Classroom prizes are a fun way to create incentives for learning and student engagement. Elementary-age students are enticed to work harder when they know they’ll be acknowledged for going the extra mile. It’s important to remember that the prizes you use can teach important life lessons. For example, candy or junk food may encourage poor eating habits. Consider prizes that encourage healthy patterns and spare your pocketbook from extra expense.
Entice your students to work hard and be model students by creating a system of privileges that can be earned throughout the year. Draw a picture of a cupboard on a large sheet of banner paper and name it "the privilege pantry." List special rewards on the chart such as letting students eat lunch with the teacher, co-teach a class, read a book during math, skip homework or serve as the designated helper for the day. Match each privilege with a task, such as turning in homework on time for one month, good behavior for two weeks, answering questions each day for a week or helping other students with school tasks. Designate one day per month for students to visit the privilege pantry to be rewarded for a job well done.
Classroom prizes can be even more fun when they’re awarded to the entire class. Involve your students in collaborative goal-setting and let them know what they can win as a class. For example, provide rewards if the class is well-behaved for a specific amount of time. Similarly, reinforce good work by giving a prize if the entire class finishes a long-term project or assignment. Prize ideas include an extra 15 minutes of recess, free reading instead of regular classes for a day, a party planned by parents, extra time in the computer lab, movie and popcorn instead of science class, pajama day or lunch in the classroom.
Elementary students love the sight of a basket full of fun prizes. Find a spot at the front of the room to display small trinkets and productivity will soar. To avoid out-of-pocket expense, find creative ways to fill the basket. Send a flier home with donation requests such as colorful pencils, stickers, markers and fruit snacks. If you work with a book fair or a local bookstore, you may be able to add some books to the mix. Add bookmarks donated from the local library. Creative coupons are a great addition: Consider ideas such as a coupon to bring a stuffed animal to school, five extra minutes for lunch or sitting next to a friend during English.
Chart Your Progress
A chart displayed prominently in your classroom is a constant reminder to students that they’re doing a great job. Cut out stars in various colors and put them in clear containers in the front of the classroom. Connect each colored star to a different accomplishment. For example, a blue star is for helping others, a red star is for sticking with a hard assignment, a yellow star is for respect and a purple star is for paying attention throughout the day. Surprise students by putting stars on their desks when they’re in gym class. At the end of each week, have your students post their stars on the chart. During parent-teacher conferences, you can give parents the stars and discuss student accomplishments.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.