A Simple Reward System to Increase Participation in Class

Sneak peek: How to utilize a positive behavior incentive to drive focus and effort-based learning in your class. 

All teaching jobs are not created equal when it comes to the type of behavior a teacher will be facing or the class sizes they will be up against. Further complicating matters is the fact that just when you get one class figured out, the dynamic shifts in the next trimester/school year with a new collection of individuals. Classroom management is a delicate dance, and encouraging student participation is harder now more than ever. 

identical wooden desks

*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through to one of the product links, I’ll earn a small percentage at no extra cost to you. 

As teachers, we dance the fine line of trying to integrate tech into our classrooms, while attempting to not be overrun by personal-device distraction and mitigating the varying levels of tech addiction prevalent in today’s education world. Not to mention, the pandemic years and the role it has played in disincentivizing consistent student participation (because students can get everything turned in at the buzzer AND the school might decide to implement a pass/fail policy in order to save its statistics), further straining parent/teacher relationships as protocols seemed to change ad nauseum! It feels like we are on a see-saw going back and forth between leniency for students in order to support their mental health and holding them to high academic standards and rigor.  

So, where does that leave us, as educators in education? There are many conversations happening in education today. At the heart of them, you can get a sense for those that are dealing in ideality and those that are dealing in reality. Ideally, students would be getting grades that reflect what they know. Really, students still need to be taught to contribute to a communal society that is bigger than themselves. Ideally, teachers would perfectly prepare students for the world they are stepping out into. Really, the world is changing at a rapid rate, quicker than any large organization seems to be able to spit out meaningful policies.

teenage student on cell phone in class

There is a lot on teachers’ shoulders right now. In some ways, it feels as though we are the ones doing the heavy lifting, not the students. We are being asked to bend our rules, extend our deadlines, and provide enough prompting and hand-holding so that students pass our classes. 

So again I ask, where does that leave us, as educators in education? If you are like me, you may be curious about a new or different method that can win back the minds of your students and get them back and actively involved in the classroom again, even if that means bending the rules a bit in your favor. You might also find yourself desperate to try something different, whether new or old, just to change things up because what is currently happening is not okay or is not working.

The solution I present in this blog post is bound to bring some disagreement. Offering extra credit tends to get some in our field fired up and rally cries of, “students should only be assessed for what they know” or, “grade their knowledge, not their behavior,” will ring out at a fever pitch. Ideally, that sounds great. Really, I just need students involved in my classroom again. Really, a student that does not participate will not grow their knowledge or their ability to, one day soon, contribute to the society we all live in.

At the end of the day, I am looking for a quick solution to whip my students into shape behavior-wise and to get them participating. I am only one human, just trying to make their day and my day better. 

This isn’t rocket science. My secret is ohhhh so simple…

I give students extra credit stickers for positive effort and behavior in class. 

sticker sheet for Spanish class

So yes, I bribe my students with points to get them to participate more. But at the end of the day, I think it is a win for everyone. I want my students to get a good grade in my class, and learning happens by participating. When you bribe students into participating, they learn more and I don’t have a secret vendetta to fail my students or hurt their GPA. A little extra credit is harmless in my opinion, especially because it doesn’t completely change their grades anyway. 

Here’s How it Works:

  • I give students a sticker for participation in class activities like answering a question for the class, participating in class discussion, dancing for Baile Viernes, and reading quietly for Free Voluntary Reading time. 
  • I also give them stickers for winning games in class and find students often dig into the games now that actual points are on the line.
  • Students place their stickers on a sticker sheet that they hand in at the end of the trimester. 

You can grab a free copy of my sticker template here.

These are the stickers I buy on Amazon.

reward stickers in Spanish

Why Stickers?

While this system seems super simple, it wasn’t the first one I tried. I used to give out little paper cards I called tarjetas and had students staple them to assignments. But, my goodness, counting extra credit cards on assignments got to be so tedious! I didn’t like that it made it unclear in my gradebook what students actually knew on the test. I was never sure at parent-teacher conferences if their high score on a test was because they knew the content or because they had earned back points by adding tarjetas to it.

you are a genius cards

So, now I have a separate category for extra credit, and the extra credit boost does not get added into the mix until the end of the semester. The same conversations of concern over a low grade are still happening. The same clarity as to which topics or subjects might need a little extra guidance from a student’s parent is still showing out and being communicated. No grade is juiced or propped up until the final grade is entered. How much of a boost does a sticker-credit system provide my students? Typically, no more than 2%. In less words, students get the grade they were going to get anyways. Speaking for myself, a 2% top-up is well worth the amount of focus and participation I get from my classes in exchange.

Stickers are a great alternative to the tarjetas mentioned above because I don’t have to spend time printing them and cutting them out myself. Stickers are also a great alternative to candy because some schools ask that teachers not give out candy as rewards for health reasons. If you can’t give out candy or extra credit, it will be difficult to motivate reluctant students to participate. Unless, of course, you have discovered some other magical solution! If you have, please comment below and share your wisdom! 

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a simple reward system to increase participation in class
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