Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for classroom management. By using positive reinforcement techniques, you can create a more engaging and productive learning environment.
Rewarding good behavior can be more effective than solely focusing on discipline. Praising and rewarding students for their efforts, improvements, and positive contributions to the class encourages a culture of positive behavior.
9 ideas for using positive reinforcement in the classroom
1. A quiet walk by with verbal praise
This simple technique can go a long way, but don’t just say something for the sake of saying it. Try to find something specific to praise. You can praise behaviors, kindness, work quality,
“You’re showing that you understand how to write a topic sentence. Good work!”
2. A sticky note of praise quietly delivered to the student
I love this idea! You can prepare the notes ahead of time to have ready for delivery. Plus, students often keep the notes in their binders, which always brings a smile to my face! I often take time at the end of the day to write a few notes for the next day. Tip: Keep several sticky notes on your clipboard for when you do your walk-around. You’ll save time and remind yourself to use them.
3. Be sincere, not sappy (you can tell I’m a middle school teacher)
Kids pick up on forced or insincere praise. Keep the praise specific so students know you mean it. Check out these ideas:
“You got your supplies out quickly and you’re ready to go!”
“You’re showing that you really understand…”
“I can tell you’re making an effort to…”
“Thanks for helping out when…”
“I appreciated your comment about…”
“You seem to be enjoying…”
4. Pass out tickets for a weekly drawing (or a daily drawing if that’s what your class needs)
You can make your own tickets or buy a roll. If your class is struggling with transitions, be clear about the time they have to accomplish the task and then when the goal is met, quickly hand out a ticket to each student who met it. This is important when you’re teaching procedures or when students need a reminder. Check out this blog post on redirecting student behavior for even more ideas.
What is in the drawing? Pencils, erasers, sticky notes, stickers, markers, highlighters, notebooks, etc. Ask parents to donate items or gift cards so you can purchase items for your drawings. My school did prize drawings during lunch time in the cafeteria. Perhaps your school has something similar, and your tickets can go toward this drawing.
I’ve also been known to go to yard sales to find toys, books, etc. Quite often, people are willing to donate these items once the sale is nearing an end.
Pin this blog post to a relevant board for later.
5. Create a unique way to reward the class that’s all your own
A fun way I LOVE to reward the class or to redirect a few students is what I call “Wicked Witch Potion.” I have a bottle on my desk (yes, it’s a silly potion bottle I bought for Halloween years ago). In it I have Tic Tacs that I call “Wicked Witch Potion.” I don’t use it daily…perhaps a few times a month, like after I’ve delivered a lesson and made clear the expectations for the work time.
Once kids are working, I quietly walk around with the Witch Potion, pour some in my open hand and ask each student (I use a silly voice) “Witch Potion, Hakim? (or Suzanne, etc.)” I may get a confused grin (which is fine…they’ll catch on), and once they’ve taken one they must say, “Thank you, Ms. Howe.” I try to get them to use the same silly tone I’ve used. Kids LOVE this (even in middle school). It’s simple, special, and it redirects those students who are not on task to focus themselves.
And, when kids say, “That’s a Tic Tac!” I pretend to take offense and reiterate: “No, it’s wicked witch potion!” Sounds silly, but it works. AND they get right to work because I won’t make the offer to those who are unfocused. Or, if things get a bit wild, I cork the bottle and set it back on my desk and mention that we just aren’t ready for this type of fun reward.
Believe me, they get serious and focused right away.
6. Send notes home as a positive reinforcement for classroom behavior
Sending positive notes home to parents or guardians is a fantastic way to reinforce good behavior. These notes not only celebrate a student’s achievements but also involve parents in their child’s education, fostering a strong home-school connection. A positive call, text, or note can help bring about the behaviors you want to see in the classroom.
One tip that I’ve found incredibly valuable to is try to call each family by the end of the first 2 weeks of school and say something positive. This sets a tone for the year. If you haven’t done it yet, start today!
7. Holding classroom celebrations is a great way of using positive reinforcement
Plan periodic celebrations or special activities to reward your students’ positive behavior collectively. Whether it’s a pizza party, a game day, a movie afternoon, or a special treat, these events create excitement and motivate students to continue their good behavior.
An easy celebration that works is a special treat and then add in a seasonal coloring page that actually reviews something you’ve taught. Find engaging grammar & math coloring pages here.
8. Use individual rewards for those who need it
Some students need individual incentives. This can be an object or something like 10 free minutes at the end of the period or a 2 minute run to the fence and back in the middle of class. Use what works for you and the student. I even create a special hall pass for them.
Check in with the student’s family to see if they have something in place that they’ve used at home. I’ve had parents create an incentive at home when their student receives a positive report from me.
9. Minutes of free time is an easy positive reinforcement
This is a simple strategy that works. Have an area on your board for reward time. When you see the class demonstrating a desired behavior or achieving something, put a mark on the board representing 1 minute. OR, if the class had a good day, add a mark at the end of the period.
On the desired day, the class earns these minutes as free time or game time…whatever works. Just remember that you don’t want to award so much time that it ends up taking significant time away from instruction. However, if the class is distracted and off track anyway, this is a great option for redirecting that behavior and then rewarding the progress.
By incorporating these positive reinforcement strategies into your classroom management approach, you not only create a more enjoyable and motivating learning environment but also nurture essential life skills like self-motivation, self-discipline, and teamwork.