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Reward Systems That Work:
What to Give and When to Give It!


Read about four teachers' ways of rewarding students' good behavior and motivation. Learn what to give and when and how you can encourage students to improve. Included: 35 reasonable rewards!

"The rewards help students remember the classroom rules and commonsense manners," teacher Shelley Giesbrecht told Education World. "I use them for behavior modification, and I use them only when I need to. I pick up toys at garage sales, dollar stores, and Wal-Mart, and buy stickers and pencils often as well."

35 Reasonable Rewards

1. Be the line leader

2. Pick a game at recess

3. Sit with a friend

4. Sit with the teacher at lunch

5. Sit next to the teacher during story time

6. Teach the class a favorite game

7. Take a homework pass

8. Have lunch with the teacher

9. Sit at the teacher's desk for the day or a set amount of time

10. Have the teacher make a positive phone call home

11. Enjoy a positive visit with the principal

12. Eat with a friend in the classroom (with the teacher)

13. Choose the game during gym

14. Be first in the lunch line

15. Be the teacher's helper for the day

16. Choose a book for read aloud

17. Read a book to the class

18. Have a free serving of milk

19. Draw on the chalkboard

20. Chew sugar-free gum

21. Choose any class job for the week

22. Choose music for the class to hear

23. Use colored chalk

24. Get a drink

25. Make a bulletin board

26. Help in a classroom of younger children

27. Assist the custodian

28. Use the teacher's chair

29. Work in the lunchroom

30. Take home a class game for a night

31. Keep a stuffed animal at desk

32. Operate a film projector or other equipment

33. Be the leader of a class game

34. Do half of an assignment

35. Take extra computer tim

Giesbrecht, a teacher at Blue Clay School in Arnaud, Manitoba (Canada), put out a call for suggestions of inexpensive motivating rewards for students. She then created a list of free or inexpensive ways to reward children.

One teacher suggested keeping a small gumball machine in the classroom and occasionally distributing pennies so that students may get a serving of small candies from it. Another recommended distributing free bookmarks and posters that come from book clubs or giving free books obtained with book club points. Still another educator suggested asking parents for donations of small wrapped candies, stickers, and fun pencils.

Birdie Bucks Mean Big Business for Kids

Jen McCalley of Ainsworth Elementary in Portland, Oregon, has a terrific way to help the children in her class earn rewards. A self-proclaimed "parrot-raising bird fanatic," she has created "Birdie Bucks" for her fourth and fifth graders to collect and spend in her classroom store.

"Students receive a $1 Birdie Buck for each day they turn in homework on time and complete," she explained. "Students also receive a Birdie Buck if they have no warnings or timeouts during the day. On Fridays, students are able to buy things from a 'Birdie Store' that I have. There are three plastic containers: a cheap box (items in this box will cost the students $5 and under in Birdie Bucks), a medium box ($6-$20), and an expensive box ($20-$100). Students may save and buy more expensive items. It is up to them."

The Birdie Buck system rewards students who do not typically have behavior problems, and at the same time it is an easy incentive program with instant rewards and high student interest.

"Students know they can earn rewards in two areas, homework and behavior, so they are not 'out of it' if they goof up one area," said McCalley. Class members receive one buck each day for following directions, having no time-outs, and trying their hardest. They receive another for doing the day's homework. "Students find a treasure they want in the store and actively work on earning bucks for it. They love it! Each year my new class asks me when we will start! I have to change the color of the Birdie Bucks each year so siblings and friends don't pass them on!"

'Settle-Mart' Helps Students Become Settled and Smart

"With the store, the children get a sense that they are at school to do a job, not just to play. Most of them have someone in their family who goes to work and earns a paycheck. I do my best to let them earn their salary. They take pride in earning their salary," said Becky Settlemoir, a first-grade teacher at Fuller Elementary in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Settlemoir's store has six plastic containers about the size of a shoe box. Each box is labeled with a different coin value.

  • The 5-cent box has candy such as Jolly Ranchers and peppermints.
  • The 10-cent box contains cool pencils, balloons, and erasers.
  • The 20-cent container offers larger candy in single-serving sizes, plastic rings, and necklaces.
  • The 30-cent box has party favors.
  • The 40-cent box has toy cars and prizes from kids' meals.
  • The most valuable of all the store's containers, the 50-cent box, has boxes of crayons, markers, other school supplies, modeling clay, stickers, and bead kits.

"My students have to earn a salary to be able to buy items from my store," Settlemoir stated. "I keep a running tab of their points on a sheet such as a page from my grade book. Each student starts with 100 points. The students lose points when they misbehave. I take 10 points for fighting, hitting, doing anyone physical harm, or cheating; 5 points for rudeness, disrespect, loud noises, and anything along those lines; and 1 point for minor things. At the end of two weeks, I give them their salaries." The amounts given are

  • 100 points = 25 cents,
  • 99-90 points = 20 cents,
  • 89-80 = 10 cents,
  • 79-70 = 5 cents, and
  • 69-0 = 0 cents.

Settlemoir uses paper money from the students' math books for the store. Although most of the students spend their money right away, some do save their salaries for larger items. When that happens, others often choose to save their "funds" as well. Most of the money Settlemoir invests in the store is spent on the constant supply of candy.

During this school year, Settlemoir has also instituted a "compliment system." The class earns a point when a member of the staff, a visitor, or even another student gives it a compliment. The group's total is kept on the board. When the class has received ten compliments, the students get a surprise. The surprises have included a class pet (an albino African-clawed frog named Clawdine), a window bird feeder, two players for portable listening centers, and some animal crackers!

Tips for 'Storekeepers' from Betty Settlemoir
  • Give out class points. They are especially helpful for students who lose individual points often for behavior problems.
  • Award class points for compliments given by other teachers and administrators.
  • Make other staff members aware of your class's reward system so they can remind students to be on their best behavior.
  • Keep parents informed, and give them an opportunity to contribute items for rewards.
  • Seek community support. Some organizations and businesses will donate pencils, pens, and other promotional items.
  • Watch for post-holiday sales, and stock your "store" for the next year!
  • Photo shops and stores that develop film will often save film canisters for classes. Students may decorate and put their names on the canisters and use them to hold their money.
  • Be consistent. Explain the reward system completely and enforce it. If the teacher believes in the program, so will the students!

Kids Put Their Paws on Big Rewards

In honor of their mascot, the greyhound, students at Greyhound Intermediate School in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, receive PAWS cards. The cards, created by the school's Promoting Productive Behavior Committee, reward students for good behavior -- and they seem to be working!

Sixth-grade teacher Denise Kane explained the system. "Basically, the goal of the PAWS program is to promote productive behavior in the school and to give all school employees a way to interact positively with students. Our school is fifth and sixth grade and has about 480 students. We operate in some ways like an elementary school in that students rotate by homerooms. So, when the students go to gym, for example, everyone in the homeroom goes. Therefore, if a whole class is in the hall, they are all together. Kids are rewarded individually or as a class for good hallway behavior. That is how a class can get points."

All school employees -- including teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodial workers, administrators, and office personnel -- possess PAWS cards. They are laminated business cards that have the names of the school's personnel on the back. Any staff member can give a PAWS card to a student or a class that he or he observes displaying good behavior. There are established guidelines; staff may

  • give one PAWS card per hallway trip,
  • give one card per situation,
  • not give cards to his or her own team,
  • give cards to whole classes or individuals for proper behavior,
  • give cards for improved behavior,
  • give cards for good behavior (not necessarily exceptional behavior) and raise the standards as the students' behavior improves,
  • not give cards when students ask for them.

Once a student gets a card, he or she gives it to the homeroom teacher, who tallies it and then returns it to the giver's mailbox. The school estimates that if all classes earned all rewards, the school would spend $1,000. Whole classes earn rewards at various benchmarks:

Number of
25 PAWS pencil
50 Cool pencil-top eraser
75 Free time with the principal
100 Free time in the computer lab
150 Free time in the gym
200 Tootsie Roll Pops
250 Cafeteria treat
300 Fast-food coupons
350 Free time
400 PTO-donated treat
450 Movie, popcorn, soft drinks
500 Pizza party

"There are some common things that we get cards for," said Kane. "The custodian often gives us a card for having all the junk picked up off the floor so she can sweep, some kids help pick up trash in the cafeteria or outside during lunch, and some kids routinely will stay and help exploratory teachers with a chore. Our kids are very well behaved in the hallways and often get [cards] for that."

Kane observed that her sixth-grade students who were new to the system were not fond of it at first. Now that she teaches children who were a part of the program in fifth grade, she has found that they do enjoy it. She feels that one way to improve the system would be to lower the number of points required to win some of the bigger rewards. With only 180 school days in the year, her students find it nearly impossible to earn hundreds of PAWS cards.

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Read More About It!

The Education World archives have a wealth of articles with classroom management ideas and tips for teachers!


Article by Cara Bafile
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Last updated 03/20/2020