My first and favorite is the non-prize! When students give a great answer, do the right thing, or just make you smile, you can give them an imaginary prize. One of my go-to imaginary prizes is a cute baby animal. I would tell the student, “I’m so impressed with you that I’m going to put you in charge of taking care of this baby giraffe! Please take very good care of it. Remember to feed it, and put it to bed at night. I know I can trust you!” Then I would pretend to hand the baby giraffe over to them. If I’m really on it that day, I would check up on the giraffe later in the day.
This also works when students want things that you just can’t give them. For example, if a student says they are hot, but there is nothing you can currently do about it, put a giant imaginary fan in front of them and turn it on full blast. Might as well give them a giant imaginary cup of ice water to drink too.
You can give your students anything in the universe with this incentive! I’ve given kids a little sliver of the moon, the toenail of a giant, a bucket full of diamonds, the horn of a unicorn, a live crab, and so much more. I find that it is better to give them something, than ask what they want. They usually want electronics, but seem happier in the end with magical/weird prizes, which brings me to my next free prize.
When playing games with flash cards, I have the students use the cards like currency. We call it the money game. When they’ve read a word, they keep the card, and can use it later to buy stuff. The more difficult the word, the more it is worth. The cards are color coded for difficulty. If they talk during someone else’s turn, the person whose turn it was, gets to take a card from the talker’s pile. By the end of the game, they count up their cards and tell me how much money they have. They are allowed to tell me something they would like to buy with their “money”. The rule is that it has to be something that they could actually afford, given the amount of flash card “cash” they have. They make their choice, I pretend to hand their merchandise over, and take their money. The kids love being able to buy iPhones and x boxes, and it’s a great way for me to collect my flash cards at the end of the game.
They think they want electronics, but what they really want is rocks, pet rocks! This one takes a little bit of time to set up. First, I found a great rock in the parking lot that had a nice flat surface for drawing. I drew a little face on my rock with paint markers, and put it in a tiny colorful party favor box.The box had holes in it of course, for breathing. For the entire first quarter, I used my pet rock, Annabelle, as my teacher’s assistant. The kids loved Annabelle and wanted to either take her, or make rocks of their own. I told them they had to prove that they were responsible before they would be allowed to adopt a pet. They had to spend the entire first quarter returning their homework, working hard, and being kind to their classmates. I collected some more rocks, and put them in a box that used to have chocolates in it. It had perfect little compartments for about 24 rocks. An egg carton would work well too. During second quarter, I would keep an eye out for responsible or kind behavior and allow those kids to adopt. Eventually, everyone got to adopt. Adoptive parents would get to decorate their pet rock, and poke holes in their little party favor box to house their pet rock. They would choose a name and be given a tiny index card birth certificate. I would periodically check on how everyone’s rocks were doing. At the beginning of the third and fourth quarters, kids were allowed to adopt additional rocks, as long as they could prove that they hadn’t lost the rocks they had previously adopted. This incentive took me through an entire school year, and cost me zero dollars. The key to making your adoption agency work is to always pretend that the rocks are real pets.
Finally, if you have a student who is loud, but sensitive you’ll love the “Quiet Fish”. For this incentive you will need a little stuffed animal. I used a fish because fish are silent and skittish, but you could use any animal. With this game, the fish toy is set on the target student’s desk. If the student is loud or tries to touch the fish, it will get scared and swim away onto another student’s desk. Keep your eye on the target student and the clock. If the student is quiet for a certain amount of time, have the fish begin to swim back towards them. I like to look at the start time, predetermine an amount of time the student has to be quiet, and move the fish accordingly. Vary the time interval to keep the student on his toes. You can silently move the fish around as you teach. The fish moving is not a reward or punishment. It is just a natural reaction to noise and movement! The key to making this incentive work is always pretending that the fish is actually alive. This is particularly effective while students are taking tests, or at times when the entire class has to be quiet.
Bonus Fifth Incentive! This one is almost free. Go to the dollar store and get a bag of decorative flat marbles. At first, carry around your own flat marble, and tell the kids it is your lucky stone. If you carry it with you, you’ll have good luck. Then tell them that if you rub the stone you get extra good luck! The more you rub the stone, the more luck you’ll have! After you’ve got the whole class wanting a lucky stone, start handing them out sparingly as prizes. These are great for kids who need to fidget!
Check out my Individual Behavior Charts too! 🙂
Hope you enjoyed reading this, and picked up some new ideas for the coming school year!