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What Kinds of Rewards Can Help Students?

by Christopher Cascio, studioD

Offering students rewards for positive performance or behavior is a way of applying behaviorist conditioning, which calls for reinforcing positive student behavior with actions that the student perceives as positive. This type of reward system has been shown to be positively related to higher student achievement. You can offer many types of rewards to your students, but they all fall into the categories of compliments, symbols, tokens and prizes.


Verbal praise is the most common form of rewards that teachers offer students; it consists of complimenting students when they behave in a way that is positive. This behavior could be the exhibition of a trait such as resourcefulness, compassion, courage or general intelligence. Praise can also be used to congratulate academic, athletic or community-related achievements. When offering praise, make sure to offer it promptly, so the emotional impact of the action is still present. Furthermore, be specific with praise. Let the student know exactly why what he did was admirable, and that your words aren't empty and automatic.

Symbolic Rewards

Symbolic rewards are rewards in the form of objects that represent exemplary performance of character or achievement. Perhaps the most common form of symbolic reward is the gold star. Others could be the inclusion of the student's name or photograph on a bulletin board or poster. Symbolic rewards operate similarly to praise in that they are public demonstrations of favor toward a student. The gold star or photograph on the bulletin board proclaims that the student has done something admirable. Symbolic rewards, unlike praise, have the ability to last longer than a single spoken statement, and can serve as reminders for students to maintain their good standing.

Token Rewards

Tokens are physical rewards that represent value, or a form of currency that can be redeemed for a prize. Chips and point tallies are common tokens, and can either be held in trust by you, or by the students themselves. Redeemable prizes can be whatever you choose that you find ethical and reasonable, and you should have a strict system in place for the allocation of points, and for the redemption of prizes. For example, prizes could be priced according to their worth to the students: a free homework pass could be worth 5 chips, whereas unlimited water fountain privileges for a month could cost 15 chips.

Tangible and Activity Rewards

Tangible rewards and activity rewards are awards you supply directly to the student, without the step of symbols or tokens in between. A tangible reward is a prize for positive behavior or achievement, and includes items such as toys, school supplies or other physical objects. Activity rewards are intangible prizes, such as getting to be line leader or being the teacher's helper, being a team captain during activities or having some other privilege that singles that student out from the others.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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