Tired of filling the classroom prize box or handing out sugary treats? Me too! Giving out a little treat now and then is great, and it definitely taps into students’ interests, but let’s be realistic: Classroom incentives can get old—and boring.
That’s why we love these cool incentive ideas. The key is to just keep it simple—it really doesn’t take much. Kids are crazy for the goofiest little things, and some of them require little effort and no money at all. Here are some of our favorites.
Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!
1. Star sticky notes
C’mon—who among us does not do a little happy dance when cracking open a new pack of sticky notes? Yep, kids feel the same way. Try out fun shapes for an added bonus.
2. Time with the Tinker Box
Fill a box with screws, latches, hooks and eyes, nuts, bolts, and any other hardware doodads you might have taking up space in your garage. Kids can create any sort of structure or invention that strikes their fancy.
3. Fun plastic paper clips
Kids are so into building with paper clips! Surely you’ve seen the simple necklace/bracelet combo or maybe even complex structures. Whichever it is, kids can spend hours creating with them.
4. Help in another classroom
Team up with a teacher friend and make an arrangement to swap kids who earn the privilege of being a helper. Maybe they get to read to younger kids or sit in on a science activity with older kids. When they get back to your class, have them share their experience to motivate others.
5. Bright rubber bands
They’re springy, they’re sproingy, you can twist them together, you can create chains, you can wear them on your wrist, your ankle, in your hair … the possibilities are endless!
6. Poetry performance
Some kids love to have the spotlight all to themselves, and poetry is a perfect art form for performance. For those who may be a little more reserved, they may choose to perform with a friend, or have someone else read one of their original works.
7. Correction pens
Who knew Wite-Out could drive kids mad the way it does? Once mine found out exactly how it worked, it was forever missing from my desk.
8. Books, books and more books!
Keep your eyes peeled for library book sales (or summer garage sales)! You can stock up on perfectly good books for a quarter each. Your students will love having the privilege of picking from your stash.
9. Tiny spiral notebooks
The tinier the better! Kids love to carry these around like little detectives on a case or journalists on a big story. There’s something about being able to store so many secrets in the pocket of your jeans!
10. Draw on the whiteboard
Dry-erase markers and all that white space! Kids can barely resist keeping their hands off. Give students the opportunity to earn time to create their own masterpiece and keep it displayed for an agreed-upon time frame for all to admire.
11. A plain old stack of computer paper!
In my classroom, plain white paper was seriously a controlled substance. My kids could go through a ream of Xerox paper in two days flat. I quickly learned to keep the location of the plain paper on a strictly “need to know” basis.
12. Colorful pencils
You’d think this one would get old, but as long as there’s something special about the pencils you’re giving out, kids love them! Try sparkly pencils that say “You Are Awesome!” or “Student of the Week,” pencils that are bubble gum– or grape-scented, or cool and colorful mechanical pencils.
13. Choose the class brain break
Who doesn’t love playing follow-the-leader? Especially when you get to be the leader! Choosing classroom brain-break activities for the day is a good way to build leadership skills. Lay out the options available and let them choose their favorites.
14. Classroom coupons
Here’s an incentive that’s totally free—all you have to do is download and print. With eight fun classroom coupons to choose from, I’d suggest keeping a stack of them in your desk drawer. Voilà! An instant, easy incentive.
15. Wear the class slippers
Kids will be scrambling to earn the right to kick off their shoes and wear the class slippers. In my classroom, the rule was always the goofier, the better!
16. Or class hat or tie or necklace
If slippers aren’t your thing, why not a class hat? Or tie? Or necklace? Pick up an assortment at garage sales (or from your own basement) and display them on a shelf or rack. Let the whole class play a drum roll on their desks as the recipient of the reward makes his or her choice. Let them display their adornment for the whole day so that their hard work is recognized school-wide.
17. Choose the class read-aloud
What a privilege! Most kids will jump at the chance to pick a read-aloud for the class. Maybe they love the voices you make with one particular story, or they have an interest in something they want to share with their classmates. Let them bring a book from home or choose one from your class library.
18. Happy rocks
Happy. Rocks. ‘Nuff said.
19. Pom-pom critters
Who could resist these lovable little guys? If you’re the crafty type, you could make a bunch to have on hand, or better yet, let them make their own! Just have a ready supply of pom-poms, googly eyes, felt for the feet, some scissors and glue.
Photo credit: Serenity You
20. Receive a special note from the teacher
A special note written personally by you could be the most meaningful reward for some students. We love this blogger’s essay on his experience doing just that.