How to Use Rewards to Increase Student Motivation

31 May 2012

In the previous post we looked at how rewards can decrease not increase student motivation.

In that post we discovered that you can teach your students to be more interested in the reward than in their learning.  This decrease in student motivation is generally attributed to the over use of ‘if – then’ rewards.  This is where you will say to a student, “If you finish your work, then you can have a merit certificate” or something similar.

The answer is not to abandon rewards; we all love to be rewarded for our work, but rather to use rewards in a certain way to increase student motivation.  You can read yesterdays post to see some general guidelines on how to reward.


Today I want to give you some specific strategies on how to use rewards to increase student motivation.

1.  Allow your students to work towards a reward.

Rather than getting a reward at the end of a lesson or a task have your students progress towards the reward.  When doing this, it is important that your students can see that they are making good progress.  If you have the students infrequently or you set the bar too high, this can actually be a de-motivator because the student becomes discouraged and gives up.

2.  Give clear instructions regarding your expectations, then ‘catch’ the student doing the right thing.

When you do this, you are avoiding if – then rewards.  The students are given the reward because they have already demonstrated that they are motivated.

3.  Reward in secret

One of the best ways to increase student motivation over the long term is to reward the students secretly.  There are several ways you can do this.

  • You can send a letter home to the student with a small note about how you have been impressed with their attitude and effort.
  • You can send a letter home to the parent praising their child
  • You can have a special box that you put students names in at the end of a lesson.  At the end of the week you draw a name out of the box and that student gets to choose a prize.  The student is not aware of how many times their name is in the box – they love the mystery.

4.  Reward the parents.

I have used this as a very successful motivation strategy.  If the students consistently meet or exceed my expectations during the term, their parents are invited to a small morning tea where I brag about how marvellous their kids are.

5.  Let the students choose their rewards.

Autonomy (choice) is one of the foundational principles of student motivation. Let the students who have met or exceeded your expectations choose what the class does at the end of the term or as a special lesson.  A great tool to facilitate this is Google Moderator.

There are many ways to increase student motivation whilst avoiding the side effects of if – then rewards.

What have you tried in order to increase student motivation?  Share your ideas in the comment section below.


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