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Teaching Strategies for ESL: Rewards for Young Students

written by: Jessica Ocheltree • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

Using a reward system can not only motivate your kids to learn English and do their homework, but can also work wonders when it comes to improving classroom behavior. Candy is a common reward but can get kids all wound up, and their parents won't thank you for that! Here are some sugar-free options.

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    Non-Candy Rewards

    This article will give ESL teachers some ideas for reward systems for kids that they can use in their classes. Bypassing the usual option of candy and other sweets, we'll only cover healthier, non-edible rewards. And to give your pocketbook a break, they are either free or very cheap!

    • Rubber Stamps and Stickers: These can be used either on completed assignments and homework or just as an on-the-spot reward for good behavior. Simply place the stamp or sticker on the paper or on the back of the student's hand. Stickers have the advantage of changing all the time and keeping students' interest, but they do cost a little bit. Stamp sets, on the other hand, can be used over and over again, but may lose their impact after a while.
    • Making Decisions: So much is children's lives is decided for them, so they love the chance to make up their own minds. You can delegate decisions to students to reward their good behavior. For example, you can let them choose which book the class reads together or what song will be sung. You can give them first choice of the toys for playtime or let them choose which games will be used. It's best to keep the choices simple though, or you may use up a lot of class time waiting for kids to make up their minds!
    • Class store: Buy some pens, snacks, stickers and other fun stuff at a local dollar shop. Then make a display in you classroom and tell students it is a store. When students do something good, reward them with some "money" that they can use later at your store. Set the prices high enough that students will have to be rewarded a few times before they have enough to buy anything.

    • Doodle: Another option instead of stamps and stickers is to draw a little doodle on the kids' homework. Try to do something a little different each time so that the kids can always look forward to a surprise. Various animals, seasonal characters or objects, and silly faces are all good options.

    • Hidden Pictures: Blow up a funny cartoon or interesting picture and cover it with squares of paper. Post-its can be used in a pinch, but it you want to get really crafty, you can cut out pieces of paper to look like puzzle pieces. When students do something good, they can be allowed to take one piece of the puzzle away. If appropriate, they can guess what it is. This can also be used as a class reward if a lesson passes with everyone behaving well.

    • Songs: Everyone loves a little personal recognition, and kids are no different. If you have a musical bent, make up a little song to praise a student's achievement. Check out this example (to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb):

    Ken did a super job

    Super job

    Super job

    Ken did a super job

    And I am proud of him!