9 Free and Effective Classroom Rewards for Students

Girls eating lunch together in classroom
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Due to limited school budgets and even more limited teacher allotments, teachers must be resourceful and creative. Their salaries do not allow for superfluous spending but many teachers want to use positive reinforcement with their students nonetheless.

Effective educators know not to use material rewards in their classrooms not only because they can be costly but also because they don't encourage positive behavior to the same extent that nonmaterial motivators do. Candy, toys, and stickers might extrinsically motivate your students but their desire to perform will run dry when the prize bucket does.

Emphasize the benefits of positive behavior and lift your students up with more meaningful and worthwhile rewards. Teach them that good behavior is what is expected of them and help them understand why then reward them for exceeding expectations.

Easy and Free Rewards for Individuals

Don't spend your money on flimsy prizes. Try some of the following free and easy rewards for your classroom to let your students know when they are going above and beyond. These rewards for individual students will go far.

Lunch Bunch 

Recognize good behavior by inviting a student or group of students to Lunch Bunch. This will require you to sacrifice your free time once in a while but most students view lunch and free time with their teacher as the ultimate reward. During Lunch Bunch, students get to bring their lunches into the classroom and keep you company. You can let them play with toys or games, watch school-appropriate movies or TV shows, or listen to music while they are there with you. These special moments provide great opportunities for priceless bonding and make your students feel immensely proud.

Positive Phone Calls Home

Phone calls home shouldn't always—or usually—be negative. Let families know when students consistently set high standards for the rest of the class or even just show improvement so that the students and their families can feel appreciated. The personal recognition of a positive phone call can make a big difference in a child's life and positively impacts your relationship with families as well. This requires minimal effort from you but will go a long way with your students.

Class Helper

To reinforce responsible behavior, consider implementing a class helper system. To do this, approach a fellow teacher or two about the possibility of opening their classrooms to any students performing above and beyond your expectations (and you can do the same for them). A chosen student gets to visit another classroom, usually any grade below their own, for a small portion of the day to help out. Your colleagues can put them to work assisting students, passing out papers, or performing any other simple chores that allow a deserving child to feel extra important and helpful. Your students will relish this unique recognition.

Easy and Free Rewards for the Whole Class

Sometimes the whole class deserves a pat on the back for their performance, attitude, or behavior. When this is the case, use some of these ideas for whole-class rewards that are sure to be a hit with your students.

Extra or Longer Recess

This one is easy for you and endlessly rewarding for students. Whenever the entire class is putting forth their best effort, show them that you notice and admire their behavior with an extended or additional recess. Choose a time in your schedule and surprise them with more time outside than they are accustomed to. Your students will feel grateful and are likely to continue doing well when they've had extra time to unwind. This is a bonus for any tired teacher too.

Free Choice

If more recess isn't an option or you just want to involve your students more in the decision-making process, try free choice to reward them instead. Either give your commendable class the option of doing whatever they want within the class for an allotted amount of time or ask them for suggestions for other whole-class rewards to work toward. These can be anything from an afternoon spent studying art and music instead of math and literature or putting on a play for the whole school. Offering free choice takes the pressure to decide what should be done off of you and is about as satisfying to your students as it gets.

Bring-From-Home Party

Avoid any parties that necessitate time and money on your part. A more meaningful alternative is to let your students bring something valuable to them (but not too valuable) from home. Tell them that they can wear pajamas to school and bring a stuffed animal or other small and harmless toy. Be sure to communicate with families and administration about this beforehand and provide extra stuffed animals for students that don't have them. Let them have fun reading, drawing, writing, dancing, and even watching a movie during your big celebration. There is no better way to make a class of well-behaved students feel gratified than a party.