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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   Dec 10, 2010

Ideas for student rewards and incentives

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Ideas for student rewards and incentives

By Angela Watson

In part one of this post series, I explained why ‘rewards’ isn’t a bad word and argued my case for why they should be an integral part of the classroom. In this post, I’m going to share how to do that. I’ve found that the most effective way to use rewards with students is with a combination of a consistent reward system and unexpected now-that rewards, so I’ll share ideas about both.


Easy Reward Systems

A reward system is different from a behavior management system.  ‘Flipping your card’ and ‘moving your clip’  are behavior management systems: students are only acknowledged when they misbehave.  A reward system does not track misbehavior or provide any sort of punitive consequences.  Instead, it provides an incentive for students to work hard and exercise self-discipline, and gives a pay-off when they do. Ideally, a reward system provides intangible rewards (such as privileges) that don’t cost the teacher money and help build a sense of classroom community. Ideas:

  • Keep track of how many times students are making good choices in the classroom by assigning team points–compliment kids and make a slash on the board to keep track. Anytime a team gets to 10 points, reward them by eating breakfast, a snack, or lunch together. You don’t have to provide the food–students can eat their normal meals. The reward is your company and attention. This system is especially effective because teams are not competing against each other (when one team gets to 10, it doesn’t affect the other teams and they continue working toward their goal.) More about doing a ‘Lunch Bunch’ or ‘Snack Pack’ in The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable.
  • Recognize individual children by giving compliments accompanied by a bead, token, bean, counter, or some other small item when they make good choices. At the end of the week, let kids trade in their objects for a non-tangible reward such as extra computer time or center time.  I explain this in more detail on the bead system page as well as in the book.

Now-That Rewards

These are unexpected rewards given to students AFTER they’ve demonstrated exceptional behavior. In this post, I explain the difference between if-then rewards (if you do this, then I will give you that, which can feel like bribery and rob kids of intrinsic motivation) and now-that rewards which simply heighten the sense of satisfaction kids feel after a job well done. These can and should be regularly infused into the school day to reinforce classroom expectations and let students know you’re noticing their good choices. 5 examples to get you thinking:

  • When students use manipulatives the correct way during a lesson, say, “You all did a fabulous job staying on-task and practicing your math skills. I’m going to give you the last few minutes of our time to create a design or pattern with them in any way you choose. Have fun!” Incorporate manipulatives in an upcoming lesson, and tell the kids you’re doing so because of their hard work and effort the last time.
  • After kids successfully stay engaged during a tedious test prep activity or other paper and pencil task, announce that you’ll let the class complete the last few questions using individual wipe-off boards. [You know you can get a class set for about $10 using shower board from a home improvement store, right?]  Let them decorate the boards with their markers as they work. Use the boards again during the next lesson if the kids are responsible with them, and point out that’s why they’ve gotten to use the boards so much.
  • Present differentiated tasks as a now-that reward, even if you were planning to provide choice all along. Tell the class you’ve noticed their hard work on a research project and you’re going to let them choose their presentation method: recording a video, writing a blog post, making a PowerPoint or iMovie, creating a skit, etc.  Make a clear connection between the good decisions they’ve made and your  allowance for more freedom of choice.
  • If you finish a lesson early because you didn’t have to stop a hundred times to redirect behavior, tell the kids that, and let them use the time for something fun. “You were focused and attentive today, and I’m really impressed by how well you helped manage our time. Since I wasn’t interrupted by kids playing around, you were able to learn this material in only 40 minutes instead of 45!  That gives us an extra five minutes to play a game.”  Play a quick round of a review game or other short activity the kids love.
  • When every person in the entire class does something truly miraculous  (like getting an 80% or higher on a test, turning in all their homework, or behaving maturely on a field trip), give up your lunch period and eat with the kids in the classroom or outside in an impromptu picnic. Let the kids see that you truly enjoy talking and laughing with them. If you’re really brave, go on the playground together and participate in a class game like kickball.

The more you incorporate now-that rewards into instruction, the more kids will understand the connection between their behavioral choices and the way you choose to give privileges. When students understand that their behavior impacts the way the classroom is run, they will be more motivated to cooperate with the routines and rules you’ve put in place. They will demonstrate a more positive attitude toward you and a willingness to work together with their classmates toward a common goal. They will show gratitude for the little things you allow them to do, and will think carefully about how to show you they are responsible and ready for additional privileges. If you want to find out more about meaningful, effective rewards, check out my webinar on pro-active behavior management. The series explains how to choose incentives and rewards that work for your students and reinforce self-discipline as well as shared responsibility for making the classroom run smoothly.

How do you use rewards in the classroom? Do you have a whole-class reward system? What types of rewards and incentives work well with YOUR students?

Read Part 1 of this post series: The day “reward” became a bad word

Read Part 3 of this post series: Rewarding kids responsibly in the 21st century

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Good strategies! Are you familiar with the a acronym PBIS? Positive Behavior Intervention Systems. We use tickets at our school thAt are given out when a student exhibits Safe, Respectful, or Responsible behavior. Each classroom puts them in a container, later they are collected monthly and they are used for school wide rewards such as a Popsicle, a game day. Meanwhile in the classroom we can use them in a variety of ways. I do random drawings to reward the whole class. Students get to pick out of a book of coupons. Choices include; slippers for a day, hat for a day, lunch with teacher, line leader, 15 free computer time, etc. I love the coupon system because it rewards with a privilege and doesn’t cost a thing!

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