life lessons when speaking to children about the importance of being accountable for academic work and study habits.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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