prize box confessions and free class reward ideas


Prize Box Confessions first grade sarah

First grade me! (I LOVED that outfit!)

I remember in first grade, my teacher had a prize box. I don’t remember the exact deal, but basically, if you were good for x amount of days, you got a prize. Well, I was always good, and I always got prizes. Mwah ha ha. So one day, my teacher was in a hurry, so she let me, being one of her most trusted six year olds, go to the prize box alone. I perused the glorious cache of dollar store toys and candy. It was there, hidden behind a veil of trapezoid tables and file cabinets that I encountered a dilemma: parachute man or strawberry hard candy. The choice was a difficult one, for I loved them both. How could I be forced to choose? Oh the humanity.So I did what any upstanding first grader would do. I slipped both into my pocket.

strawberry parachute man

C’mon now, would YOU have been able to choose?

My teacher, none the wiser, patted me on the head, and I returned to my seat where I would diligently practice spelling words on the purple ink ditto page with the funny smell. And later on the bus ride home, I would enjoy my much deserved prizes. Ms. O’Brien, first grade teacher at Columbia Elementary, circa 1987, I hereby publicly apologize for stealing from the prize box! I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Whew. I feel better! That has been weighing on me for over two decades! Which leads me to the real point of my blog.

free class rewards


Rewards in the Classroom

Prize boxes never worked for me as a teacher.  I tried a prize box one year, and it lasted until maybe October. Maybe because third graders were older than first grade me. Or maybe because I could never afford good prizes like parachute men. And well, candy is frowned upon these days. Nevertheless, I do like to reward students so they know I appreciate them, and I like to tell them when they do a good job as much as possible. And I like to have a little something in place to reward overall good behavior, but I tried to make it meaningful. The focus is on the good behavior, and then “oh yeah, we can have a little fun, you’ve earned it” kinda thing. I’ve already posted about the cube of fortune, which is the reward system I used after tweaking things year after year until I finally had something I like.

Here are some other ideas for free and cheap rewards:

1. Eat lunch in the classroom.

2. Write a hand-written note to students or parents.

3. Call home to say nice things. I know, it may sound cheesy, but when I taught fifth graders, I had a menu of rewards they could choose from, and they overwhelmingly chose this.

4. Extra or unexpected recess.

5. Indoor class games.

6. Impromptu dance party. Just put on some music for 2-3 minutes. Great way to stretch your legs, too.

7. Free homework pass.

8. Cut your homework in half.

9. Skip a spelling test.

10. Surprise them with homemade cookies.

11. Let them take their shoes off.

12. Let them choose their own seats for the afternoon.

13. Show and tell.

14. Stickers. But you have to get really cool stickers, and they have to be at a somewhat impressionable age where you can get them excited about collecting the stickers. It worked for third graders.

15. Be the teacher’s helper for the day.

16. Be first in line for lunch.

17. Play board games with a friend during quiet work time.

18. Draw.

19. Draw with markers.

20. Draw on the board.

21. Extra computer time.

22. Get out of detention/study hall free pass.

23. Use the smelly markers. Ahh I love Mr. Sketch markers, but I’ve already written about that, too!

24. Free pencil.

25. Choose a book from the book order. (Use your bonus points for this!)

26. Sit at the teacher’s desk.

27. Surprise them with popcorn.

28. Surprise them with fresh fruit. For real. One time I went to the Strawberry Festival and came home with a giant case of strawberries. I decided to bring them in one day, and you would’ve thought we were having an ice cream party.

29. I Spy books, or Where’s Waldo if you’re from my generation, or any other fun books that you don’t typically allow during reading time.

30. Word searches or other puzzles.

31. Bring a stuffed animal to class.

32. Use the bean bag chair.

And I’ll stop there at lucky number 32 because I just had a birthday and that’s how old I turned. Eeek. “And I still remember, when 30 was old,” thanks a lot Deana Carter. So, what are your favorite free and cheap rewards? For more activities that are MORE than a Worksheet, visit my TPT Store!

More Than a Worksheet

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One comment

  • Rachel

    You already named most of the ones I currently use. The other ones I have are:
    wear only your socks for the morning or afternoon;
    wear a hat to school;
    positive visit to the principal’s office;
    chew gum in class for the day (they bring in the gum);
    bring in an appropriate CD for the class to listen to during free time;
    be first in the lunch line.
    Thanks for the ideas!

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