Needs Focused Teaching

The Top 7 Creative Positive Reinforcement Methods


Positive reinforcement isn’t just about giving verbal praise and encouragement; it helps if there is some variety in the way you acknowledge appropriate student behaviours. With that in mind, here are some creative ideas for marking the moment. Each one is guaranteed to raise the spirits in any classroom.


1. The victory dance

Teach students to develop their own personalised ten second ‘victory dance’. Whenever you want to offer special praise to a student, clear a space at the front of the room (or install a podium if you have spare budget), pump up the bass and allow them their ten seconds of fame!

2. Wooo! Cards

Issue all students with a special ‘Wooo!’ card (a laminated piece of paper or card with ‘Wooo!’ written on it). Whenever a student performs particularly well in class or manages to complete something they have struggled with in the past, call out ‘Wooo!’ and have everyone else hold up their ‘Wooo!’ cards while shouting ‘Wooo!’ back at you.

3. Silent cheers

Teach students to reward fellow class members for good work and good behaviour with a silent cheer. Offer spot prizes for the most dramatic and convincing exhibition of silent applause. This is particularly useful during exam periods or when the teacher in the neighbouring classroom has expressed concern about the amount of fun your classes seem to be having.

4. Wiggly wooos

A slight variation on ‘Wooo!’ cards. Every time you say,‘That deserves a wiggly wooo’, students wave their fingers in the direction of the student in question and call out ‘ Wooo!’ in unison.

5. And the winner is …

Throughout the week, be on the lookout for students doing good work, good deeds, improved effort and so on. Every time you see something positive, scribble the student’s name down on a piece of paper, together with a very brief reminder of their behaviour, and place it in a jar or container on your desk. At the end of the week, draw a few names from the jar and hand out surprise prizes to the winners (see also ‘wacky awards ceremonies’ below).

6. Wacky awards ceremonies

Before your wacky awards ceremony takes place, you first need to create a ‘wall of fame’ on which to display extra special work completed by students. This need be nothing more elaborate than painted brick effect paper (you can get the students to make this) stuck on an area of wall or over a display board.

Next, you need the awards and trophies. These could be gold discs (old vinyl records sprayed with gold paint and with the title of the work/award on the label), oversized rosettes, chocolate medals covered with gold shiny paper, cheap plastic trophies and so on.
With these in place you can now hold wacky awards ceremonies at the end of the week or as a conclusion to a scheme of work. Trophies and awards should be presented to students with as much drama as possible (think Academy Awards ceremony) and their work can then be displayed on the wall of fame.

7. Staffroom praise board

This is a whole school approach to building a positive working environment as well as helping to develop positive relationships between all staff and students. It is based on the principle that individual students’ efforts often get overlooked, particularly in a large setting. This strategy ensures that even the smallest improvements made by individual students are noticed and acknowledged, potentially by every member of staff.

First, assign an area of wall in the staffroom for the praise board. There should be room for five to ten A4 sheets and it should be an area which staff will see whenever they enter the staffroom. Each week students are nominated for a place on the praise board (they aren’t told about this). Staff put forward a student and give reasons for their nomination. After a vote, a photo of each chosen student is put on the board together with a brief summary of why they have been selected.

The idea is that every member of staff will see this board regularly throughout the course of the week. When they next spot one of the students from the board – either in the classroom, in the dinner queue or out in the yard – they can mention how impressed they are with their achievement. Over the space of a week, a student will receive a huge amount of positive, and often much needed, reinforcement with several members of staff acknowledging the same achievement.

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