Student Reward Systems For ESL Classes

Reward System

There are many benefits to using a reward system in a TEFL class, and you really ought to be using even a basic one in every lesson. This article will cover the different types, their pros and cons, and give you some new ideas to try in your own classes.

First off, what exactly do we mean by 'reward system'?

TEFL Reward Systems

A reward system can be something as simple as giving students points in the class for answering a question correctly, or something more complex like a merit system that runs throughout the semester. Some schools operate a system where students can receive stickers/stamps or other notices for being good in one class, and if they accrue enough of these, they can exchange them for a prize.

Other schools do this on a per class basis, and still others have a different system. There are definitely pros and cons to the different methods, so it may well be worth testing a few to see which best suits your school style.

However they're implemented, the whole point of these systems is to encourage positive behavior, a desire to do well in class, and to act as a form of discipline. It goes without saying that modern teaching revolves around rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior (except when really necessary).

What Makes A Good System?

As just mentioned, the best reward systems are ones that reward good behavior and a positive contribution to class. It's much better to say "If you do well you get a prize" than to say "If you're not naughty you get a prize," even if the difference is subtle.

It's also important to note that a reward should be attainable by all students. This doesn't mean that every student will win every time, but that they CAN win, regardless of their English ability. It's surprisingly easy to create a system that only caters to the top students, so you have to be careful and make sure everyone has a chance.

Do this by giving an award for the student who is best behaved, who improves the most, or even something simple like the one who puts their books away fastest. You can also mix it up to keep students on their toes.

Example Systems

The following are a handful of example systems. The list is far from exhaustive, so use them to give yourself inspiration for your own systems.

Scoring points

One of the most popular, and the easiest to implement is a points system where students, or teams of students, are given points for winning games, correctly answering questions, or some other way they can "win".

You can make this point scoring simple (you award X points for every correct answer) or more elaborate (students throw a dice to see how many points they win, for example).

This system works whether you have an ongoing reward system or not, but it tends to be more effective if the points mean something at the end of the class. Younger students will simply be happy to win the most points, but older ones will prefer to work towards something and have the points carry-over to the next class, or earn them a step towards a bigger prize.

The downside of a points system is that one team (or student) can "give up" if they think that the others have significantly more points than them. To get around this, you can have a game that awards extra points, or a scenario where points are switched. As long as everyone always has a chance to win, it's not an issue.

Little teacher

Another popular reward system is based around giving students responsibility. In a given class, make one or more of the students your "little teacher". This is the student who helps hand out worksheets, collect student books, or otherwise helps the teacher. It's a surprisingly effective method and even the most disruptive students can respond positively to it. 

The best way to implement it is to let students take turns. 

Again, you can tie this in with an ongoing points/prize system where the student earns something for being a little teacher successfully, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Spelling tests

Some schools use the spelling test as a way of rewarding students. This can either be done by giving them a small prize (or a snack) if they hit 100 per cent on their tests, or it can be done by giving them a larger prize when they reach a certain number of 100s. 

While this can encourage students to try harder with their spelling, it is also something that rewards the cleverer students and can make the weaker ones feel like they are missing out. If you use this system, it's probably best to use it as part of a larger system where all students can have a chance to get points and prizes.


Another method is simply rewarding good behavior. It's recommended that you define what good behavior is though. You could make a list of rules and if students follow them all for the entire class, they get a prize at the end.

Some examples could be:

  • English only
  • Be nice
  • Speak clearly
  • Walk
  • Be polite

Note: It's important to give positive rules rather than negative ("Speak English Only" instead of "No Chinese" for example).

Again, whether or not you turn this into an ongoing thing or simply do it on a class per class basis is up to you.

Ongoing vs Class Per Class

This has been touched upon somewhat already, but it's important for you to think about whether you'll be awarding prizes on a class by class basis (a new reward every class) or whether students can total up their successful classes/rewards and exchange them for something later. The most popular method of doing this is by putting a "well done" sticker or stamp in their homework books for that lesson. Once they've accrued enough, they can exchange the stickers/stamp for a prize.

The advantage of doing this is that you don't have to keep coming up with new prize ideas, students don't get bored of the prizes, and also, you can choose a bigger reward and encourage them more.

The advantage of doing something on a class by class basis though is that students can get a prize very quickly, and that encourages them more. Younger students would do better with this system, as acquiring a whole semester's worth of stickers can seem like an impossible task for them and they'll lose interest.

Sometimes The Best Reward Is Simple Praise

One thing that teachers can forget is that for a lot of students, praise is enough to keep them motivated. The best reward of all can be to hear that they've done a good job or be given a high five. 

This is true for weak students, strong students, and naughty students alike. Don't forget to give praise and positive reinforcement wherever possible (and make it genuine).

Another additional point to make out is that if you can win the respect of your class, and make them want to do well in class to impress/please you, this is more powerful than offering them something tangible like a physical reward.

If you can win your class over with encouragement and a good attitude, that can be all you need.