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Classroom Reward Systems for Online Teaching

By VIPKid  |  August 23, 2019

What motivates you to learn a new skill? Is it an interest in the subject? Is it a trophy once you succeed? When it comes to teaching online, extrinsic motivation is used through the implementation of a reward system. This method encourages student productivity.

By Hillary B

In the classroom, students can be motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation is when someone engages in a behavior, such as learning a new skill, out of personal desire. An example could be learning Spanish because you have an interest in connecting more with its rich culture.  

Extrinsic Motivation is Key for Online Teaching 

Extrinsic motivators are related to a reward, like someone training to run a marathon because they want to win a medal at the end. In an ESL classroom setting, such as VIPKid, these motivators could translate to students wanting to learn a new language to do well on an exam (extrinsic), but others may want to learn because it is fascinating for them (intrinsic).

For many teachers, a reward system is indispensable when teaching a new language to young students because it serves many purposes. Rewards can take different forms and be implemented in a few ways during class. For example, if rewards are stickers and emojis, they can represent the progress students are making in their lessons and the efforts they are putting into their classes. But rewards can also be games that serve to either enhance class material or provide a break during classes.

Using a reward system during a lesson is a great way to extrinsically motivate learners, both behaviorally and academically.  There are many easy ways to design and implement rewards in the online classroom. Let’s check out some of these categories:

1. Collection

If your student has a fascination with a particular toy or tv show, this first type of reward might be right up their alley! Reward students by allowing them to collect items. It’s definitely one of the most accessible rewards to implement and needs little explanation, however, if the prizes remain the same in each class, some students may lose motivation. Here are a few ideas for things students may enjoy earning throughout a lesson:

  • Ice cream scoops
  • Pizza slices
  • Fruit faces
  • Cartoon characters
  • Toy cars
  • Flower petals
  • Monster teeth

Each of these games provides extended conversation opportunities. When using ice cream scoops, the learner can count the scoops or name the colors of the ice cream. For a more advanced learner, challenge them to describe the flavor of each scoop.

2. Challenge

Are you up for the challenge? This type of motivator presents the student with a game-like reward system. Take a simple game like tic-tac-toe, but add a twist. To make this reward system, draw the tic-tac-toe game board on a whiteboard. For each space, write a target vocabulary word for the lesson. Before a student can choose a space to take, he/she must read a word. This game can be modified or varied to suit students’ ability levels. You may want to challenge the student to find a rhyme or even make a sentence with the target word.

3. Competiton

Is your student competitive? This might be this learner’s top choice of reward system! Grab a dice (digital or toy) and give it a roll. Whichever number the die lands on is the number of points the student is rewarded with! Roll the die a second time, and these points belong to the teacher. Keep a running total on a whiteboard or paper. Prompt the student to add the points and see who wins! Try switching the die for money or playing cards to compete for points!

4. Conversation

Conversation-type reward systems are well suited for chatty students! This type of reward system offers opportunities for students to answer and/or ask questions. Older and more advanced students may be more interested in this type of reward. Think of it like a game show quiz. Plan questions before class by writing on cards or popsicle sticks. Draw a question out of the hat for the student. The student may ask the teacher the same question in return or ask one that is related. A spin on this game could be a “finish the question” type challenge such as, “What is your favorite________?”

The opportunities are endless!

5. Connection

High-fives and fist bumps and thumbs-up—oh my! This final category is more about your words and actions over the items you give as the reward. Pair motivating words with positive actions, to deliver sincere praise to your student. “Great job!” paired with a smiling face and high-five can be just the cheer a student needs after successfully reading a new word! Energetic praise pairs perfectly with any reward system, and takes no planning before class. Allow your students to see just how proud you are of their successes each time you meet.

Before planning a reward system from one of these categories, think about your learner’s particular interests, age, and abilities. A young learner with very little English ability is not likely ready to play a conversation game. Conversely, an older student with advanced language skills probably won’t be interested in earning teeth on a monster.

Here are how some VIPKid teachers define their reward systems and their favorite kinds of rewards. 

“I would define a reward system as a visual indicator of a child’s progress. This is important for some younger children who are visual learners and need motivation beyond regular encouragement. It will help these children remain focused and achieve their learning goals.” -Jennifer PGSZ

I define a reward as a genuine positive statement of encouragement. I feel that it does not have to be always a star or a secondary reward. However, a pat on the back thumbs up. good job, or saying I am proud of you. I use the stars, stickers and secondary rewards in each class. However, I add positive encouraging words, too.” -Tracie PB

“A reward system (in VIPKID) is something fun – a brain break – that helps break the intensity, and sometimes the frustration, of a difficult 25-minute lesson for the kids. It provides positive reinforcement and provides an opportunity for student-teacher bonding. It can also spark conversation! My favorite reward system is paper find-a-stars adapted for various levels and lessons and student interests.” -Stacey Putman

“A reward system should be age-appropriate and be something the student and yourself can interact with and be excited about! I am a nomad teacher so to speak, so I keep my rewards systems simple but FUN! For the younger students, I use color blocks (we extend by counting how many colors they received, their favorite colors, etc.) For older students, I have found drawing “mystery” pictures or google slides where we reveal different pictures! Easy prep and lots of opportunities to build rapport with your student and extend a lesson!” -Sierra Schaller

There are many fun and constructive ways to reward students for their hard work. Thank you to all the teachers who gave some insights into their reward systems! 

Let your creativity run wild and have fun rewarding your students!

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Check out our other blogs on teaching essentials here: How Teachers Adapt to Different Students and Lesson Objectivity.

This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

Hillary has been teaching with VIPKid since March 2017. She is from Nashville, TN, USA. She’s a work from home mom living out the daily joys of both teaching ESL students and raising her children.

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