Top 10 Times to Award Points in Your ESL Class (and What to Do with Them)

Top 10 Times to Award Points in Your ESL Class (and What to Do with Them)

Everybody likes to have a high score when it comes to playing games (except, perhaps, golfers).

Maybe that’s why this simple motivator works so well with most ESL classes. Points. Something as easy as keeping a personal tally can make a big difference in how well your students participate in class activities and homework. And if you keep a running tally of points, you can motivate your students with some really valuable awards. First, however, they have to earn the points. And here are some times you might want to award them to your students.

Top 10 Times to Award Points in Your ESL Class

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    How many of your students are unmotivated to do homework? Every class has at least one student that just doesn’t want, and doesn’t need, to do work outside of class to learn English. You can motivate all of your students to do their homework by awarding points for completed homework assignments. If you assign homework every day, keep your points values lower so it takes more points to earn a reward and students won’t just do homework one day and then lose their motivation for the next.

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    Speaking Up

    For some ESL students, speaking up in class is intimidating, and they just don’t want to do it. But if speaking up means earing points for a test or a pizza party, your reluctant speakers just may change their tune. You can award points when students offer answers in class or when they show good participation in group discussions. How many points you award is up to you and how much of an accomplishment speaking up in class is for your students.

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    Outside Reading

    I love when my ESL students take it upon themselves to learn outside of class. You might encourage this behavior in your students by awarding points for every book in English one of your student reads. The complexity of the books will depend on how advanced your students are in their English studies, and you can adjust your points accordingly if you like.

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    Answering Questions in Class

    You can award points, too, when students answer questions in class. If you are awarding points for a regular exercise or homework review, keep your point values low. If you are awarding for a real stumper, make the points value higher. You may find that less confident students are more apt to participate.

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    The Winner Is…

    Do you ever have students present their ideas for a certain project and then let the class vote on whose ideas they like best? If you do, this is the perfect time to award points to your students. Give the winning group or individual something other than bragging rights by awarding them points for the best presentation according to their peers.

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    In Class Reading

    If you teach reading and are often at a loss of volunteers to read aloud in class, try giving points out to volunteers. When you do, students who are comfortable reading but who don’t want to participate will be more likely to raise their hands and read what is on the page.

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    A Race to Points

    If you want to draw on the competitive nature of your students, try awarding points for the first person or group to complete a task. Make sure, though, that you have quality standards so students don’t rush just to increase their score.

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    Helping One Another

    You can reward more than individual performance in class. Try watching for students who help others that might be struggling. When you see a student’s good deed, award some points for encouraging and helping fellow classmates.

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    Asking Great Questions

    I once had a professor who would give a piece of candy to anyone who asked a question during his lectures. It’s surprising how a little sugar can motivate college students. But you can do something similar with your points tally. Award ten points to anyone who asks a good question related to the day’s topic. (And ten more to anyone who can answer it.)

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    Sharing New Words

    I encourage my students to bring in new and unfamiliar words to share with the class. They might encounter these words while watching television or while talking to native speakers. You can invite your students to do the same with unfamiliar words they hear, and then give them points for bringing these words to the class. As a bonus, award points to any student in class who already knows what the word means and how to use it.

What to Do with Points

Once you have gotten in the habit of awarding points to your ESL students, it’s time to think about what you will do with them. You can motivate your students with rewards, and the best rewards for your class will depend on their personality. Here are some ideas you might want to try.

  • Give points toward extra credit. You don’t have to give your students one point toward their final grade for every point they earn in class, but you can still use those points to improve students’ final grades. Depending on how many points you award, try giving students a one-point increase on their final grade for every one hundred, one thousand, or more points they earn in class.
  • Pizza parties are the ever popular classroom motivator. You can use your students’ points totals toward earning all or part of a day off of instruction. Set a class goal, and tell your students once the class reaches its total you will all have a pizza party. If you want to set up more friendly competition among your students, keep students in teams and award a pizza party to the team who reaches their goal first.
  • Not every reward has to be a big one. You can set certain points values for free homework passes, a chance to ask a question on a quiz or test, or a pass for a certain class activity. Try to tailor your rewards to what your students will like without letting them get out of too many activities.


Everyone likes to be a winner, and you will have a class full of them when you use points as a motivating technique. And if you are worried about keeping track of earned points, just jot them down on small sticky notes as you teach and tally them at the end of the day or school week.

Do you award points in class?

What do you think are the best opportunities for awarding them?

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