Reward Systems in the Classroom


Rewarding good behavior and good work is a practice that teachers have adopted since B. F. Skinner formulated the principles of behaviorist psychology in 1938. According to this famous theoretician, good deeds deserve good treats, so children are likely to change or improve their behavior if they are motivated to do so by reward expectation. Teachers worldwide recognize the benefits of positive reinforcement and its uses as an effective teaching tool in classroom management.


  • Teachers use a variety of reward systems; some of them have proven to be efficient with use in time, others are adapted to fit school policy, class characteristics in terms of structure, age and students' personalities, as well as the teacher's own beliefs of what is best for his students. Rewards vary from simple praise words (like "good work") to small objects (according to students' age) or free periods, movies and miniparties. There are several behavior issues that are reinforced, from classroom discipline and performance to homework assignments handed in on time. Rewards can also be given to individuals, groups or the whole class, whatever the teacher believes works best.

Exchange Reward Systems

  • Star systems work well for primary classes because they enjoy physical objects such as toys or candy bags. Children who behave and have their work done on time receive a star at the beginning or the end of the class. When they get 20 stars, they can choose their prize from many things gathered in a special container in the classroom. To make it more "real" for children, stars can be replaced by paper dollars that they can "buy" different things with: small items, such as candies, for up to $5.00; medium items, like toys, for $6.00 to $20.00; and expensive items, such as bigger toys or school products, from $20.00 to $50.00. Thus, according to their own preferences, children can "spend" on multiple cheaper items or keep their "dollars" until they can afford a bigger reward.

Recognition Rewards

  • Middle school children compete for their teacher's attention and appreciation more often than younger children who are more attracted by physical rewards. That is why secondary school students like the concept of color boards exhibited in the classroom. Students' good behavior is acknowledged not only by the teacher, who gives them a green circle, but also by their peers who see it on the board; children receiving yellow or red circles generally change their behavior for the better in competing for the teacher's "good graces," their parents' satisfaction and praise or to avoid negative consequences. Furthermore, the "student of the month" award system gives students great inner motivation; it consists of a poster hung in the classroom with the best student's picture and a short outline of his performance and behavior accomplishments.

Group Reward Systems

  • Students are sometimes more easily convinced by their peers into good behavior and timely accomplishment of assignments. When they are rewarded as a group, students can help the group members who are generally not great on competing or have behavior problems to conform to classroom rules. In this reward system, students are divided into groups of five or six and each group chooses a name that is written on a classroom chart. A group is rewarded points whenever all students in the group have finished their classroom assignment on time, followed classroom rules or turned in their homework on time. Points are totaled daily and the group with the most points at the end of the week has special classroom privileges, such as being first in the lineup, passing out or taking up papers, candy treats and so forth.


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