Reward as a reward, since this is unhealthy

Reward charts can be a great way to motivate children to do their best, academically as well as behaviorally. This lesson offers you some ideas for how to use reward charts with your students.

Why Reward Charts?

A reward chart is essentially a motivational tool designed to help someone do their best or change a specific habit or behavior.

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If you are worried about your students not trying hard enough, or if you are looking to help them modify some of their behaviors or academic performances, reward charts might be a solution. The underlying premise of a reward chart is the sense that if children can see tangible improvements in their own behaviors over time, they will be more motivated to make systematic improvements and changes. A reward chart also incentivizes behavioral improvements by offering children a reward at the end of their accomplishments.When choosing rewards, be thoughtful about selecting something that actually goes along with the behavior you are focusing on changing.

Avoid candy and other junk food as a reward, since this is unhealthy and sends the wrong message about why to put in effort. If you are trying to get students to read more, consider offering a new book as a reward! If you hope they will clean up in the classroom better, some sort of organizing tool can be a great reward. Experience rewards, like the opportunity for lunch with the teacher, can also be a great incentive. Finally, many students love knowing that their parents will get a positive note or phone call and that can make for something terrific to work toward. The reward chart ideas in this lesson can be modified to meet the exact needs of your students.

Reward Chart Essentials

There are a few things that every different reward chart should include in order for it to be effective for students.

  • List the goal.

Students should be constantly reminded of exactly what they are working toward. Write the goal or goals clearly at the top of your reward chart.

Be specific. Instead of telling students their goal is something vague and broad like ‘good behavior,’ tell them you want them to raise their hands before talking.

  • Keep it minimal.

You might be looking to change a dozen behaviors using a reward chart, but that is too much for most children to focus on all at once. Keep your reward chart limited to three behaviors at the most. Sometimes, it is most effective to target just one behavior.

  • Be clear about the time frame.

Decide in advance whether you are going to use your reward chart for a week, two weeks, or a month. Then, decide how often each class period or day students will have an opportunity to earn a check or star, and how many stars they would have to earn in order to get their reward. Make sure students understand this system.

  • Be consistent.

Once you have decided on a reward chart idea, make sure to use it consistently. Reward charts do not work if you are not faithful to whatever plan you put in place.

Reward Chart Ideas

Basic Grid

One way to set up a reward chart is as a basic grid. Write the goal at the top and down the left hand column list the targeted times for seeing the behavior.

For instance, you might write the days of the week, or the class periods of the day. Across the top, create columns for specific behaviors you expect to see. If the goal is maintaining a tidy cubby, specific behaviors might include organizing notebooks, keeping scraps out, and putting things away after a work period. The boxes in the grid can get filled with stars or stickers as students work toward their goals.

Board Game

Some students love a reward chart that is set up like a board game. Create it on a piece of poster paper, with a start space and an end space. You can decorate it to fit children’s interests. The number of spaces on the board should reflect the number of opportunities children have to achieve their goals. Each time they do the target behavior, put a star, check, or sticker on one space of the game.

Pocket Chart

You can also create a reward chart using a pocket chart. Put the goal in a sentence strip in the top pocket.

Down the left hand side, create icons representing different behaviors. Then, each time students exhibit a particular behavior, place a star or smiley face icon in the appropriate row. Decide in advance how many stars students should have in a particular row in order to earn a reward.


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