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Bye, Bye, Bubblegum! 13 Classroom Rewards That Actually Benefit and Motivate Students

All of us were kindergarteners at some point, right? Hopefully?

Well, I remember the rewards that I got in kindergarten: bubblegum, a movie day, a pizza party at the end of the year.

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Were these classroom rewards totally fun? YES! Did they help me learn? Well…..maybe not.

You, a shrewd and cunning teacher, can do better than the rewards that you got as a kindergartener, which is why we’re giving you the perfect guide to rewards that students will fall all over themselves for, without even realizing they’re learning!

Genius, right?

Read on for 13 mastermind classroom rewards that your kids will go bananas for, no matter how old they are.

Why the Rewards (and Punishments) We Give Matter

classroom-rewards-good-bad

Good rewards: educational, motivating, healthy, promote learning/leadership

Bad rewards: Promote screen time, junk food, unhealthy behaviors, don’t have anything to do with the class

While there’s nothing wrong with having rewards that are just fun, it’s important for teachers to recognize the power of rewards and punishments and how they affect students.

It’s perfectly fine to incentivize good behavior with the occasional pizza party, for example, but if you consistently use food as a reward you risk instilling an unhealthy relationship to food in your students.

In fact, studies show that using food as a reward in the classroom can not only contribute to poor nutrition and physical health, but it can also negatively impact behavior and learning.

When we use junk food, screen time, or other indulgences as rewards, we teach students that they should be working toward those things, and we make them seem more desirable.

When we use physical activity, leadership opportunities, and learning activities as a reward, however, we instill a spirit of discovery and healthy living in students.

The rewards that follow are healthy and downright fun — and best of all, your students will totally love them! And what’s better than that?

Classroom Rewards For Individual Students

…Of Any Age

While the exact way you implement some of these rewards will vary based on the age of your students, the basic idea will remain the same.

1. Class Monitor

This is the Cadillac of rewards because it benefits students and takes away from your workload.

Tell your class that the two students who accumulate the most points over the period of a day or week get to be class monitor the next day (or week), and make up badges, vests, or necklaces for your class monitors to wear.

You should devise specific roles for your class monitors and make sure students know what they are, so the monitors don’t over- (or under-) step. Class monitors can guide students to clean up, line up, do group activities, and play outside.

You’ll be shocked at how willing and excited your students are at the chance to be class monitor — and they’ll learn leadership skills in the process!

2. Teacher’s Helper

Like the class monitor, the teacher’s helper(s) may be one or a couple of students who got the most points over a specified period. Teacher’s helpers can do tasks like handing out worksheets, collecting homework, going to the office to collect items from the printer, and/or helping set up lunch or naptime things.

3. Star of the Class

Graphic: Sample “Star of the Class” setup: Includes student’s picture, name, birthday, place of birth, favorite color, fun fact

Each week, you can feature a student as “star of the class”, and put a picture of them on the wall along with some information about them.

At some point in the week, make time for the Star of the Class to make a short presentation about themselves to other students — in English, of course.

Your students will love getting to be the center of attention for a week — just make sure to do a little engineering to make sure everyone gets a chance to be the star. It’s no fun when there’s a teacher’s pet hogging the spotlight all the time!

…For Younger Students

Younger students are fantastic because they get excited about everything, even high fives.

So don’t worry about giving them rewards that are really grandiose — just make sure that rewards are more frequent when you have younger students because they like classes with more excitement and more things happening!

Here are a few rewards you can give students who’ve reached certain benchmarks (perhaps choose a reward when they’ve accumulated 5 points, and another when they’ve accumulated 20 … etc.)

4. Pick the Story Time Book

Your students will be thrilled to get to pick out the story time book, and it will get them excited about reading! What a dream!

5. Choose Their Activity Corner First

Let the students who’ve behaved best in the morning pick their activity corner first to motivate them to behave well and get them excited about independent play!

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6. Sit Somewhere Special During Story Time

…or circle time, or class time, or whenever makes the most sense in your classroom. Have a special seat at the front of the class reserved for a student who’s been well-behaved and accumulated a lot of points.

Not only does the special seat motivate students, it also puts your most well-behaved student in a position where they can model good behaviors to the rest of your class!

7. Pick a Reward from the Treasure Box

You should save this reward as a super-special treat, say when a student’s racked up 100 points, maybe.

Here’s how to set up a treasure box: Find a box, any box. Decorate it with glitter and gemstones and gold paint (or however you want to! Just make it fun!)

Fill the box with treasures — educational treasures. They don’t need to be super fancy or expensive; your students will get excited no matter what’s inside.

At the beginning of the year, give students a sneak peek into your treasure box — don’t give away all your treasures, though. Then, leave the treasure box somewhere students can see it.

When a student has gotten enough points, let them come up to the front of the class and pick out a treasure. They’ll be so excited, and other students will want a treasure too!

Ideas for Treasures:
  • Easy reader or picture books
  • Toy animals
  • Rubik’s cubes
  • Tokens/gift certificates that can be redeemed for extra reading time, the chance to pick an activity, or another privilege
  • School supplies like pencils and notebooks
  • Art supplies like paintbrushes, stickers, and colored paper

This list of reward box stuffers has more great suggestions for items to put in your treasure box!

…For Older Students

While older students still love rewards (after all, who doesn’t?), they probably won’t get as excited about colorful erasers and sticker packs as younger students. They also don’t need to be rewarded as frequently.

Meaningful rewards that students work toward over a longer period are a great motivator in a more mature classroom. Here are a few rewards that older students will be happy to work toward:

8. The Chance to Retake a Test

This is big, right? The opportunity to retake a test is one that students will most definitely want to work toward, and it actually benefits them because retaking a test means more studying, which means more learning. Everybody wins!

9. Extra Reading Time

If you have silent sustained reading or something of the like in your class, you can give students who’ve behaved well extra time to read. They’ll be thrilled with the time to be independent, and they’ll be getting excited about books in the process!

Also, the other students will want to work hard so they can have more time to read, too.

Rewards for the Whole Class

Rewards for the whole class are really great because they encourage cooperation. They also incentivize students enforcing the classroom expectations among themselves, meaning you don’t need to be on constant alert.

Here are some whole-class rewards that are great for any age of student!

10. Field Trip

A field trip is educational, fun, and totally motivating. You can bet students will work hard if the chance to leave class during the day is on the line!

If you’re not actually allowed to take students on a field trip at your school, you can take them to a different classroom or part of the school — maybe to see the principal’s office or the inside of the cafeteria!

Or, you can organize an in-class field trip instead: pick a destination to transform your class into that place for a day!

For example, you could have a “staycation” to the zoo where you watch a Planet Earth documentary, eat animal crackers, dress up like animals, and do other zoo-themed activities.

Discovery Education is just one outlet for exciting and educational in-school field trips.

11. Extra Recess

The kids get to run around, get physical exercise, and play all the sillies out? Yes, please!

12. Special Class Visitor

Invite a scientist, a parent with an exciting job, or someone else fun to the class to give a presentation to the students.

You can even dress up as a subject that you’re studying and “visit” the class (perhaps put on a tall hat and be Abraham Lincoln, or dress up like a lion or a zebra if you’re learning about animals!)

13. Immersive Group Project

Your kids will seriously love the chance to work together on a fun group project. You can make the project totally holistic, including games, a class movie, a book on the subject, and crafts.

Your students will get more involved and learn more when they’re directing their learning process and they’re all wrapped up in it! ESL Library has some great group projects you can do with your class.

Have Fun With Your Rewards!

At the end of the day, rewards are fun treats for students, and hopefully for yourself, too.

Don’t stress out if not every single reward is educational and fun and totally perfect. As long as the kids are motivated and you’re not spending more time thinking of and doling out rewards than you are teaching, you’re probably doing great.

So find some rewards that make you happy, and get ready to show them off to a class full of students who are excited and ready to learn!

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Molly Oberstein-Allen

Molly Oberstein-Allen spent a year and a half teaching ESL and STEAM in Shenzhen, China. She currently resides in Kansas, where she writes and teaches online. She's passionate about traveling, literature, and the outdoors.

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