Elementary School Incentives to Reward Your Hard-Working Students
While many teachers utilize a simple “treasure chest” of stickers and candy, the most effective elementary school incentives tailor rewards to their students and what will motivate them. Here are our tips on how to create a meaningful incentive program that keeps students focused on success.
How to Create An Incentive Program for Students
Elementary school incentives are a great way to motivate students to stay on their best behavior or strive for excellence in a certain area of study. Here’s how to create an incentive program that keeps students engaged, even after the first reward.
Setting expectations is one of the most important parts of a comprehensive incentive program. Start by covering the following:
- What will students need to achieve in order to receive a reward? Give examples.
- How many students will be rewarded? Just one, or all students who are successful at a specific task?
- Is the reward focused on individual achievement or class-wide performance?
- How often will rewards be given? Or will they be given at random?
Outlining these details will help students feel that the reward is in reach and provide them with the information they need to achieve the goals set out for them.
Once your students understand how they can reach their goals and receive a reward, it’s time to build excitement. Remind your students each morning of the elementary school incentives available to them and what they need to do to receive them. If you have a daily or weekly “winner,” this is a great time to provide examples of how the last winner achieved their goal.
Creating an incentive program can be frustrating. Oftentimes you’ll see a good response the first few days, and then students will start to forget about the rewards awaiting them and fall back into old behavior patterns.
Be consistent and repeatedly remind students of expectations and the rewards that follow. There will certainly be good days and bad days, but if you stick with your incentive program, you will eventually see results!
Keep It Fresh
Every student is different. That means that each student struggles with different things and will respond to different rewards. While it may be easier to only offer one incentive option, providing several choices for rewards will often make for the most effective incentive program.
An easy way to provide options without too much legwork is to create a treasure chest or bin with color-coded choices. For example, white slips of paper are teacher’s helper tasks, blue are game-related rewards, red are classroom decision-maker tasks, and green slips allow you to pick a freebie like a sticker or fidget toy.
Keep Students on Their Toes
One of the best ways to keep young students focused on elementary school incentives is to create a sense of mystery. For example, tell the class that each day you will select a student in the morning secretly. If that student behaves well all day, they’ll receive a reward. If not, you won’t reveal who the student was and a new student will be secretly selected tomorrow.
With this sort of system, students will all wonder if they are the selected student each day and be on their best behavior.
Classroom Incentive Ideas
Now that you’ve set the stage for high expectations in your classroom, it’s time to come up with the perfect mix of rewards for your students. Here are a handful of our favorite classroom incentive ideas that motivate students to be the best they can be!
Helping the Teacher
Helping the teacher is a favorite reward of many students. It can also provide one-on-one time that allows you to build a stronger bond with each of your students. Check out these ideas for “teacher’s assistant” tasks to offer as a reward:
- Help stamp papers, sort/organize/pass out materials, sharpen pencils, etc.
- Help teach a simple game or explain an assignment.
- Go over answers to a quiz or assessment.
- Wear a “teacher’s” lanyard with their name on it. (Use a pocket-style name tag to easily replace the name.)
Making Classroom Decisions
Being a decision-maker is a great reward that helps students feel like they have a say in their learning. Here are a few ideas for student rewards when it comes to classroom decision making:
- Choose the book you read or the topic you write about that day.
- Pick a game to play at recess or a brain break activity.
- Select a treat or reward for the class as a whole.
- Choose a video to watch or a game to play online. (Check out Kahoot.)
- Pick out classroom decor and help hang it. (From door decorations to displaying your students’ art.)
For students who struggle academically, being recognized for their efforts can be a big deal. Here are a few ideas for rewards and elementary school incentives that involve giving students public recognition in the classroom:
- Create a bulletin board with shooting stars or another shape themed around your unit, classroom, or school mascot. With hard work, students can have their names added and a description of why they are a star in the classroom.
- Write a note to your student and leave it on their desk or write a letter and mail it to their home address to thank them for reaching their goals.
- Call home to parents to tell them all about their child’s accomplishments. This reward will likely keep giving at home and can be useful when struggling with parental involvement.
- Print out a paper award detailing the student’s achievement and present it in front of the class.
Fun & Games
The freedom to have a little extra fun is one of our favorite free incentives for students. Reward them for their hard work by allowing an extra special privilege, like:
- Eating lunch in the classroom or outside with the teacher.
- Bringing an item to show and tell.
- Bringing in a stuffed animal buddy for their desk.
- Wearing slippers or a silly hat to school.
- Hosting a special costume day where students can come dressed as a character of their choice. (This can be the perfect ending to a class wax museum project.)
- Getting five extra minutes of recess or screen time for the class.
- Going outside as a class for a lesson.
- Camping in the classroom. (Find great ideas here to plan your trip.)
- Pajama day complete with some fun pajama-related educational activities.
- Host a “bring your stuffed animal to school” day and plan fun activities to do with the stuffies, like reading books or watching a movie.
Stickers, Freebies, and More
Every student views elementary school incentives and rewards differently. Some may prefer a private compliment while others love to be the star of the show. If you’re looking for a universally-loved reward, try freebies like:
- Handstamps or temporary tattoos
- Painted rocks or pom-pom creatures
- Fidget toys
- Books (try library book sales for the best deals)
- Candy or snacks (if allowed by your school)
- Other novelty items or small toys (check your local dollar store for ideas)
These items are low-cost but are enjoyed by students of all ages and can serve as a physical reminder of their accomplishment. You can even use them to create a “classroom bucks” system and let students earn class money for completing homework, helping other students, and any other positive behaviors you’d like to reinforce. Students can then redeem those bucks in your “classroom store.”