Using reward systems to motivate students

Motivating your students to learn and to participate can be very hard. Some teachers have their hands full with class management and they don’t even get to teaching.

In order to stimulate learning and to motivate good behavior, lots of teachers use rewards for students.

In this post I’ll start with the advantages of reward systems and why you should use one. But watch out. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Some teachers and educators aren’t a big fan of constantly rewarding your students. Reward systems also have their disadvantages.

I’ll also show you some fun and creative reward systems you can use and 10 reasonable rewards to give your students. On top of that I’ll show you how to put in work a good reward system.

Let’s dig in!

Advantages of a reward system

1. Appropriate behavior

Students conform to appropriate behaviors when rewarded either intrinsically or extrinsically.

2. Increased motivation

Students will show interest and raise their participation in the everyday classroom tasks, responsibilities and learning.

3. Joyful students

Incentives for students motivate them to be more productive because they create a feeling of pride and achievement. Being successful makes you happy.

4. Boosted self-esteem

Every success story helps students become more self-confident. They are proud and also encouraged to achieve another successful result.

5. Completed homework

The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that reward systems help motivate students to complete their homework. It’s rather shocking that without rewards, students don’t complete it.

6. Improved results

Rewarding students encourages and endorses school effort. They lead to improved outcomes for students.

Quote rewarding

Disadvantages of a reward system

Before you jump into the reward systems, you should also know the disadvantages.

1. Addiction

Students can become addicted to classroom rewards. This means that they won’t study anymore without them.

2. Devaluation

After a while rewards are no surprises anymore and they come as expected. They will lose their effect. Watch Dan Pink’s excellent TED talk on motivation for more details on how reward systems can utterly fail.

3. Race against the clock

Students focus more on finishing an assignment to win a classroom price, instead of learning what the lesson is meant to teach. Finishing it is more important than to actually understand it.

4. Control and manipulate

Students might feel they are manipulated and controlled by you. This also teaches the student how to manipulate.

5. Increased pressure

The more you praise students, the greater the fall if they can’t live up to that praise and to your expectations.

6. Bribes

The line between bribes and rewards is very thin. Rewards can lead to the idea of controlling your students. You’ll feel more powerful and use rewards as bribes.

Creative reward systems

On my search for creative classroom reward systems, I came across an interesting Pinterest board: “Classroom Reward System”.

I picked out a few of my favorite reward systems to show you. Most of them are for elementary school. Click on the images to open them!

Reward system

Source: For the love of teaching math

reward system

Source: Fabiola Ramirez

Reward system

Source: Mrs. Richardson’s Class

10 Reasonable rewards

When you choose a reward for your students or when you let them choose, make sure you are controlling it. Give them a list to choose from, or add a value to each reward. That way, students have to save their tickets, cards, etc., in order to choose a good reward.

Here are a few reward examples:

  1. Pick a game at recess

  2. Sit with a friend

  3. Teach the class a favorite game

  4. Take a homework pass

  5. Be the teacher’s helper for the day

  6. Draw on the chalkboard

  7. Choose any class job for the week

  8. Use the teacher’s chair

  9. Take home a class game for a night

  10. Do half of an assignment

These are just a few suggestions. Here’s a list with more fun rewards!

Online reward system for primary school

When it comes to class management in primary school you must have already heard of ClassDojo. If not, don’t worry, I’ll explain it to you.

ClassDojo is a free digital reward system in which every student gets evaluated on positive and negative behavior. Not only the teacher has access to ClassDojo, also the students and their parents can access the platform by entering a unique code.

As a teacher, you set up some “behavior tags”. A behavior tag consists of a description and an icon. You can add icons with a description of your own. Choose a description for the positive behavior tags and a description for the negative behavior tags.

Positive behavior gets the value “+1” and negative behavior gets “-1”. The teacher assigns the positive and negative behavior icons to the students.

When the class or week ends, you can take a look at the overview of the behavior icons you assigned to your class. You can check out the student individually or the whole class. You can also add a comment for the student’s parents.

With ClassDojo students can keep their own digital portfolio. Students can add pictures and videos of work to their Story, and share it with their parents.

The fun thing about ClassDojo are their little monsters. Every student is a different monster. It’s very visual and funny!

reward system classdojo

Online reward system for middle school and high school

Of course, you need to be able to manage older students as well. They won’t be eager to behave better because they get a badge or a treat. They need something else. You’ll need Classcraft.

I’ve recently discovered this amazing class management game! This is probably the most awesome game and class management solution I’ve ever seen. I’m a total fan of the fantasy world, so why not just use your imagination in the classroom?

Classcraft engages students to live by your class rules in an interactive way.

Students can create their own avatars that have special powers. They play in groups. If someone ignores a deadline, it may fire back on the whole group. Working together and having respect for each other is very important.

Students can gain different points by playing by the classroom rules. For example: students who help other students receive a certain amount of points. When they have enough points, they can use a power like: the “warrior” can eat in class". They can also lose those points by not playing by the rules. If they lose all their points they get a sentence like: bring a treat for the whole class or hand in an assignment a day early.

You can choose every power and sentence. Classcraft also has a timer and a stopwatch available, as well as a quiz tool where the avatars have to battle a “boss”. In order to beat the boss, they have to get the answers right.

Classcraft reward system

How to put a reward system to work

School reward systems can help, but you can’t just try out something without clearly thinking it through. Here’s how you best put a reward system to work.

1. Set class goals

Set class behavior goals that are achievable and measurable. For example: when you raise your hand, all the students stop talking within 20 seconds. Let your students participate in setting up those goals. It will motivate them more to abide by the rules.

2. Define how you will use the reward system

This is the key to success. When are students receiving rewards? What are your boundaries? Make your intentions clear. For example: students will receive a reward when they help another student, they finish homework a day early, when they participate in class.

3. Explain why you gave a reward

Give your students specific, genuine feedback attached to the reward. For example: “John, you showed respect by letting Marc in before you”.

4. Give students a voice

Like I’ve said before, it’s important to let your students participate in choosing rewards. To be sure that rewards are valuable and motivating for the students, you can have a brainstorm about it. Let them put together a list of acceptable rewards. You still have the final word!

5. Reward early

Just like giving feedback, rewards must be given shortly after the shown behavior. In that case, students won’t forget what they did to deserve it and other students won’t get suspicious.

6. Lessen the rewards over time

Raise your expectations for the student’s behavior in order to receive the same reward. Students shouldn’t get addicted to rewards. They have to work because of an intrinsic motivation. As students achieve success in your class, they can learn to be motivated by their own achievements.

7. Give random rewards

Rewarding students randomly for their behavior and achievements keeps them on their toes. They’ll want to be on task just in case!

I’ve shown you some reward systems, but there are still many more out there, on the internet. Take a look at this website. I’m sure you’ll find some inspiration here.

Lucie Renard

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