Needs Focused Teaching

The Best Way to Use Rewards if You Want to See Positive Results… FAST

Here’s a much better way to use rewards as true motivators: offer them spontaneously as occasional surprises.
One of the most effective reward systems I ever saw worked entirely on this basis. Unlike most other centres and special schools I’d worked in for children with behaviour difficulties, there were no sticker charts and points totals on offer.Instead, a youth worker was assigned to take students who had shown improved effort out on a trip. The ‘trip’ might be a run into town; a visit to a park or sports centre; an event or show; helping out with unpacking some deliveries; or even gardening. It all depended on the level of reward the teacher felt the students deserved.


The effectiveness of this lay in the method of delivery. The youth worker would walk into the classroom (this was pre-arranged with the teacher unbeknown to the students) and say something along the lines of: “Jonny, I hear you’ve been working very hard this week. I think you deserve to come out with me”.

The impact this had on the other students (and Jonny of course) was quite astounding. There was no build up or expectation on the students’ part, but good effort was still positively rewarded.

This approach was more about rejoicing in and celebrating achievement. The set up gave the opportunity for the teacher to say, “look what happens when you work hard”, and it was quite a profound moment for the other students to look up and see Jonny walk out of the room.

Individual spontaneous rewards are most effective when they mean some- thing to the student. This is one reason why it is so important to get to know students and find out their hobbies and passions. It’s more effective than giving a sticker with a picture of an animal to a boy who is crazy about tractors, for example. 

The following suggested spontaneous rewards can be adapted to fit any individual student’s interests, although some of them are applicable to younger students only. 

1: Classroom privileges

These individual rewards may seem small and insignificant compared to the expensive tangible prizes – record vouchers, mobile phone vouchers etc offered in some school reward systems but, if chosen wisely and delivered at the right time, in the right way, they can have a great effect.

Jonny, you kept your temper today all the way through the lesson and completed the work I set you. You can have a cup of tea at break and first choice of these activities.”

  • Sit at the teacher’s desk
  • Time on computer
  • Be in line first for lunch (and/or can nominate a friend)
  • Choose their seat for the day
  • Help the secretary
  • Help the librarian
  • Classroom job – taking care of the animal(s), being in charge of materials/supplies, watering plants, taking the register, operating the projector, maintaining the calendar, cleaning the board etc.
  • Take a class game home for the night
  • Keep a favourite soft toy/ mascot on your desk
  • Use the couch or beanbag chair
  • Set up a classroom display
  • Get a fun worksheet from the ‘fun plie’


2: Special awards and trophies 

Awards are almost always used in classrooms in the form of certificates – but why stop there? A trophy is far more appealing – even if it is just a flimsy, plastic joke ‘Oscar’ – and it doesn’t have to be something they take home; it’s the recognition and the ceremony that counts. A very brief, simple humorous, surprise award ceremony can take place at the end of the week or once a month/ term to highlight the students’ progress in any given area.

3: Whole-class rewards 

Individual spontaneous rewards are very powerful, but this same approach can also be adapted for a whole group – with tremendous benefits in terms of improved social interaction between students and an enhanced community feeling. Occasional, unannounced ‘just because you’ve all been working so hard’ whole class treats, such as videos (with popcorn) or cakes and soft drinks, go a long way to motivating a previously disengaged group and can help students see that we recognise their efforts.

And while we’re on the subject of spontaneous treats I want to tell you about a little gift we’ve included with this mini-course – a very quirky reward you can give your students when they do something extra special. 

The ‘£1 Million Behaviour Note’ (also available in dollars) is a cool reward you might want to give out now and again when your students surprise you for the right reasons. Like any reward the novelty value will decrease over time, but you might just find, for a while at least, that these little slips of paper will make you very popular and give you a new lease of power in the classroom! 

BONUS TOOL: Fun Reward – Millionaire Bank Notes

You can download a free set of Million Pound/ Dollar/ Euro notes for photocopying here:

Want More Resources & Tips to Develop Your Classroom Management Skills?

If you want more useful classroom management tools and strategies then check out my FREE resources at

In addition, if you prefer to have all your tips and strategies in one place, be sure to check out my books on Amazon. Just search for any of the following titles:

Take Control of the Noisy Class

Motivate the Unmotivated

Attention-Grabbing Starters & Plenaries

Classroom Management Success in 7 Days or Less

The Cooperative & Active Learning Tool Kit

The Fun Teacher’s Tool Kit

Connect With Your Students

The Classroom Management Tool Kit