Using Rewards in the Classroom to Build Relationships, School Community, and Self Esteem – 20 Free Reward Ideas

Many teachers battle the question of “Should I use rewards in the classroom?” Giving rewards has positives and negatives. They motivate students to behave and work hard for a short term, but when used too often and excessively, it can lead to students expecting a reward every time they do something well.  In the long term, the rewards also lose their effect when the students lose interest in them or think that the rewards are always going to be there. Ultimately, we want to teach students to be intrinsically motivated to do well in school.

How can we implement rewards in our classrooms in a way to motivate students, but not create entitled students? Try putting a spin on the tangible rewards and come up with rewards that give students opportunities/experiences to shine and build self esteem or be a helpful member or mentor to the classroom and school community.

Tips on giving rewards:

    • Don’t spend your money on rewards. Students want to build relationships with you and others. They love spending time with teachers and as you strengthen the relationships, it will decrease behavior problems. When thinking about reward ideas, think about how the student can feel important and special, be helpful in the classroom or school community, or provide an opportunity to build relationships with teachers or other students in the classroom or other classrooms.
    • Limit rewards and keep it simple. Rewards shouldn’t be given all day or every day. We don’t want the students to expect them, but rather be surprised by them. Also, If you have too many rewards or too many reward systems, it puts more stress on you to monitor.
    • Use your words to compliment a student, and be specific on why the student did well. Words are powerful and can be a reward in itself. Instead of, “Good job in math.” Try, “I saw that you tried solving that math problem many times and did not give up.” Instead of, “You were being a good friend.” Try, “Molly was feeling upset, and you invited her to play with you at recess. That made her feel better. You are such a great friend!” Being specific reinforces the behavior, but also teaches them what the actual behavior was that was admirable. Showing that you recognize their positive behavior will make them feel special and want to continue the behavior.
    • Wait to introduce rewards. Students are generally better behaved at the beginning of the year. If students do well without being rewarded, keep up with what you’re doing with providing positive feedback and building relationships.
    • Change the rewards/system. Keep the students interested and excited about the rewards.
    • Give opportunities for students to give other students rewards to promote community building. Students can give tickets to each other to put in a drawing for rewards, or maybe students can write a “shout out” to a student for something they noticed to receive a reward.

Teaching is an expensive profession. We use so much of our own money to provide for our students needs, buy classroom materials, manipulatives, supplies…the list goes on forever. So when you want to give rewards to your students, make it easy on your wallet, and think creatively. What ideas are inexpensive or free that students will enjoy?

Here are 20 reward ideas that not only make the student feel special, but also help out the classroom or school community.  

Individual Rewards

  1. Choose a friend to ____ (play on the ipad, read a book together, etc).
  2. Teacher assistant – wear a special hat or lanyard and help pass out papers, run errands, make copies, cut out laminated items, or as simple as turn the pages for you when you read to the class.
  3. Sharpen pencils. If you don’t let students touch your pencil sharpener, this job can seem pretty appealing!
  4. Choose a friend to sit by you for the day.
  5. Lunch with the teacher and invite some friends.
  6. Sit at the teacher’s desk.
  7. Write a special note home or make a positive phone call home.
  8. Help the Librarian, secretary, or help in the cafeteria
  9. Read to a younger class or student
  10. Read to the class

Class Rewards

  1. Extra or longer recess – Try having them play a game together instead of everyone doing their own thing. Play with them! They’ll love to see their teacher play tag or kick a soccer ball, and they will benefit from the extra exercise!
  2. Have class in a different space/location like outside – they may be more engaged in a new environment.
  3. Recess with another class
  4. Bring in/suggest appropriate music to play in class. Calmer music during work time or upbeat music during a brain break.
  5. Special activity or extra time with their buddies – older or younger class
  6. Game Day – they can collaborate to make up the games and rules. Then they teach the games to their buddies class or another class to play together.
  7. Reading Day – Wear pajamas, bring stuffed animals, flashlights, blankets, pillows and collaborate to make forts with the furniture for some quality reading time.
  8. Baking/Cooking – this is an experience that many students don’t get at home.  They’ll love doing this together and eating their final product. Be careful if you to check on your students’ allergies!
  9. Eat lunch outside or in the classroom. Make it a picnic and bring blankets!
  10. Board games – students spend so much time with technology that they don’t have the experience of playing board games like we did. Board games also teach taking turns and collaboration. Bring some of your own and have students bring some from home.

Try revamping your rewards and making them more about helping a student’s self esteem and building community. Not only will you be impacting their individual behavior, but perhaps you’ll start to see stronger relationships between teacher and students and between the students in your classroom.

Don't forget your FREE lesson plan!

Join today with
no subscription fees
and receive your FREE
lesson plan.