Inexpensive Ways to Reward, Recognize, and Motivate Students

Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

You don’t need to break the bank to individually reward students for a job well done or motivate students to display desired behavior. Try these highly affordable ways of recognizing, rewarding, and motivating students.

School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Program
Many schools and districts are beginning to implement a School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (SWPBIS) Program. A major component of the SWPBIS programs is rewarding students for displaying desired behavior. At my previous school, we rewarded students with a yellow 3R ticket for displaying ready, respectful, or responsible behavior in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, playground, auditorium, or other area of the school. RESPECT drawing three R ticketWe created a RESPECT grid for each classroom that looked like a bingo board where students would earn a spot on the board for each yellow ticket they received. At the end of the week, we held a drawing for a mystery reward. The mystery reward changed each week. Some of the rewards we gave to students were a pasta party, a special movie, computer time passes, college merchandise (pens, pencils, T-shirts, keychains, lanyards, etc., that we requested from local college admission offices—for free!), lunch or a special activity with a faculty member (teacher, administrator, or counselor), and many more.

At my current school, students receive a piece of paper money with the school logo when they are demonstrating respectful behavior or displaying the trait of our character education theme of the month. Students put this ticket into a monthly drawing where they can receive a variety of social rewards with school staff—everything from a photography lesson with a teacher to karaoke at the school dance with a teacher.

Dr. Laura Riffle, the behavior doctor, compiled an extensive list of free and low cost rewards for elementary, middle, and high school students. For tons more information about creating and implementing a SWPBIS program, visit the OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports website.

Positive Postcards

At my current school, teachers and other school staff send home positive postcards to students throughout the year. This is such a creative and relatively inexpensive way to recognize students. Danielle031914 postcardMany parents and students who have received the positive postcards in the mail have raved about them. Students are so excited to receive a personal note from a teacher, administrator, counselor, or other adult in the building recognizing them for a job well done. I created two versions of the positive postcards using VistaPrint that any teacher or school staff could use to send home to students. An artistic 6th-grade student drew a picture of the school, and I scanned and uploaded it to VistaPrint to create a unique postcard showcasing talent within our school. Teachers and other school staff could also make their own personal postcards using VistaPrint or a similar site.

Publicly Recognizing Students and Staff

Each month, our school holds a full-school assembly that focuses on our character education theme for that month. Before the assembly, teachers compile a list of students who embody the character trait for the month. Students are publicly called down during the assembly and are recognized in front of all their peers. Students get very excited to be called down and recognized in this way. Teachers who embody the character trait of that month are also publicly recognized. During this full-school assembly, students who have done something remarkable or noteworthy are also recognized—everything from sports teams to academic clubs and organizations.

Creating Connections
This year and in the past I have worked with a number of students who were disengaged in school or did not even want to come to school at all. When students are disengaged, I try to figure out a way to make them feel connected to the school or to adults in the building. The National Center for School Climate recommends each student having a connection with at least one caring and supportive adult at the school. There are many ways to create these connections based on student interests or creating special rewards for students who need extra support and attention. Finding out what a student’s interest is and connecting him or her with a teacher, counselor, or administrator who shares the same interest can be a great way to make kids feel more connected and invested in school. They can participate in the activity, whether it be a sport or a game (such as chess, cards, or other board games) or take time to discuss an interest area together such as a topic or content area or popular shows, movies, etc.

DSLR camer

Find a shared interest—perhaps photography?

Some students need rewards geared specifically to them or their situation. One student I have worked with this year has been chronically tardy. After many interventions, he began coming on time consistently for a month. I took this opportunity to send home a positive postcard. In addition to the positive postcard, I decided to personally reward him with something that he was interested in for his effort. I took him to get ice cream at an ice-cream shop near our school. He was very excited to receive this reward. I made a deal with him to reward him again if he continued to come to school on time consistently for another month.

Regardless of how you recognize, reward, or motivate students, you can make a huge impact without a lot of money. Never underestimate the power of social connections; they are priceless.

How do you recognize, reward, and motivate students at your school?


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About Danielle R. Schultz

School Counselor blogger for Free Spirit Publishing Blog
This entry was posted in Counselor's Corner and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inexpensive Ways to Reward, Recognize, and Motivate Students

  1. Kelli says:

    Thank you for the very interesting article filled with many wonderful ideas!

  2. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    I am not an educator but have several friends who are so I shared this with them.

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