Teachers hope to inspire a love of learning in all their students. They work to foster intrinsic
motivation to help students become more productive and enthusiastic learners. Students need to take ownership of their learning, of course. But sometimes, kids just want stickers or a free recess for their efforts. Who can blame them? Everyone likes to be rewarded.
Types of classroom rewards
It’s essential to clearly define classroom rewards by explaining how and why students earn them. Do students receive the prize individually or as a whole classroom community? Is the incentive something to earn over time? For rewards tied to effort, what steps are involved? When students need to complete levels of learning or score a certain number of points, make sure they know ahead of time so they know what they’re working to earn.
What about adding immediate rewards as a part of the classroom reward system? It’s always a great idea to reward awesome behavior or clever problem-solving in the moment. Walk around the classroom and deliver small tokens or treats to deserving students to let them know you recognize their positive choices and good work ethic.
What about the pros and cons of using rewards? Teachers might feel like rewards equal bribes or that students may only work for prizes. Rewards could bring short-term results or even a sense of entitlement for some students. There are times when those points are valid, for sure. However, there are many positives to using a reward system, including boosted self-esteem, appropriate behaviors, increased effort, and assignments completed on time. Rewards are a good source of feedback as well.
Incentives that work for one student may not work for another. Options are key. Classroom rewards have to be something that kids actually want. They also have to be something teachers are willing and able to provide. Just because a student wants to earn lunch with the teacher in the classroom doesn’t mean it can happen regularly. Lunchtimes aren’t just for teachers to eat. Those precious minutes also involve grading, parent communication, tutoring, making copies, and many other tasks. Allowing that student to sit with a friend for the day might be a more realistic option. Get creative to find classroom reward ideas that work for both the students and the teacher.
Free rewards for students
Who doesn’t love free rewards?
Classroom rewards that don't cost money are still effective. Free incentives are crucial for students who need extrinsic rewards in crowded classrooms. Take a look at this list of free rewards for students that just require some time and creativity.
Teach the class a lesson (maybe about a hobby or skill)
Free time to read, write, or draw
End of day class dance party
Choose a brain break activity for the class
Fun classroom reward ideas that won’t break the bank
Fun classroom rewards don’t have to be expensive. Many stores have “dollar sections.” There are also entire stores dedicated to inexpensive trinkets.
When purchasing prizes to reward students' successes and efforts, look for items that give the most bang for the buck. Stickers are a great example of products with many in one package, and students at every grade level love stickers. Consider buying a few stamps and scented ink pads to leave fun rewards in workbooks and consumables. If your school doesn’t have limitations on paper and copies, print coloring sheets, word searches, or bookmarks to use as rewards. Candy and snacks are possibilities, but those should be used with caution. Know the allergies and any food limitations for students in class before offering those.