Whenever there is an opportunity for student engagement, I am ALL ABOUT IT! All throughout the school year I use games and challenges with my students to positively reinforce my entire class and individual students. Personally, I believe that even your best students still deserve regular positive reinforcement to let them know how awesome they are doing.
What about the students who really struggle with following school “norms” and expectations? They need praise and reinforcement more than anyone! ANY TIME, yes ANY TIME, you catch one of your struggling students doing the right thing, provide praise in a way that they are receptive to.
Sometimes, that is calling them out in front of the class. “Wow! Jimmy I LOVE the way you are sitting so nicely!” Sometimes, that’s a thumbs up. Sometimes, that’s a private conversation as soon as you can have it. And sometimes, its a checkmark, a star, a color-in, a prize, or whatever type of system you have set up in your classroom.
I am going to talk through some of my favorite reinforcement systems. Before we jump in, here are a few things to note.
1) I am not necessarily running all of these systems at once. I always have one whole class system going and one individual system going at once. If I feel the need, I will add in more. I do like to change up systems 2-3 times a year to really keep student buy-in high.
2) You have heard me use the term positive reinforcement a million times by now. The classroom management strategies I use are all based in Applied Behavior Analysis.
The technical idea of reinforcement means giving (or taking away) something to a student when they are doing something you would like them to do that will INCREASE the likelihood that they will do that same thing again. (Contrary to reinforcement is punishment, which I stay away from at all costs. This means giving (or taking away) something from a student that will most likely DECREASE the likelihood that a student will do a certain thing again.)
Something a LOT lot lot of teachers struggle with is students talking at inappropriate times. To combat this, give students specific times that talking out and sharing IS appropriate. Teach expectations very clearly. And, use a TALKING classroom management game.
The way I use this game is prepping the letters of the word TALKING! and adding magnets to the back. Every time a student talks out of turn or interrupts (you could set your own expectations for this), a letter is taken down. I do this fairly discreetly- I do not stop the class and lecture them, I just take a letter down and keep doing my thing. If students keep a certain number of letters, they get a prize. If they keep ALL of their letters, they get an even bigger prize.
Through these systems, I am able to REINFORCE students (instead of having our system based on punishment). Once I started using this system, I could tell students were motivated to stay quiet and focused when the teacher or other students are talking.
One of the simplest ways to reward individual students is through a color-in classroom management system. Some of the reasons this is so simple are that once you prep it, you don’t have to keep track of pieces or points. All you have to do is tape a “color in” sheet to student desks, and as students are working, go around and “color-in” a shape. Once students reach a certain number of color-ins, they get to choose some type of reinforcement.
Why Color-In Works
This system works for several reasons- students can VISUALLY see how close they are to earning a reward, which makes it more motivating. Students get more immediate reinforcement with the prize after two rows, but also know they are working towards a bigger prize when they reach blackout. Color-ins can’t be taken away, so students know that no matter how rough a day is, they can still be working towards earning a reward. and lastly, students also don’t have to keep track of pieces or parts, so students are able to easily keep track of how they are doing.
At the end of each school day, any students who had earned two rows were able to “trade them in.” They would cross them out, and then continue working towards their next two rows. Need some free prize ideas? Check out this blog post!
CLASSROOM TOKEN ECONOMY
I love token economies because not only do they teach students about finances, but they also are a great system of reinforcement. There are SO many ways that you can incorporate this into your classroom. I use a system that my school uses called “Cub Cash.” We have $1’s , $5’s, $10’s, and $20’s. Students earn an income for doing their team job, for participating in activities, and just doing awesome things. I tell my students that they are in charge of keeping track of their money, because just like in real life, if you lose cash…it’s gone.
At the beginning of Cub Cash, we make wallets out of plastic bags. After that, it is up to students to keep track of what they have. If students want to trade in their cub cash (we do a store every Friday), they have to come up to the store (my desk) tell me what they want, how much they will have LEFT after they buy the item/prize, and then I will accept their purchase and give them the prize they saved up for.
Unlike with other systems I use in my classroom, Token Economies do lend themselves well to implementing fines if students aren’t following a certain expectation. The MOST IMPORTANT part about using fines is that students need to know exactly what behaviors will cause them a fine. Fines are NOT used successfully when teachers are able to say “oh, you didn’t listen… you owe me a fine” “oh, you talked back…you owe me a fine.” The fine needs to be the SAME amount of money for a very specifically defined behavior that ANY student would receive.
Overall, token economies are a GREAT way to teach students responsibility, budgeting, and saving while positively reinforcing behavior.
TEACHER VERSUS STUDENT
During the first week of school, I play teacher versus student with my classes. On the board, you have a teacher column and a student column. Any time students do something that is following expectations (with NO reminders), they get a point.
Any time they don’t follow an expectation, the teacher gets a point. If the teacher wins, nothing happens. If the students beat the teacher, the students get a reward. I might give 5 minutes of Chromebook time, free draw, shoes off passes…something quick and easy.
I tell my students that once they beat the teacher 5 times, they have OFFICIALLY leveled up, and we move on to our next classroom management game. They work REALLY hard for this.
Table points is very similar to teacher versus student, however, instead of the teacher and students getting points, it is individual tables getting points. I also just draw this on the white-board as well.
Personally, I don’t like having my students competing against one another. What I do instead is have different levels of rewards based on how many points they can earn. If a table earns 5 points, they might get some free draw time. Whereas if they got 10 points, they might get a no homework pass. This is a great beginning of the year game to get students to work together as teammates to earn a reward.
Giving students tickets is another super simple classroom management game you can introduce. I print and cut up square pieces of paper that say TICKET on them. I will pass them out throughout the school day. Students write their name on the back and put them in a basket. At the end of the day, we do a raffle. If a student’s name gets chosen, they get a prize.
Games and challenges are such a great way to engage students in the classroom, while implementing strong classroom management procedures. Be creative! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be sure to check out my TPT store for all of my classroom management products, and follow it so you can be updated as I add new ones.