Classwide Motivational System

Lottery Ticket and Cash Close Up

We all know that the best contests are the ones where we can win prizes that have multiple dollar signs attached (or that involve airline tickets, beaches, and words like all-expenses-paid)! Sadly, we can’t be offering such incentives to our students just so they’ll behave or turn in their homework. 

Still, that doesn’t have to stop us from finding ways to show that we appreciate their diligence and good behavior in the classroom when it DOES show up. Recognizing students for a job well done helps build up positive climate in the classroom and encourages them to keep up the good work!

The goal of PCM #13, the Classwide Motivational System, is to provide the teacher opportunities to shape, model, and cue behavior that he or she wants to see, and ultimately decrease or eliminate behaviors they don’t.

3 Key Principles to Running a Behavior Support/Motivation System:

  • It draws attention to rule-following behavior
  • It enlists students as providers of reinforcement, not just for themselves, but for their friends and classmates
  • It utilizes “catching them being good” for students, along with opportunities for contingent privilege-earning

Basic needs common to students at any age

Using a positive approach to motivating students fills their buckets! Not only that, if gives them some fundamental things that all of us (but especially kids!) long for.

  • Power
  • Freedom
  • Fun
  • A Sense of Belonging

When these needs are met, power struggles become non-existent, difficult behaviors are short-lived, and individual Tier 2 plans are less likely to be needed. 

The methods you choose to use for your motivation system are limited only by your imagination. Don’t be afraid to try many variations, until you find something that works well for you and your students. Basically, for this Tier 1 strategy, the goal is to provide something that allows all students an opportunity to work toward a common reinforcing experience (i.e. a “payoff”) that is contingent on your stated expectations.

4 Types of “Systems” (vary the types throughout the year):

  • ALL for one (whole class earns a reward together)
  • ONE for all (one or many students’ efforts result in a payoff for the whole class)
  • To each his/her own (individual earning, individual (usually random) payoff)
  • Mystery (individual or group wins something, but they don’t know until later what it might be)

Here are some ideas (but Google has a TON more)!

100 Squares


When the class meets a goal (i.e. 100% homework turned in, no one tardy, worked well during a project, received a compliment from another teacher, etc.) the students earn a square on a hundreds chart (poster on wall). When the chart is all colored in, the class earns a reward.


This system is good for long-term rule-following. If 100 squares are too much, you can shorten it to any other number you’d like. The “all for one” nature of the incentive is good for encouraging the class as a unit to produce appropriate behaviors – which is great for the more challenging students who might not be able to earn an incentive on their own merit (at least not yet)!

Fill-in-the-Blank System

“Mr. Hughes” from The Educators Life uses laminated letters that he prints and cuts out in Scrabble font. The letters spell short phases (the phrases themselves are the prizes “R E C E S S , P A R T Y  T I M E, etc.). He puts the letters in a pouch and when the class earns a reward, he selects one student to pull out a letter. That student puts up the letter in the matching phrase, and they do this until one of the phrases is completed. To give some student choice, the teacher gives the class a chance to select when they’d like to receive that prize.

Variation: For less work setting this up, you could just do a “hangman” fill-in-the-blank of some mystery word, written on the board. For each positive reward you want to give, ask a student to go up and write in the next letter. When the full word is revealed, the class earns a prize.

Table/Group Points; Ticket System

Students working well as a group/showing good collaboration skills, etc. can earn points for their table (teacher can tally on board, or a designated student(s) can use a tracking sheet to record). At the end of a designated time period (week, month, etc.) the table receives their “payoff”. Points can be given in any form – tally marks, marbles in a jar, and even marshmallows! Class competitions can up the ante further, as well.

[Also: see “Slot Machine” below]

Slot Machine

This one involves giving students tickets along with specific praise, loud enough for peers to hear. Two-part tickets are earned when the teacher catches them following appropriate behavior (teacher keeps one side of the ticket). This rewarding system can be tailored to students’ needs. For example, Suzy, who always turns in her homework wouldn’t necessarily earn a ticket for doing homework all week, but might earn one for helping someone on her table learn a difficult concept. On the other hand, Johnny, who does have issues with inconsistent homework, might earn a ticket when he finally turns in assignments for three days in a row! As teacher, you make the rules!

As students earn tickets, they are placed into a bag/hat/jar for a future drawing. On ticket-pulling day, 4 or 5 winning ticket numbers are read by the teacher and those students get to come up and choose a prize. The prizes aren’t known to the class yet, and that’s what makes it like gambling (not really, but kind of). The teacher has hidden a couple for each possible prize under individual cups. Students choose the cup they want based on “luck”. Each student selects one by one, and the whole class watches what they win. The “luckier” cups have the better prizes under them. If appropriate for your class, one of the coupons can even be a “gong” (i.e. ‘Sorry, try again another day’ ).

The Rainbow Club

In the “Rainbow Club” – students earn a color based on filling up a rainbow of “ROYGBIV” (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). The colors are attached to specific behaviors, making earning that color contingent on the rule-following that you specify. The students work their way up the colors until the entire rainbow is filled in. The rainbow is graphically displayed on the wall/door/smart board if it’s for the whole class, or on a small graphic organizer on student desks/in their notebooks, if it’s for individuals.

Variation: You could focus on one color per week, per day, etc. and you can have a competition all about earning the next “level”. For students who need extra “coaching”, color-coded cards can be held up by the teacher for non-verbal cues.

Commonly Used Reinforcers/Prizes (that cost next to nothing)!

  • Free time
  • Switch seats with a friend
  • No penalty for late homework
  • Treats
  • Computer time
  • Play a game
  • Lunch in the classroom
  • First out the door for recess
  • Do only odd-numbered math problems
  • Classroom popcorn party
  • Student choice
  • The Executive Chair for the day
  • Use of the “VIP” supply box for the day – filled with special school supplies (and maybe a couple of freebies they can keep)
  • Whirlygig or spin-the-wheel for a random prize

Regardless of which motivational system you use, they all serve as a way to give positive affirmation to students, some of whom may seldom receive any such thing in their lives. It’s a fun way to give ownership to the students, reinforce being responsible for following expectations, and give them a feeling of belonging to the community within your classroom and in the school.

For your more challenging students – the ones who normally might struggle with an individual behavior plan – it can help them finally be successful, and feel great about school and themselves in the process!

Here’s to you and your students using some of these ideas for this PCM, and having fun with it as you do!

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