Reward Systems in a Special Ed Classroom

I love using exciting reward systems in my class that are different to what may be happening at home or in the regular/mainstream classroom.

For the last two years, students collected stamps on charts and then chose whether to SAVE or SPEND their points once they had collected a 100. Prizes went up in value to 400 points. (I am a sucker for sales and grabbing good prizes at bargain prices. I have way too many prizes in my boxes. Oh, and if you are teacher-mum’s husband and happen to be reading this confession… just ignore and carry on being nice to me.)

Time for something new this year. While racing through the internet, I came across some ideas which I tweaked a bit to match my own classroom discipline strategies. I am a great fan and follower of Dr Thomas Phelan’s 1-2-3 Magic, and wanted to tie my reward system in with this strategy. (More on this in another post.)


  • On the wall are three or four circles, each with a value inside. I have chosen 10, 5 and 2 as children need to learn how to count up in these numbers.
  • Each student has a container (I found some with lids attached for a few cents) that has their name on the outside, as well as a loose name on the inside for sticking up on to the “10” circle when they enter the classroom.
  • Children who are counted for incorrect behaviour will have their name moved to the “5” circle etc. I have a red circle at the end with no point value.
  • At the end of the lesson, students collect a token/coin/counter to the value of the circle that they are on.
  • On a selected day, students will have a Shopping Day, where they get to spend their points on special activities during their lesson. These will be designed around their interests and may include craft, computer games and I might even land up selling some of those prizes I have hoarded over the years.

In the past, I have been known to have “doubles day,” (the kids really hold out for those and I love having them when they astound me with their excellence…a topic for another post) and bonus offers! I like to offer bonus rewards for when we set targets at the beginning of an activity.

I hope it works. Watch this space and I will let you know.

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10 Responses to Reward Systems in a Special Ed Classroom

  1. Teachergirl says:

    OMG ! My star charts seem so boring compared to this. Time to spruce things up

  2. Agapantha says:

    I have recently started using Thomas Phelan’s Magic 123 and would love to know how you are finding it working. Do you use it at home or in the classroom?

    • TeacherMum says:

      Hi Agapantha
      So good to find another Magic 123 person out there. I use it at home and in my classroom and I love them both. I watched the dvd for parents first and then adapted it to my classroom. Last year I came accross the dvd for teachers, but I was not so convinced of his adaptation of the strategy for the classroom and the way he goes one rule at a time. I prefer to bring it all on at once from day one. In short, using the parent dvd works for me.
      Has anyone out there used the follow on from this series where he deals with teenagers? Would love to know.

  3. Archie says:

    There’s a whole lot of research into the effectiveness of rewards – which I can’t cite due to an old and worn out memory – but the essence of what I do remember is that randomising the rewards makes the rewards system more effective. I think your doubles days will help take things there. I remember reading that sometimes a good reward, sometimes a great reward and sometime just a well done or a thank you will lead to more consistently good outcomes. Something to the effect of reducing the expectation of reward, and also when a reward doesn’t eventuate the (non-) recipient will subconsciously think siomething along the lines of “that’s odd, maybe I should try harder”. I’d like to know if this really works – keep us posted

    • TeacherMum says:

      Hi Archie
      Thanks for your valuable comments. You have interesting ideas which do fit in with my own. I like to distinguish between extrinsic (motivated by external factors) and intrinsic (motivated by internal factors) rewards. When kids start out in my lessons, they get excited about the extrinsic, tangible (yet temporary?) rewards. It gets them motivated instantly…always a great starting point for new learning. As we move along, and they start proving to themselves that there are things that they can work hard for and achieve, I start introducing an awareness of internal feelings of pride and accomplishment etc. This plants the seeds for the satisfaction of intrinsic reward, and when this is achieved, the external motivators of charts, stickers and prizes are no longer needed. Ultimately, no sticker can replace that fantastic high you get when you finally succeed at something good through your own efforts!

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  6. Ms. K says:

    Thanks for commenting on my blog.
    I really like the idea you wrote above of using double reward days or bonus offers. I may have to incorporate that with the Bonus Bucks some how. Double your Money day? I also like the 123 Magic. I looked that up on your blog because I wasn’t familiar with that and realized that I have done similar behavior management techniques, but not the time out equal to the age.

    • TeacherMum says:

      Thanks for your comments Ms K – I suppose that is how we progress as teachers. Taking things that work and then supplementing those ideas with some fresh ones from fellow teachers every now and then. It is amazing how little twitches can make a big difference.

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