As a beginning teacher, I would’ve forefeited my first year’s salary to find out easy, effective classroom rewards for students. But I’m going to give it to you for free: positive praise.

What? Positive praise is the best reward? And it’s free? (Or at least very cheap)?

Yep, positive praise is one of the most effective classroom rewards for high school students. Why? Because it works on several levels:

  • Students doing the right thing are rewarded
  • It cues off-task students to do the right thing
  • Parents can easily be brought into the loop
  • It builds rapport and positive relationships with your students and their parents
positive praise puts money in the relationship bank

One of the most-cited teaching strategies to improve student behaviour in classrooms is to build positive relationships. But it can be difficult to know how to do this when you feel like your students are out.of.control.

Why do teachers struggle to use positive praise as a classroom reward?

Using positive praise is an effective teaching strategy for teachers to improve their classroom management. However, positive praise can be a difficult strategy to use for a variety of reasons:

  • Teachers can sometimes embarrass middle and high school students by singling them out in class with positive praise (especially if the class is a tough one with a negative climate)
  • It’s often second nature to reprimand poor behaviour as you see it instead of deliberately searching for good behaviour – particularly at the end of the day/week/term/semester when you’ve had enough
  • Teachers sometimes feel insincere giving praise for sociable behaviour (because we can sometimes forget that students are still learning to behave appropriately)
  • Teachers sometimes find it difficult to give effective praise in the moment

How can you use positive praise more often?

One of my favourite ways to overcome these difficulties and to reward student behaviour is to send positive praise postcards home to students and their parents.

I find positive praise postcards to be an extremely effective classroom management strategy (and an excellent classroom reward) for a variety of reasons:

  • You can praise shy students without alerting the entire class
  • You have the time to think about and give behaviour-specific praise to a student – you can explain what they did and why it was great
  • Students love having their parents hear good things about them (especially students who often do not have good things said about them to their parents)
  • You build positive relationships with students and their parents
  • It’s easy to make sure that you are praising everyone in your class, not just the ones that consistently perform well
  • You feel better about your students because you catch your students doing the right thing (and remind yourself of it when you send home postcards)
  • It’s quick and easy – just write a quick note, address it and send through your school mail
  • You can recognise students for having positive behaviours and interactions with peers, not just academic ability
  • You can recognise students’ efforts in class and foster a growth mindset
desk with postcards and laptop

I have often had students approach me after class and shyly thank me for sending home a postcard. Usually, they are the sweet but easily ignored students who are calm, quiet, and get on with it.

And I have had ‘bad‘ kids thank me and work towards more positive postcards by improving their behaviour in class. While their motives are sometimes more mercenary, “Mum said she’ll give me an Xbox game if she gets another postcard.”, it still works to improve behaviour and build positive relationships.

Want to get started using positive praise as a classroom reward?

This link has free samples of positive praise postcards that you can send home to your students. Or, if you are distance learning right now, you can email the picture file to them.

If you like them, you can purchase the expanded range (and high-five for your support!). Or, you can send me your first-year teacher’s salary to support me instead.

Jokes aside, you can also find how I use positive praise postcards as a classroom reward for my students.

Further Reading

  • Edutopia’s article Making sure your praise is effective explains what types of praise are effective. The article gives a few different praise techniques. It also discerns between praise that is appropriate for younger students and that which is effective for older students.
  • Understood’s article The Power of Praise also explains the types of praise that encourage on-task and sociable classroom behaviour.
  • This article explains what behaviour-specific praise is and why it is more effective than general praise. It also has some bibliographic details should you wish to read more academic research on behaviour-specific praise.
1 easy effective classroom reward for high school students