Using Rewards with Middle School Students

Using rewards in the classroom can sometimes get a bad rap. Sure, of course we want our students to develop the intrinsic motivation to make good choices and do their best. But let’s be honest…we ALL enjoy a good reward for a “job well done” every once in a while (teachers included.) Why should our middle schoolers be any different? Personally, I think the occasional prize is a fun way to encourage positive behavior and hard work. If you’re looking for ways to develop your own classroom reward systems, here are a few of my best tips for using rewards with middle school students.

Types of Rewards

When it comes to implementing classroom rewards, there are a few different approaches you can take. Personally, I think each of these methods has a place within a positive classroom environment.. I’d recommend weaving each of these different types of rewards into your classroom management system.

Motivational Incentives

For many students, rewards are a terrific way to encourage their participation and effort towards a particular goal. These incentives would be communicated to students ahead of time and serve as a good reminder or redirection when necessary.

Rewards can be used as incentives for specific behaviors. For example, you may promise a small reward (ex: homework pass) to any student who cleans up their lab table and supplies after a messy science experiment. They can also be used to boost student motivation for academic success. For example, you might offer a reward to students who turn in each assignment for the quarter.

In some cases, your reward systems will apply to each of the students in your classroom. These systems are part of your greater classroom management plan. In other cases, you may find individual students that could use a little extra support. These students might benefit from an individualized reward system aligned to their specific goals. This could be applied to any student who has a need, but often works well when partnered with the support of an intervention specialist.

Surprise… You Get a Prize!

While some student rewards are promised ahead of time (i.e motivational incentives) – others can be spontaneous! These prizes are offered to students who are meeting expectations without assuming they will earn some sort of prize for doing so. I like to think of these spontaneous rewards as a “Thank You” to my students who are consistently on tasks and following directions. For example, you might pass out a piece of candy or homework passes to any student who is quietly working during an independent activity.

Group Rewards… It’s a team effort!

Offering a group reward is a great way to encourage students to work together! For these prizes, students will work together as table groups to accomplish a particular goal. This works well when doing a classroom game (ex: the team with the highest score will get to pick something from the prize box.) Group rewards can also be offered to an entire class. Occasionally, I will have class periods competing against other class periods (ex: the class period with the highest average test score will earn a pizza party.) However you choose to implement these rewards, the goal is to build a spirit of camaraderie and support amongst your students.

What makes a good reward?

Ah, the question of the hour! What items or experiences can be used as middle school rewards? Well, just about anything! If your students are anything like mine, just the concept of receiving a prize often matters more than the item in question. That being said, I have some tried and true favorites when it comes to using rewards with middle school students! Here are a few examples:

Choose Your Own Seat

Whether it’s just for the day or a permanent change to the seating chart, students love the freedom and flexibility to choose their own seats. This option tends to work well when an entire class has earned a reward. If you are looking for an easy path to using rewards with middle school students, this is a great choice!

Candy or Stickers

While stickers may appeal more to younger students, even older students enjoy a piece of candy from time to time. Next time you’re at the store, grab a jumbo bag of Jolly Ranchers to set aside for those moments when good behavior deserves to be rewarded.

Pick a Partner

Typically, when I have students work together, they work with the lab partner seated next to them. Occasionally, however, I’ll reward my students with the chance to pick their own partners for a lab or assignment. When I do this, I usually also offer the option to work alone for those students who aren’t a fan or group or partner work (there’s always a few.)

Call Home…with GOOD news!

I love to use “Good Behavior Calls” as a reward for individuals students who’ve gone above and beyond in our middle school classroom. All parents love to hear good news about their child, and every student enjoys the verbal praise and recognition. That being said, I find this particular incentive is especially rewarding for students who have a history of behavior problems. Taking the time to call home with a GOOD behavior report is a great way to change the narrative for these students.

Teacher’s Desk For a Day

Need a way to reward an individual student for their exemplary behavior? Look no further than the teacher’s desk! Sitting in the teacher’s chair is an easy, fun, and FREE prize that can be offered to any student, any time.

Listen to Music

My students LOVE to listen to music while they work. Occasionally, I’ll offer the chance to put on some headphones and jam to the music of their choice. This can be offered both as an individual reward to students following classroom rules, but it also makes a great reward for the entire class.

Have a Snack In Class

Fact: Middle schoolers are often motivated by their stomachs. They LOVE the opportunity to eat in class. When given the chance to choose their own rewards, having a snack in class is always a popular choice.

“Scratch Off” Reward Coupons

I’ll be honest…this is probably my favorite method for using rewards with middle school students! These fun, lottery style student reward coupons add an element of suspense and excitement to the incentive process. Students are given a coupon sheet and instructed to choose one sticker to “scratch off” – revealing their prize!

Important Note: Scratch off stickers must be purchased separately. Here are my favorites!

Free Time

Simple. Easy. Fun for everyone. Free time is a great way to reward students for a job well done! You may choose to allow students total freedom to choose the way they spend their time, or may opt for a choice menu with a few select options. Either way, students enjoy the chance to pick their own activities.

Odd Questions Only

What student wouldn’t love the opportunity to get out of half of their expected work load?! From time to time, I’ll reward students by allowing them to answer the “odd questions only” on a worksheet or homework assignment. They may skip the even questions without a reduction in their overall grade.

Late Passes

Students who have earned a “Late Pass” are able to turn one assignment in late with no penalty.

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