Why I ditched my prize box

prize box

As a beginning teacher, I knew that it is important to recognize and reward positive behavior, so I adopted a prize box for the same reason I added “Go to the principal’s office” as number 5 on my list of consequences, well, because that’s what my teachers did. Those first few years, I didn’t really put a ton of thought into developing my own plan.

As I got more experience and learned what worked for me and what didn’t, I ditched the prize box. Here are some of my reasons:

1. It was costing me an arm and a leg. Dollar Tree and Oriental Trading purchases add up. If I was going to be spending that kind of cash, I’d rather buy lots and lots of books!

2. It was becoming a source of stress. I would forget about it, and it would be running low, and then I would stress myself out about running out to the store to fill it up.

3. Students can see right through it. I had a kid observe once that it was just a bunch of cheap toys, and he was absolutely right. Really, what does anyone want with a stretchy bug?

4. Students would argue over things. And it would drive me crazy to see two otherwise sensible students arguing over who gets the blue rubber hand and who gets the red one.

5. It took up too much time. Seriously, with the very strict curriculum maps, no one has time to let 20 kids rummage through a box ‘o’ junk on a regular basis.

6. It was hard to keep track of. Who earned enough tickets? Who gets to go? Who was absent the last time we got the treasure box out?

7. Kids would lose and steal ticketsUgh. This would happen all the time, and I got tired of searching for lost tickets or getting to the bottom of a stolen ticket mystery.

8. I believe strongly in intrinsic motivation. I want students to be motivated to do the right thing because it is the right thing not because they might get a trinket.

9. I thought there had to be a more creative way of recognizing students. Here are some blog posts I did about rewards:

Free and Unique Rewards

A List of 32 Mostly Free Reward Ideas

10. It seemed so silly handing out a ticket here for someone picking up trash, or a ticket there for someone following the rules. Specific verbal praise can have the exact same effects. Most students want to do the right thing, and will do so with or without a little token. Noticing and complimenting the behavior will show students the behaviors you value and will encourage them all to do the same.


As you can see, the prize box just didn’t work for me and my classroom values. Instead, I tried to maintain a positive atmosphere, and I added simple fun routines into my class like Smelly Smileys, and the Cube of Fortune, and no one ever complained about the lack of bouncy balls, play dough,  or fake snakes!

So tell me, do you use a prize box?

If you are looking for more great reward ideas, check out my rewards and recognition Pinboard. I love collecting ideas on Pinterest!

Classroom Rewards and Recognition

You can also read my public apology for stealing from the prize box in first grade here.

Happy Teaching!



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