Classroom Gamification: 5 Elements of One Low Cost Reward System

Classroom Gamification: 5 Elements of One Low Cost Reward System

Classroom management is a much discussed topic and there seem to be a MILLION different strategies with advice on the best one changing daily.

Of course there is no single classroom management strategy that works for every teacher, class, or situation. Many of these management systems mention the need for some type of classroom reward system in place to serve as a positive incentive for students. However, the classroom management canon is also full of warnings against becoming ‘the candyman’ and scattering sweets to students every time they open their mouths. This is not to say candy is not an awesome motivator, but there needs to be more. Here are a few tips and ideas for setting up an effective classroom reward system.

Set Up an Effective Classroom Reward System Using These Tips

  1. 1

    Individual Points

    It’s easier to set the standards high and lower them as necessary.

    Competition is good. At least it’s good within reason. Having said that, students can take competition very seriously, so it is essential that any point system have very clearly defined boundaries. Undoubtedly, this varies culture to culture and class to class, but my experience has been that without firm parameters, students will be crying for a point every time they wave their hand in the air. It’s easier to set the standards high and lower them as necessary. Create categories for students to earn, and lose, points. After some tweaking I have found that having three categories is enough. More than that and several will fall by the wayside before long. I use participation, winning, and creativity. Creativity means both creative work on poster projects etc. and using English outside of the frameworks taught in class. For negative points I also use three categories: disrespect, off-task, and unprepared. Unprepared covers being late, not bringing books/pens/etc., and not finishing homework.

  2. 2

    Individual Prizes

    Backing this is a scale of prizes. Each teacher will have to set the reward levels based on how stingy or generous they plan to be with the points. In my system, the first tier is a candy, the second is a coupon (get out of homework free or something similar), the third is a note home to the parents, the fourth and final tier is a donut from a local shop that the students love. I have only had a handful of students reach the final tier. I set the first tier quite low so that the students can see some of their classmates getting candy early. It spurs them on. Conversely, I have an escalating consequence system for every point they go below zero. Negative one is ten lines, negative two is twenty lines, negative three if forty lines, negative four is eighty lines and a talk with the homeroom teacher, and negative five is one hundred and sixty lines and a note home to the parents. I have only had three students hit negative five.

  3. 3

    Class Points

    Class points can be set up in several different ways. I prefer to start with a maximum amount that a class can earn in each period I teach them. I start with five points. They can only keep these points if they arrive on time, have all their materials, have completed their homework, pay attention in class, and participate. Each violation of these rules results in the loss of a point. They can only win back a lost point within that lesson by showing, as a class, that they can use the language point being taught outside of the practice forms.

    Alternatively, at the end of each class, or even after a given segment of the class, the teacher can award a class point for excellent participation, all students having completed their homework, or for being well behaved through the entire lesson. This method works well, but the criteria are less clearly defined. Teachers using this method must constantly emphasise when student behaviour is moving towards gaining or losing a point and keep the point system in the minds of the students. Regardless of the method, class points should ideally be displayed somewhere readily visible where the class can constantly see the results of their behavior.

  4. 4

    Class Prizes

    There are two approaches to class level rewards. One is free, the other is comparatively low cost. The first is having a tiered reward system for the classes so that each class can get a reward regardless of what the other classes are doing. In this model there are points milestones with a reward at each milestone. In my system these are things like having a games day instead of a regular lesson, watching a movie for a class, or each person in the class gets a candy. Class milestones tend to be more difficult to reach than individual because it requires good behaviour from the entire class instead of only a single student. By the same token that is why having a class point system is important. Peer pressure can then play a role in maintaining classroom discipline.

    The second reward system is one where classes compete against one another. In this case, the class with the most points at certain times of the year get a prize. This could be pizza for the best class of the year, the top class each term gets a movie in class, or the top class every month gets a game day in place of a regular lesson. In this case, be sure that all class scores are displayed side-by-side to keep the competition evident to the students.

  5. 5


    And after the talk of complex reward systems and affordable prizes, we can’t forget that praise itself can be a great motivator. But an extra word about praise. Yes, it’s free, yes, it’s easy to obtain, and yes, it feels great to hand out. But, if you hand out praise every time at student opens their mouth you quickly devalue it. If the student that answers a question with a barely understandably single word shouted from the back of class, and the student who calmly raised their hand and delivers a perfectly crafted sentence, both get a “great job!” from the teacher, the students will soon catch on that to the fact that you are just tossing the words around. Make the praise fit the accomplishment. Obviously, it is important to encourage low level students and students who struggle to speak in class, but be sure to differentiate your praise enough that the students can tell what praise fits with a good effort/improvement, and which fits with a well-crafted answer.


At the end of the day there are almost as many reward and prize systems as there are classroom management strategies.

Each teacher must choose which, if any, are appropriate for their situation. For many cases having a score sheet and these “free” prizes available for reaching milestones is all it takes to push students need to strive a little harder and behave a little better in class. A huge part of making any strategy effective is how the teacher presents it to the class. If the teacher makes it out to be a big thing the students will react as if it is a big thing. If the teacher lets the system slide to the backburner the kids will forget about it as well. Sad to say, back to you teacher.

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