Classroom Incentives

I am friends with both teachers and non-teachers. Both usually ask me how on earth I teach emotional support. “How do you teach kids who are trying to literally kill each other?” I find that there are many different ways to get through to these kids, or any child for that matter. Here are some things I have used in my classrooms:

  1. A classroom incentive: I usually get a small pretzel bucket and draw lines on it. I then give out, “caught you being good” tickets. These can be given to kids for simple things like pushing in their chair, quietly waiting in line, etc. It is different for every child, honestly. I try to give out tickets for things that are difficult for a child. For example, I have a student who really struggles to sit through a whole lesson. When I catch him sitting for about half a lesson I will reward that behavior to encourage him to continue. Other students do not have a problem sitting so I would focus on something else. They write their names on the ticket and put it in the bucket. Every Friday I pull a ticket and the student gets a prize. When the class reaches one of the lines, they get a class incentive. This encourages them to work together. They might earn things like breakfast, a pizza lunch, “fun Friday,” extra recess, etc.
  2. Individual incentives: Some of my students need more support. They need individualized incentives and very frequent reinforcement. This might be something like every 30 minutes we check in. If they are completing the goal according to their individual plan (for example, staying in class) they receive a ticket or a school dollar. If they earn 5 they can earn a prize. There are 12 half hour blocks in our school day so that gives them plenty of opportunities to earn money and buy prizes.
  3. Food: It is incredibly frowned upon in today’s educational society but I feed my kids (I know, bad teacher!) I work with students diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, but I also happen to work with a lot of children dealing with homelessness or severe poverty. I know America has an obesity problem but we also have a poverty issue. Have you ever tried to teach math to a child who hasn’t eaten since yesterday’s lunch? I don’t recommend it. I typically buy animal crackers, pretzels, twizzlers, graham crackers, fruit snacks and granola bars. When students are on task, I will walk around and hand out a pretzel rod or 3-4 animal crackers. When they have done a really good job, I might give them a twizzler. I keep granola bars for when kids come in crying. I let them know that if they get their morning work done I will give them a granola bar.

If you teach, what are some incentives you use to motivate your students to succeed?

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