Classroom Management

Why Is It Important to Have a Classroom Reward System?

Using rewards as a part of classroom management isn’t mandatory, but there are reasons to give it a try.

For one, motivating young students to participate in their own learning can be difficult. Having them practice good behavior on a daily basis can be even harder.

We’ll start by looking at some advantages of having a classroom reward system. Then, we’ll see how you can design your own system and avoid the pitfalls. Let’s get to it!

Advantages of Using Rewards in the Classroom

Whether we like it or not, humans need motivation. As we mature, most of us become intrinsically motivated. This means that we can motivate ourselves from within based on internal desires to do something, such as reading because you genuinely enjoy it and not just because you’re told to. This is a tough concept for kids and even some adults.

When Should You Consider Implementing a Classroom Reward System for Students?

If you’re struggling with any of the following classroom issues, consider implementing a reward system:

  • Failing grades
  • Incomplete assignments or homework
  • Low student motivation and interest
  • Chronic behavior problems
  • Refusal to do work
  • Poor attention and focus
  • Students not getting along with one another

If you are a first-year teacher, implementing a reward system ahead of time can help you avoid the problems listed above.

The pay-off

Although it’s not a magic potion, a classroom reward system can flip-flop some of the negative elements listed above. Some advantages of a whole-class reward system include:

Academic improvement

There is a link between external rewards and better grades.

As a teacher and mother of four, including a teenage son, I learned this at home before I ever noticed it in the classroom.

When my son started high school, he was a decent student, making As and Bs and the occasional C. I knew that he could do better, but none of my “fussing” or punishments made a difference.

A friend suggested that I pay him for earning As. I really disagreed with this idea. After all, earning good grades is something he should strive for even if there’s no payment for it, right? Frustrated, I decided to give it a try, pledging to give him $10 an A, no money for Bs, and a $10 loss for every C.

The results? He is a high school senior who hasn’t made less than an A since. I eventually stopped the payments, but by that point, making As was a habit.

Many of our students are the same. If they know that they will receive rewards (e.g., free computer time or classroom bucks) for putting in extra effort, they will.

Better behavior

Up there in importance with grades, better behavior is one of the results that most teachers desire from a reward system. PBIS and other reward-based motivational systems prove that unwanted behavior can be curbed by putting such a method in place. Study after study has shown that punishment does not effectively curb undesirable behaviors. This makes it especially important for teachers to find alternatives for encouraging positive behavior.

Helps students with special needs

Another great thing about a classroom reward system is that it can benefit students with special needs. For example, students with autism often benefit from set guidelines that let them know exactly what to expect in the classroom. Children with ADHD who have trouble staying in their seats or completing assignments benefit from being rewarded for things that they do well.

Happier students (and parents and caregivers)

Kids who are constantly nagged, fussed at, and punished do not enjoy coming to school. Their parents will also begin to dread sending them, as they’ll receive more negative phone calls and notes about bad grades and behavior. Of course, a reward system won’t get rid of all classroom problems, but it can reduce the number of referrals, conferences, and phone calls significantly.

Setting Up a Classroom Reward System

There are many reward systems and strategies. In this article, we’ll cover the best of the best along with some tips and suggestions. But, as with all teaching, trial and error is the best tool.

Choose your classroom point system

You’ll want to start by choosing a reward system foundation that you can personalize for your own classroom.

Here are some basic options:

  • Token-based systems: Individual goals are set ahead of time and students earn tangible rewards like stickers, points, or classroom dollars for meeting these goals.
  • Table points: Each table or group earns points collectively while competing against other groups.
  • Class points: The whole class earns points together.

Many teachers use a mix of the three, offering individual, group, and whole-class rewards so that all students can be successful.

Set goals

What do you want your students to achieve? What behaviors do you want them to repeat? Make a chart and display it for students. You’ll want to be clear and positive.

For example, instead of saying “No talking in class,” write, “Quiet and focused during lesson time.” Remember that too many rules can confuse and overwhelm students. Stick to the important behaviors and attitudes that you want to reinforce.

Decide on rewards

This is the part that many teachers overdo. If rewarding students becomes too tiresome or a chore, you’ll be tempted to abandon ship, and that’ll make things even worse. So, keep it simple. Some free (or cheap) rewards you can use include:

  • A trip to the treasure box (e.g., pencils, stickers, candy, tattoos, or other small prizes)
  • Reward cards (e.g., free computer time, no shoes in class, swap seats with a friend)
  • Class ‘bucks’ that can be saved to buy a prize from a classroom store

The second option, using reward cards, is my favorite because they’re free. And, as a mom and teacher, I rarely have extra money to restock a classroom store. You can buy premade reward card templates online, but I made my own several years ago.

Classroom Reward System Ideas

Some of my students’ favorite passes over the years include:

  • No homework
  • 15 minutes of computer time
  • Bring a snack to class
  • No shoe pass (wear socks or slippers)
  • Eat lunch with the teacher
  • Help teach the class
  • Show and tell (bring a toy to class)
  • Swap seats with a friend
  • Take home a class game
  • Sit at the teacher’s desk

Final Thoughts to Consider

Be clear with students. They need to know exactly how the system works for it to be effective. Give the rewards liberally. Especially in the beginning, you’ll want to give out lots of rewards at random when you catch their ‘good behavior.’

Give feedback with rewards. I know it’s time consuming, but taking a minute to talk with each student about what they did well and what they can improve is part of what makes a classroom reward system work well.

Ask for their opinions. What rewards do they like? Which ones do they find pointless? Keep your system fresh by incorporating their ideas.

Reduce gradually. You can raise the percentage needed over time or make earning rewards more difficult if you are wanting to ‘wean’ students off the rewards. Just make sure you communicate these changes.

What works for one teacher may be a total flop for another. The key to any great classroom reward system is that you make it your own. Try things, find what works for you, and share with others. Your students will thank you for it.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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