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18 whole-class, non-junk food rewards

Timothy MugabiApril 15, 2020

Bags of chips

There are just about as many PBIS incentives as there are objectives you’d like your students to meet. How do you pick the right whole-class rewards to ensure your students are not only healthy, but also behaving well?

When it comes to whole-class rewards, food consistently proves to be the most popular option. It’s relatively easy to acquire and distribute, has universal appeal, and is inexpensive (especially if you make it yourself). That said, there are many reasons why it may not be a good idea to give students food as a reward. This is mainly due to the long-term, negative eating habits it encourages and the fact that it distracts from how students earn their rewards.

So if you shouldn’t give your students food as a reward, what other options are available? I’m glad you asked!

18 whole-class reward ideas that aren’t junk food

1. Movie day

Take the afternoon off and enjoy a movie together! You could choose the movie yourself or, to get your class more involved, have them vote on their favorite option. You could even ask the students who’ve shown the most improvement in behavior to each select a movie and have the class vote on those.

2. Dance party

Put all your tables and chairs aside and turn the classroom into a dance floor! This gives students a chance to cut loose and enjoy themselves — to just act like kids! Between Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube, coming up with a rocking playlist is a piece of cake these days. You could also have your class create a custom playlist, with each student submitting one or two songs of their choice.

3. PJ day

Formalities can be so boring — why not let your students come to school dressed in their favorite, most comfortable pajamas? That includes blankies and slippers, too!

Alternatively, this can be paired with a movie or any afternoon-long activity to make the reward as appealing as possible.

4. Toy show and tell

As kids grow older, they become more independent and develop their own tastes and interests. With this growing independence comes the desire to share their interests with the rest of the world, especially their friends and classmates.

To reward students who have behaved well in your PBIS program, allow them to bring in their favorite toys, books, or other personal belongings for show and tell, where they can explain why these things are so special to them. Then, afterwards, give them the afternoon off for free time, so they can play and share together.

For this to work, it’s best to stipulate that students are not allowed to bring electronic toys/games, as you might end up with a class full of students tapping away at iPads and smartphones!

5. Games afternoon

For one variation of a games afternoon, lay out a variety of board games around your classroom for your students to enjoy. You could also enlist the help of your students and have them bring in their favorite games to share with their classmates.

Alternatively, you could put on your Master of Ceremonies hat and host a series of larger games to play together as a class. These could be classroom favorites, like hangman or stop the bus, or games that require a change of venue, like tag or dodgeball.

6. Lunch outside/in the classroom

For a bit of a welcome (and healthy) alternative, arrange for your students to eat lunch outside the cafeteria, either in your classroom or outdoors. Also, instead of eating cafeteria food, you could make some tasty and healthy lunches to share with your students (just be sure to check for allergies first!).

I know what you’re thinking — technically, this is still using food as a reward. However, the emphasis is on the setting and sense of community instead of on the food itself. Give your students healthy options and allow them to eat outdoors, where they’ll get to breathe in some fresh air for once instead of crowding together in the school cafeteria.

7. Cooking class

Have your class create something simple and healthy that you can all eat together (or take home and show off to parents). Again, the emphasis isn’t on the food but the activity — collaborating to make something delicious and rewarding. Your students will get to work on their cooking skills, giving them exposure and confidence at a young age. Plus, as with all the other rewards in this list, they’ll get a break from their regularly scheduled activities.

8. Story time

For another fun whole-class reward, give your students an afternoon off to enjoy an epic story session. They won’t be required to read, follow along, or complete an assignment afterwards — they can just kick back and enjoy as you read aloud to them. With a larger book, you could even split the reward into parts, so they’d have an even greater incentive to keep up their good behavior in order to hear the ending. If you go down this route, be sure to leave the story on a tantalizing cliffhanger!

two people talking in front of youth sitting in round tables
Photo: Unsplash

9. Special visitors

Invite a special guest in to speak to the class. In my teaching experience, having someone new in class is always a thrill for students (especially the younger ones!), so they’re bound to be interested, particularly if you sell it well.

Try to get someone with an especially interesting job to come in and speak to your class — someone who works with animals or at the zoo, for instance. Alternatively, you could host a career day where students get to invite their parents to talk about their jobs.

10. Book-swap party

Have your students bring in a book they’ve enjoyed reading to swap with their classmates. After they’ve swapped, you could give them the afternoon off to enjoy their new book.

11. Field trip

Who doesn’t love field trips? Arrange a day outside of school as a whole-class PBIS reward. If the trip is related to something you’re studying, that’s a double win. You can also find an exhibition or show at your nearest museum, theatre or community center that will capture the imagination of your students.

12. Art afternoon

This one’s similar to the games afternoon reward, except you’ll be laying out different art equipment, like paint, colored pencils, and felt-tip markers. Then, let your students express themselves artistically for the entire afternoon!

13. Redecorate the classroom

If your classroom could use some redecorating, enlist the help of your all-too-eager students! Go beyond just hanging up their work during an art afternoon, and ask for their input on the physical layout of the classroom, then implement the best ideas. Students love weighing in and having a say — this whole-class reward is sure to be a hit!

14. Water fight

Arrange a whole-class water fight, and allow students to bring in their own water pistols while you supply the water balloons. However, don’t think for one second that you’re getting off scot-free — you’ve got to get involved, too! Given the opportunity to soak their teacher, your students will be behaving like little angels in no time.

15. Dress the teacher

Allow your students to choose what you wear for a day. The easiest way to pull this off is to carry out a quick inventory of your wardrobe and choose the silliest or boldest items. Next, create a simple ballot sheet, and categorize clothing as top half, bottom half, shoes, and accessories, then have your students vote. Finally, tally up the votes and wear the winning item of clothing from each category. Chances are you’ll look ridiculous — as intended, of course.

To make this even more fun, you could use this as a school-wide PBIS reward, where several classes get to dress their teachers for a day.

16. Teacher in the hot seat

Students, especially older ones, have many burning questions, but they rarely get a chance to ask them in class. Time to change that! With this reward, your class gets to ask you whatever they want. If you want to avoid being put on the spot, have your students submit their questions ahead of time so you can approve them and filter out the more personal ones. However, if you’re feeling brave and want to deal with cheeky questions anyway, go ahead — all the better! By opening up to your students, you’ll gain their trust and respect.

17. Free seating

Students love to sit with their friends at lunch and anywhere else — but in your classroom, they’re most likely stuck in their assigned seats. Instead of their usual assigned seating, grant your students the privilege of choosing where they get to sit for a whole day.

18. Free time/indoor recess 

This final option is the simplest whole-class reward of all: give your class the afternoon off! You don’t have to plan any activities or arrange anything — just let the students do whatever they want (within reason). Allow them to run free — pulling out art supplies to draw or paint, socializing with their friends, or even sitting alone to enjoy a book. And hey, maybe you can get some grading done in the meantime!

Photo: Unsplash


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