Happy Freeday: Utilizing Classroom Rewards for Students

Not that anyone ever gets a whole free day, but Friday is the day most teachers choose for class parties, rewards, and free time. After all, the end of the week really is the best time for these types of things. If your students happen to have a great time and get really wound up, they’re already headed out the door for the weekend anyway. On the other hand, they’re probably feeling a little worn out at the end of a long week (sound familiar?) and not only do they need some free time, but they may be a little less likely to get as rowdy as they would at the very beginning of the week.

How do you reach a “freeday”? Having a system in place is key because it means you and your students have something you can count on. The basics are simple – good behavior of some form on behalf of the students = reward for the students given by the teacher. We’ve compiled some ideas to help you set up your own rewards system, but keep in mind that rewards aren’t always free time or parties. Our contributors share many ideas below which you can adapt and use in your classroom.

I taught 4th grade last year. Each week my class looked forward to “Friday Fling” This was a time set aside to reward those students who followed the rules in class and elsewhere on campus. (music, art, bus, etc.) I only have three rules 1. Be polite. 2. Be positive. 3. Be prepared. During our Friday Fling, we might play board games, have a free recess, go for a walk….I usually only allowed 20 to 30 minutes. It seemed to work! Those students who chose not to be a part of the team and play by the rules were supervised by an aide or placed in another classroom during the Fling. It was a great way to end the week. -Anita

Checkbook reward system: Each child receives a checkbook in the classroom. You begin each week with a specific amount of money deposited into the checkbook say $200. If a student does not get their homework finished they might have to write a check for $50 to you. If a student breaks one of your classroom rules, perhaps they will owe you $25. You can use any behaviors that you would like to encourage in your room. At the end of the week, the students are able to purchase privleges based on the money they have left in their checkbooks. For instance, they may pay you $75 to eat lunch with the teacher, $50 to sit by a friend for a day etc. -Patti, P.A.F.

My son was in fourth grade last year and some of the incentives he liked were decorated pencils, pens, candy, homework passes (teacher made), scented stickers. They also had a personal incentive chart on their desks, where they could fill up the little squares with tiny dot stickers when they brought their homework in. After five spaces were filled they got a reward, after the entire chart was filled they got a “bigger” reward. The McDonald’s (right across the street from the school) gave us coupons for free hamburger, fries, soda, or sundae, to give to the children for anything we deemed worthy of reward. Other companies will do the same. -DJ Thomas Orlando, Fl

Homework passes (don’t give too many!!) are the number one incentive for my kids. I also sometimes use a “class compliments” chart on which I put a sticker/kid’s thumbprint or whatever every time a class member or the class as a whole received a compliment outside of the classroom (line, recess, lunch, PE, etc). After an agreed upon number, the kids vote on a perk (art day, extra recess, etc.). Be sure to tell the other teachers what you are doing so they will be sure to “compliment”. I am constantly torn up about giving kids rewards for what they are supposed to do v. not rewarding them. I have taught for 20 years and this is still an issue. Since each group is different, you will be able to make your decisions about incentives once you see how they are. Fourth grade still loves stickers, being able to stamp their own papers, candy is big; I use free rug time a lot, being able to use the teacher’s desk for a day, period, etc. I have an “office” (just a carral type board at a special table with a lamp) for rewarded (or those in need) students to use…You will think of many more on your own!! -CH [Murandsyd]

Another idea is rather simple but it really works for me. My children are seated at tables (but this could also be done with clusters of desks) and each table or group is given a paper plate on Monday. This plate lasts all week. Whenever an instruction is given or a transition is initiated, I silently get out a sheet of stickers, hold it up and reward the first table who “gets ready, or gets the job done.” At the end of the day the group with the most stickers gets to pick out of the penny candy jar. The stickers are cumulative and at the end of the week, the group with the most gets something bigger, like a Little Debbie cake, etc. It is amazing what they will do for those stickers. I’ve had subs tell me they can;t believe what happens when they hold up the sticker sheet. It keeps the students who don’t usually follow directions on their toes because the other kids push or encourage them to hurry up and get ready. These are only two things I do, but I think the most important. -Judy Vornholt

I am teaching summer school, grades 3 and 4 combined this year, and I am finding that having a box of prizes works well. When a child gets 100% on a spelling test, or manages to stay on my “token list” all week (they must pay attention and follow the classroom rules to stay on the list), they get a token which they can exchange for a prize. If they choose to save their tokens and get three of them, I have bigger prizes they may exchange their tokens for. This past week was the first week they all stayed on the token list, and I know that was difficult for them! As a reward, I ordered pizza for them for lunch on Friday. (I had told them that I would do this, so it was a goal for them to work toward). The first time is the most difficult, but now I think that they will be motivated. Next time they all stay on the list all week, I am going to bake them cupcakes. *Note: as prizes, I have small plastic lizards and insects, plastic jewelry or cute hair accessories, special pencils and erasers for one token and larger toys, such as yo-yos and puzzels for larger prizes. All of these items can be found inexpensively at 99 cent stores or Pic-N-Save. -Sarah [tandirose]

A few of the teachers at my school use a “token economy” for classroom management that they adapt according to the grade level they teach. The children love it and I’m planning on implementing a similar system this year: Children will receive 2 tickets/day for good behavior. I will have a “Conduct Book”, and students must write down the date, their name, and give a brief description of the inappropriate behavior that was exhibited. They are given a verbal warning first. After that, they must sign the Conduct Book and they lose five minutes of recess time. Our students don’t sit at recess–they walk. This gives them an opportunity to expend some of that pent up energy!! The second time they lose 10 minutes–third time is a phone call or note home. Obviously–for a more serious offense such as fighting or disrespect to a teacher or adult, they must visit the principal. The Conduct Book gives me documentation of behavior in case I need to follow-up with parents. The first nine weeks, I plan to give a bit of “grace” :) If a child has to sign the Conduct Book, they will just lose one of their tickets for the day. After the first nine weeks are over, I figure children should know my rules, and they lose both tickets. On Friday, we set aside time for children to receive and turn in tickets. Different teachers use different ideas. Below is a list of rewards I plan to use this year: 5 Tickets 1 Piece of Candy 10 Tickets 2 Pieces of Candy 20 Tickets Sit Anywhere 30 Tickets Treasure Box–items I purchase from Oriental Trading Co. 30 Tickets Thumper Bumper-the student bumps another and gets to do his job for the day 40 Tickets Soda Sipper-I buy the student a soft drink at lunch 40 Tickets Choose a Center 50 Tickets Thumper Bumper (2 Days) 60 Tickets No Homework 75 Tickets Extra Class Recess 100 Tickets Be the Teacher If I have a student who is turning tickets in for “Choose a Center”, “Sit Anywhere”, “Extra Class Recess” or “Be the Teacher” changing –then we plan a day during the upcoming week for them to do that. The students must keep up with their tickets in a baggie they have in their desk. If they lose them, we start over. One of the things that I like about this system is that every child is rewarded because it’s rare for a child to lose tickets every single day of the week. Consequences for misbehavior are still in place; and some children enjoy saving tickets for the really big rewards. Some of the other teachers at our school include other ideas like: “Pizza Day” -the teacher and student have pizza together at lunch one day during school; “After School Snack”-the teacher takes the student to the place of his/her choice; “Saturday Matinee”-the teacher takes the student out to a show. (I have a limited budget and a family of my own and have opted not to include activities like those. :) I realize that if you are teaching in a public school, it may not be feasible for you to use some of the reward ideas; but I think you get the gist of the idea. -[AshDell3]

Did you ever think about possibly starting your students out w/nothing, and then let them earn money (play money) for the store instead of taking the points away from them. i believe if you take points away from students that is negative reinforcement, but if you reward them for doing good, the students that misbehave will see the others earning money and able to buy stuff from your store. -Megan Andrews

I want to use clothespins (I was intending to use wooden clothes pins with the students names on them) in the place of tokens. I want to either : 1. give each student that didn’t get their name on the board or loose recess a clothes pin each day before we go home. 2. give each student five clothes pins on Monday and take away as the week goes by. they would give me the clothes pin clipped to a piece of paper that told what they got in trouble for. either way I want to let the students exchange their clothes pins on Friday for a nickel each which they can spend at a classroom store. On the first day of school I have a plastic “school” cup on each students desk. I am thinking of letting the students keep the clothes pins in their cup… -Carol

An elementary teacher just explained her classroom management plan to me today, and I think I’m going to adapt it for middle school. It’s a ladder plan, and I think it might work for the school store idea that everyone keeps talking about. You make a ladder out of posterboard with six rungs and post it. Students each get a clothespin with their name on it to put on the third rung at the beginning of each day. (This helps to check roll quickly, as well.) When they do something well, they move up a rung. When they do something inappropriate, they move down a rung. At the end of the day, they go to bins and choose beads corresponding to whatever rung their clip was on to put onto a shoestring that they keep in their pencil box. Top rung 2 beads; Second rung 1 sparkle bead; Third rung 1 bead; Fourth rung signing their consequence chart; Fifth rung 10-minute time-out; Bottom rung writing a behavior plan. So, the beads don’t get taken away, but they can trade them in for rewards. Her rewards are not tangible, though. She uses things like free time, first to read aloud, lunch with the teacher, etc. Also, even the student who is there and is well-behaved without doing anything extraordinary still gets a bead at the end of the day. -Jenny Koons

I had a large metal beam going up the front of my room, wasnt too out of place, but i found a nice way to use it….anything metal, or even magnets placed on the wall would work… i had these “caught u being good” stickers…i would give them out to kids whom where “caught” doing something extra nice for anyone else…. i had so many, i laminated 12 of them, put magnets on the back, and used them when the WHOLE CLASS was being good, working very hard, came in with extra quietly….etc. after a few days, when i had several magnets up, i would add a pc. of candy to a small jar. when the jar got to be full, we had a great party!! everyone brought treats, we had an extra recess, we got to bring a pop to keep at our desk (only SO big…no 2 lt. types, must have a screw on lid…all mentioned in a letter sent home…) a movie….free time classroom games.. after the party, for every magnet up, we took one OUT of the jar…reversed it….see? (one of my kids thought that would be a fun thing to do, sounded like a great idea to me) this event occured about once every 9 weeks. the kids loved it! it motivated them, and put a little positive peer pressure on the ones who needed it… one good thing…they never knew WHEN THEY WOULD GET A magnet!! one of the best forms of reinforcement…intermitent…sometimes they were rewarded, sometimes the were “good” but didnt get a reinforcer…i tried to give lots out…sometimes i would actually forget, or take for granted they were doing extra well….that is ok i found on the days i was really stressed, i tried to be careful to give them magnets, this kind of kept me in check with my attitude in the classroom too. -Cris Pruser

I teach 6-8 grades. What I do for consequences/rewards were somethings that I learned in a management workshop. As a reward, I have a “Mystery Envelope” On Monday, I put some sort of prize in it (pencils, stickers, notebooks, etc). At the end of the week, a name is drawn from the bucket. Whoever is called wins the contrents. The kids especially love the homework passes. I also have a spinner, and draw another name. THat student gets to spin and win anythinf from a treat to library time. Consequences are simple. I have a continuum as follows: 1. Warning card. A card is placed on the students desk with a written warning. No communication. 2. Removal of name from mystery envelope drawing. 3. TIME OUT for 15 minutes or 30 minutes (some of my classes aree 45 minutes, and some 90 minutes) and a p[hone call to the parent 4. sent to CHOICE room (a school program we have, where the student spends the remainder of the class period in another room isolated) This works for the most part for those mnor infractions. Alot of time, a warning card is enough. The cards are bright orange index cards, so everyone knows that you have been warned!! Of course, for major infractions (disrespect, fighting, profanity, etc) students are immediately removed to the CHOICE room, bypassing all previous steps. Students can also earn their way back into the mystery envelope drawing The key is to be consistent. -Susan Hewett

We have a three strikes, you're out policy. At the end of each six weeks we have a "reward" (games, movie, refreshments - usually two hours). If you have three strikes, you are not invited. I know it seems severe, but we really have very few students who don't get to attend. At the end of the semester we have a big reward usually skating or bowling and if you attended at any of the three little rewards you can attend this. We also tie Homework into this too. Three strikes and your out again. We do not add the homework and discipline together - each stands alone. Consequences for homework up to the strike out is the same as behavior. In the last two years I have had very few problems with homework or discipline in either the 8th or the 7th grade. The turnover in the struck out crowd is amazing. Once they have to sit and work while everyone else is having fun, they rarely come back again. I am teaching 6th again this year for the first time in 5 years. I am expecting this plan will still work, as the teacher who taught it to me had previously used it with her 6th grade classes. Last thought, we type this up and put it in our team handbook. Parents have to sign off as having read and understood the handbook. Parents supply the refreshments and sometimes volunteer to serve. -Cathy Gates

I am a math teacher. Last year my students went to the CCC Math learning lab three times each week. Each student made a personal goal as far as what they thought their gains would be at the end of the week. our class had a goal of gaining 10 points or one month improvement. If we reached our goals parents would reward us by cooking brownies, popcorn, sodas, 20 minutes free time, the principal even bought into our action. She was so proud of the achievement of the students on the standardize test that she sat on the roof of the building for 3 hours. The deal was if 75% of the students had ITBS test scores of 50 or better or if 75% of the class improved their test scores by 3 points from last year she would spend the night on the roof. The students did not reach their goal however rather than say oh well. She decided she would spend 3 or 4 hours on the roof. Next year if they want her to spend the night they know what they must do. Hope this will help you in your class with your students. -LASAL98

I will be teaching first grade this year and plan to implement the following reward system. Each day, students will have the opportunity to earn one or more pennies (photocopied from our math book). They can use those pennies to purchase things at the store on Friday afternoons. One of the things they may wish to purchase is a coupon for extra free time, or a "get out of ...." free coupon (I haven't worked that out yet). I don't know how it will work, yet. As the year goes on, I will introduce nickels and dimes, and raise the prices in the store. -Lauren

We have a program called 100 Minute Club. All students (K-5) are expected to read 100 minutes weekly. Parents sign weekly verification slips. We ask that they either read 20-30 minutes nightly during the school week or spread it out to include the weekend as long as it equals 100 minutes. K,1 students are read to by family members to earn their minutes at beginning of year. We reward all students who have completed this weekly requirement at our 6 weeks awards ceremony. They receive certificates and usually something additional like pencils, ice cream from cafeteria, DQ gift certs, etc. It has grown to be very successful. -Linda/OH

A few more related ideas:

[I'm reminded] of something funny that happened this past year. My students had been really good, so I told them they could vote on a movie. One of my fifth graders voted for Cheech and Chong Up in Smoke. He was even quoting some of the funny parts. I couldn’t keep myself from laughing!! Make sure that if you are choosing movies they are appropriate. One of the other teachers was talked into showing Son In Law to her 5th grade class! I could have told her that it wouldn’t be appropriate, but she didn’t think her students would watch anything like that! HAHA -Tracy Keirns

>>Make sure that if you are choosing movies they are appropriate.>> Not only that, but preview it with teacher’s eyes! I once showed a reading rainbow type of movie. I tried previewing it…got about half way through, though it was fine! They were just reading the story, flipping the pages of a kids book!! WRONG…..Remember the scene where he is imagined in his birthday suit? In this version of the book they showed him…FULL frontal nudity, pubic hairs and all! If I could have leaped out of the room and committed suicide I would have! I was teaching 2nd grade, and THANK GOD I learned early on not to react. I didn’t (hard as it was) kept watching…..till the end. (No more nudity scenes). Not one child said a thing to a parent. They looked at me, I had a stoic face, they looked back at the movie. I was convinced I was going to lose my job! Since then, every new movie I show, I watch till the end! Now, when I think of it I die laughing. -Teri 4/5

Read the books by Jane Nelson and Stephen Glenn on Positive Discipline. I followed the steps they outline. My 2nd graders did well with it. I think it really made a difference in morale, and in the atmosphere of the classroom. I also felt more relaxed and could focus on the important things. I had previously tried using extrinsic rewards, but they don’t feel right to me. Another excellent book on this topic is “Punished By Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. -Michele

Contributions
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Since I have structured my 5th grade classroom into 5 teams of 6 students, I used a point system this year that proved to be very effective. I keep a point chart at the front of the room that is really a pocket chart for sentences. Each team gets to select a team name that goes along with the topic we are studying. The “point person” for each group uses a dry-erase marker to put up the earned points. My students earn points for completing a transition within a time limit, when I catch them being good, etc. The area that this is most helpful in is students turning in their homework. I award 10 points for each team where all the members have their homework. This positive peer pressure has even my unmotivated students turning in his/her work!! 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons are moved daily as the points are daily totaled. At the end of each week the winning team has a blue ribbon posted on the wall and gets the special classroom priviledges (lining up first, errands, passing out/taking up papers, etc.) At the end of each 9 weeks, the winning team gets a pizza party with the teacher!! This has really promoted an environment of cooperation and enthusiasm in my classroom and several parents have commented that their child thinks school is “FUN” this year!! Karen

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