It's always important to let your students know they are making academic progress, and what better way to do that than with some well-earned cheap or free classroom rewards? Classroom bonding experiences are a fun way for students everywhere to get some recognition and celebration. For more flexibility, you can also try out some virtual rewards to keep students engaged online.
How to Keep Track of Rewards
There are tons of eye-catching ways to keep track of good behavior in the classroom. If you are basing your rewards system on the class at large, one popular option is to add a reward indicator to your classroom bulletin board and “fill” it using stickers or cutouts. Once your paper tracker is covered with gold stars or smiley faces, you can replace your indicator for the next reward.
Alternatively, utilize a large jar or container to judge when it’s time for a treat. Use something colorful, like marbles or other small toys to slowly fill the container, providing a visual for the class to follow. When the jar is full, it’s time to celebrate!
Want to reward individual students for their good behavior or hard work? Coupons or classroom cash can be used to “pay” for smaller treats or incentives of your choosing.
Ms. Drexel keeps it colorful by using a Pom Pom Jar in her Kindergarten classroom to motivate her students.
Free Rewards for Students
Class Camp Out
So, the rewards jar is full and the kids are ready for their prize. One simple way to liven up a classroom is to ask kids to bring their best fort-making materials from home. At the end of the day, have them use their blankets, pillows, and desks to build themselves forts. Dim the lights and use flashlights, lanterns, and flameless candles to brighten up the camp. You can also use a virtual fireplace (complete with crackling log sounds) to brighten up the room. There is no better place for free reading time than a room full of cozy blanket forts.
Recess is always a great free reward for students. Get your well-behaved class out into the fresh air for some additional free time. If weather is keeping the class inside, then this time can be reallocated into independent reading time, arts and crafts, or simply a time for free play with class friends.
Stuffed Animal Day
Although bringing personal toys to school may not always be encouraged, one day surrounded by stuffed animals won't hurt, especially for a class that has earned a special reward. Treat your students by allowing them to bring their favorite doll, plushie, or Squishmallow to school for a whole day. For an added bonus, turn the event into a show-and-tell. Where did they get their companion? Why is it their favorite?
Not interested in inviting stuffed animals into the classroom? Well, how about a real one? If you or another teacher
has an interesting pet at home that is good with kids, introduce it to
the class! A friendly dog playing fetch at recess or a hamster rolling
around in its ball would provide plenty of entertainment. Just make sure
to lay some ground rules beforehand for the safety of both your students and your pet's sake. Get permission from administration and pay attention to any district requirements, including notifying parents or seeking approvals. Take into account student allergies and comfort when it comes to certain animals, and instruct the class not to overwhelm your pet with loud noises or too
many hands. Caution is always advised when bringing an animal to school.
Coordinate with another teacher in your school to have a day where you swap classrooms. Does the 3rd grade teacher have a turtle as a class pet that your students would love to hang out with? Do you have an extra special story time area that you can share with another class? Sometimes getting out of your normal classroom environment can feel like a special reward for students. Think about ways to make the swap even more special. Can you and your partner teacher dress up as each other? Can you introduce them to a concept that only that classroom would tackle? Have fun with it!
Cheap Prizes for Students
Movie and Popcorn
A low-cost option is an old favorite for both students and teachers—a movie day. Prepare some popcorn and separate it out into cups for each student, and then start the show! If possible, find a movie that aligns with some of the lessons that your class is learning.
If you have a little more time or money to spend, you can make a movie day extra special by putting together a popcorn bar for your students. Grab a couple of flavors of popcorn from your local shops like white cheddar and sea salt. Then divide the flavors into cups and lay them out on a table. Draw up a little menu on the board and have students select a cup of their favorite. This can be replicated with any snack or snacks that the class prefers as well. Provide a non-snack incentive as well, such as stickers, for those with dietary restrictions.
Note that it's always a good idea to make the ingredients and nutrition label available when providing snacks. This way, those with allergies, food sensitivities, or other conditions like diabetes will know what the food contains. Provide a non-snack reward as well, such as stickers, for those with dietary restrictions.
Ms. Silas's second graders enjoyed their own movie and popcorn day as their preferred classroom reward.
If you do not have the funds to stock an entire class store with cheap prizes for students, one alternative is a sticker store for good behavior. Stickers can be bought in bulk for relatively cheap, and special stickers from popular shows or video games can also be mixed in to add some extra excitement.
Ms. Beal’s sticker store was a huge hit with her class, and a great way to reward stand-out students and motivate the class.
Glow in the Dark Art Party
Turn the lights off and get to crafting with this bright reward. There are several ways to light up your classroom with crafting stations, and depending on clean-up and scope, you may choose to use glow in the dark chalk, glue, paint, or glowsticks to entertain your class. You can even have your students make glow in the dark slime to take home. No matter which direction you decide to go in, remember to get plenty of glow sticks for the class!
The classic lunch with the teacher reward option can take several creative forms, depending on the interests of yourself and your students. Theme each lunch to match books you’ve read in class together, history you are learning about, or any other subject that the class is focusing on at the time. Themes can also include popular shows, video games, or pop culture. Have students bring their own lunches while you provide themed beverages, snacks, or desserts to make this reward more affordable as well. Be sure to take any allergies and special dietary needs into account when planning. You can also have families contribute by bringing in a snack or side dish to match the theme. Take into account any food allergies in your class as well.
Bookmarks are the perfect prize to encourage reading all summer long. Download these free printable bookmarks for your students and hand them out during your end-of-year celebration. Students can add more flair to their bookmarks by adding their names, classroom stickers, or other supplies in the classroom.
Class up your reading corner by turning it into a VIP space for high-achieving, hardworking, or kind students. Use string lights, decorations, couches, and pillows to make the space special. This area can be used during class as an alternative to a desk, or else be reserved as a place for independent reading. For an extra bonus, allow the VIP to select a friend to join them on the couch (as long as they promise not to be disruptive).
More Ideas for Free Incentives for Students
No matter what your budget looks like this year, enjoy utilizing these free incentives for students to get your class motivated and excited to participate!
For classrooms that are still hybrid or virtual, check out these Virtual Rewards for Students in the Online Classroom.
This blog, originally published in 2021, has been updated for 2023
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