All About Rewards Systems

Running your first store? Start here for tips and best practices on a rewards system!

Introduction

Think back to when you were young and first had enough money to buy something in a store. Maybe you had saved up enough allowance or worked for your neighbor. When you finally were able to buy the thing you wanted, wasn’t it a great feeling?

There is something special about working hard to earn what you want. When we work for something, we value it more than if it was given to us for free. A school or classroom store is a way to teach this valuable life lesson of earning it yourself.

A school or classroom store is a way to teach the valuable life lesson of earning it yourself.

Whether your school implements PBIS, or you simply want to create a more engaging classroom environment, this guide is for you.

Who is this chapter for? Classroom teachers, grade team leaders, and administrators in PBIS schools, charter schools, and alternative schools that want to create a successful system for positive behavior reinforcement.

How a Rewards Store Works

Students Earn Points

To purchase items in your store, students will need to earn points by meeting or exceeding the behavior expectations you set. This system, known as a token economy, provides a powerful tool to teach and reinforce the expectations that will make students successful. For instance, here are a few common behavior expectations that might be used to award points:

  • Prepared to Learn
  • Following Classroom Rules
  • Respect Peers

When a student is meeting or exceeding an expectation, an adult can award him or her a point that can be used at the school store. As students start to master your basic expectations, you can up the ante. You can start awarding students points for things that demonstrate learning and contribute to a great culture:

  • Extra Credit
  • Class Presentation
  • Teacher’s Helper

Plan Your Store

The rewards store is not open 24/7. In fact, most days, your store may not even be open. Most teachers and schools find that once per week is the perfect frequency for their rewards store. It keeps students excited to spend their points, but ensures that the store does not become a distraction.

Friday is a great day of the week for your classroom store. It provides students with something to look forward to all week. If you have store items that students should not have out during class time, Friday store means that students can take the items home to enjoy on the weekend. If you are running a team or school store, see our section of Team Logistics.

Like any classroom or school procedure, the key is to consistently communicate it to students. If students know exactly when your store is going to be, you will not have to field questions about when they can spend their points. Reminding students about the time and place for your store is also a form of marketing. It reminds them that the points they can earn have a real value to them!

Open Your Store!

Like any class activity, it is important to have procedures for how students enter and participate in the store. There is nothing worse than a positive reward time becoming a negative behavior issue. Before holding your first store, decide and teach students these key expectations:

  • How do students find out their points balance?
  • How many students can enter the store at once?
  • How many rewards can a student buy at once?
  • What voice volume is expected in the store?
  • How do students complete their purchase?
  • What should students do with rewards once they buy them?

Part of a rewards store is the experience of doing something fun in school. Use your store as an opportunity to build relationships with students that will help during the rest of the week!


What To Sell

Picking Rewards

The moment of truth has arrived. You announce your store to your students and explain how they will be able to earn points. Students look around at one another. Their eyes light up. “Oooh I want one of those!” Success. Your students are bought in.

How do you get there? It starts with selecting rewards that appeal to your students. Unsurprisingly, one of the best sources for rewards ideas is to simply ask your students. Just like adults, students love being asked what they would like to earn one day.

Ensure that your store includes intangibles, like lunch with the teacher, that build relationships with students.

A small budget – or even no budget – should not stop you from creating a successful rewards store. Remember, what matters isn’t the dollar value of a reward, it’s the value of the reward to your students. Some of the best rewards you can offer students are intangible rewards like a homework pass or extra computer time.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to parents or community members for help in stocking your store. You’d be amazed what you might get!

Tangibles

Tangible rewards are snacks, supplies, or toys that students can literally hold in their hands. They are an important part of most rewards stores because they provide immediate buy-in to your system.

Most tangible rewards cost money, but they can be very affordable. Check out some reward ideas below!

Like any classroom or school procedure, the key is to consistently communicate it to students. If students know exactly when your store is going to be, you will not have to field questions about when they can spend their points. Reminding students about the time and place for your store is also a form of marketing. It reminds them that the points they can earn have a real value to them!

Privileges

Privileges mean that a student has earned permission to do or use something special. Their big advantage: they are usually free. One of the challenges with privileges can be how to track who has earned and used a privilege. We recommend this simple approach:

  1. Print and cut cards that have the privilege listed on them. Keep these locked up!
  2. Allow students to buy the card for a privilege at the school store
  3. When a students wants to use the card, have them sign the back and redeem the privilege!

It’s important to tell students when they can use certain privileges. For instance, a student can’t choose their seat in the middle of a lesson. However, with just a little communication to students, you can turn privileges into hot items in your class or school. Here are different privileges that you can use immediately:

  • Free Hall Transition This student gets special rights to travel to their locker or visit another teacher.
  • Teacher’s Helper This student gets to run the overhead projector, erase the board, and help with other classroom jobs.
  • Sit in Teacher’s Chair This student gets to steal the teacher's chair for a class period!
  • Technology Time This student gets to use the class iPad or even their cell phone for a limited time period.
  • Line Leader This student gets to lead the line between classes for the day or the entire week.
  • Choose Your Seat This student can select their own seat next time you change your seating chart.
  • Class MC This student gets to select an appropriate song to play on your computer during independent work time.
  • VIP Lunch This student gets to invite three friends for a private lunch in the classroom
  • Homework Pass This student gets to skip one homework assignment. You can ensure this doesn’t hurt learning by limiting it to review assignments.
  • Drop Lowest Quiz Grade This student can erase their lowest quiz grade. You can make this a large point item that students can only use once per semester.

Events

Events are an important part of any reward system. Events are more than just rewards - they are opportunities to build positive culture in your classroom or school. Because events are bigger purchases, they can help students learn how to save up over time. Students who buy lots of snacks or supplies may not have enough points left over to earn the Dance Party!

Students can buy tickets to an upcoming event at your classroom or school store.

  • Class Party Listen to music and play board games in different stations
  • Pizza Party Order a pizza from a local restaurant and put on a movie that you know your students will love
  • Field Trip If you have a school or grade-wide rewards store, students can earn up to purchase a ticket to a field trip to the Zoo or an amusement park
  • Fun Friday Designate a time each Friday when students can play in the gym, listen to music, and have fun. Students have to earn a certain number of points to be able to participate.
  • Field Day An afternoon of outdoor sports and competitions. Make it extra fun by adding a teacher versus students soccer or capture the flag game!
  • School Dance For your next school dance, have students earn and purchase their own tickets. You can also sell special items at the dance, for instance, a special DJ request!
  • Pie the Teacher Day A fun way to finish up any semester. Purchase whipped cream and some pie tins and let students pie their favorite teachers and administrators.

Store Procedures

Who

Normally, all students should be eligible to participate in your store. However, the store is a privilege, and if students don’t meet basic expectations they can lose the opportunity to participate.

Common reasons a student might be prevented from participating in store include a detention or suspension over the past week or more than three outstanding homework assignments.

What

Students will want to know what is going to be available in the store! Get ahead of the curve by “marketing” the items in your store by putting up a poster, announcing the items at morning meeting, and reminding students informally throughout the week.

Where

Designate a specific area in your classroom or school where the store will take place. You can also set expectations for where students are expected to enjoy their hard-earned store items. For instance, students might be expected to only play with a new toy during recess or after school hours.

How

The “How" includes the procedures for how students make their purchases. We recommend having students visit the store in groups of 3-5. Have students select the items that they want to purchase and present them to you at the “cash register”.

Conclusion

A school store can be a powerful tool for teaching students the connection between hard work and having fun. You can create a system where students earn points for positive behaviors, hard work, academic projects, and more. As students accrue points, they can make purchases of fun items including tangibles (like snacks and supplies) and intangibles (like events and privileges).

Like any new system in your classroom or school, success depends on establishing clear procedures and communicating them to your students. We hope that this guide has helped you identify new ideas you can put into place with your students!

Good luck, and have fun!