Treat Me Right: 13 Clever Ways to Reward Your Students

Treat Me Right
13 Clever Ways to Reward Your Students

Graham Dixon
by Graham Dixon 6,880 views |

After a tough week of grappling with the conditional forms, or the intricacies of the past perfect progressive, it’s always nice to reward your students for their hard work and diligence.

I tend to mix up my rewards, and sometimes to advertise their availability in advance, as I find it forms a useful incentive. In each case, I consider what the students might enjoy, what seems appropriate given the circumstances and the size of the achievement, any financial considerations, and the vagaries of scheduling. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite ways to reward hard-working students:

Consider  These 13 Fabulous Ways to Reward Your Students

  1. 1


    My students absolutely love a classroom variant of Jeopardy, with categories and questions which I prepare in advance, or sometimes just make up on the spot. It’s a fun competition, everyone learns and practices something useful, and it can be as short or long as you need.

  2. 2


    Tried, tested and true. Provided the specter of tooth decay doesn’t give you moral qualms. Be wary of candy which contains peanuts. The big bags of ‘fun size’ work well, to make sure the students share.

  3. 3

    A Movie

    This might have been part of your plan all along, but it can be dressed up as a treat. Movies are a terrific way to practice listening skills and engage students in something both culturally relevant and entertaining. Think carefully about the choice of movie, and ensure there’s no inappropriate content or language. You might choose to include listening exercises, check questions, or discussions, or just allow the students to enjoy the movie; another way is to ask for a short written article on the film a week after your viewing, addressing their opinion on the movie, or about a related topic.

  4. 4

    A TV Show

    If you don’t have time for a full movie, consider an episode from a popular TV show. ESL students are perennially nuts about How I Met your Mother and Friends. I’ve also had success with episodes of The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, particularly with older and more advanced classes.

  5. 5

    A Field Trip

    This will take some planning  but a day out with your students is a great way to see them in a different context, practice some useful language, and through shared experience encourage friendships with classmates. The movies, museums, a zoo, a park, an exhibit, a performance or a parade are all possibilities.

  6. 6

    International Day

    Another long-term notion, but a terrific one, International Day is an opportunity for each nationality at your school to showcase their culture, music, food and achievements. Memorable examples from my own school in Boston included being taught how to do Tai Chi by the Chinese team, dressed in a Kimono by Team Japan, eating incredible Kabsa, the traditional chicken and rice dish from Saudi Arabia, and dancing tango with the Argentine students.

  7. 7

    Have a Ball

    Speaking of dancing, student balls are a great unifying event, and often create unique memories. Again, they take serious preparation, but you could appoint (or have stand for election) a team of enthusiastic students who will take care of most of the arrangements.

  8. 8

    Cancel the Test

    Perhaps not literally, as it might be a school requirement, but deleting something odious and unwelcome from the students’ schedule would be a popular reward. Homework should only be set if its meaningful but canceling it, or generously extending a deadline, would go down well.

  9. 9


    Creating awards in certain categories lets you praise students not only for academic achievement, but also for their spirit and enthusiasm, willingness to help others, punctuality, etc.

  10. q


    Your school may already have a ceremony for departing students. If not (or even if so) you might choose to celebrate their achievements at the end of their course. Going out to lunch together (pizza, barbecue and sushi are popular choices) is terrific. Awarding the winners in certain categories, or handing out gift certificates (Amazon makes a lot of sense for international students) is a nice way to do this, also.

  11. w


    I encourage teachers to praise moderately throughout the semester; it’s encouraging and shows your appreciation for students who are doing something very challenging. At the end of a tough week, or just one particularly tricky class, you might speak to the students for just a moment, reiterating how impressed and pleased you are with their attitudes and progress. I’ve seen students genuinely light up because their work was publicly appreciated.

  12. e

    Let My People Go

    Letting your students out five or ten minutes early from class can be a nice reward. They may be able to skip the lunch queue, which is always appreciated. Make sure your boss won’t object; besides, if your work is finished and has been completed to a high standard, where’s the harm?

  13. r


    Get ready for a memorable evening. A trip to the local Karaoke joint is often hilarious, isn’t too expensive, and gives students with the right temperament the chance to show their skills. Or lack thereof, but that’s just as funny.

A word on the style in which these rewards are given.

Even if you’ve promised a certain treat, if the students don’t hit the target, or their behavior has been questionable, don’t be afraid to withdraw it. This isn’t being mean, it’s being fair; you’ve proven that you’re committed to quality and achievement, and the students now know that treats are a ‘performance-related’ reward. One way to avoid problems is to inform your students, perhaps at the beginning of each week, exactly what is expected of them. This way, they’ll have solid and reasonable targets, and be encouraged to give of their best.

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