The Power of Random Reward in Your Classroom

Positive reinforcement is almost always more effective than negative reinforcement. Try out random reward in your classroom and see how it reaps the benefits for classroom management!


Random reward is a huge motivator. It’s why many adults play slot machines and why many children with inconsistent parents whine endlessly (because, every so often, the parents give in, and they get what they want). If you reward a given behavior every time, your students are likely to get bored. Further, since you are rewarding often, the reward itself is probably not all that exciting.


Now imagine replacing the guaranteed reward with a random one. Students never know which time they perform the desired behavior will result in a reward. Further, the reward will be valued more because it is not constantly given. Here are some ideas for trying random reward in your classroom:

  • At a time when your class is getting a little squirrely, wander around with stickers, good-behavior certificates, candy, or whatever you are using, and quietly place one on the desks of students who are on task. You could say something like, “Thank you for working quietly.” It won’t be long until your classroom is silent and everyone is on task.
  • Every so often when your entire class has done something good (walked quietly back from a specialist, kept the noise level down when you were working with a small group, etc.), say something like, “Wow, I was so impressed with the way you ______ that I can’t help but give you five extra minutes of recess today!” (Or whatever your reward is.)
  • I got this idea from Stephanie at Primary Possibilities, and I think it is totally brilliant. Basically, you pick a Secret Student at the start of the day and put his or her name on a certificate like the one pictured below (which you can get for free by clicking here). Don’t tell your students who the Secret Student is. At the end of the day, if the student had a good day, reveal his or her name to the class. He or she gets to take the certificate (and possibly a small prize) home. If not, don’t reveal the child’s name; just say that the Secret Student was not having a great day but maybe tomorrow will be better. You can learn more about how to do Secret Student and see some great pictures on the original post here.
  • A mini-version of Secret Student would be to have your students’ names on popsicle sticks and to draw one or two out randomly throughout the day. If the student you draw is on task, they get a small reward. If not, you just put the stick back without saying anything.
Positive reinforcement is almost always more effective than negative reinforcement. Try out random reward in your classroom and see how it reaps the benefits for classroom management!

When Not to Use Random Reward

I know that many teachers are fond of raffles, but I am not, especially in the younger grades. Usually, the way this works is that kids get tickets for good behavior that they put into a container. At the end of the day, or at the end of the week, the teacher draws one or more names, and those kids get a special reward. Lady Luck is fickle, and I have noticed that she often passes by the kids with lots of tickets in favor of the kid who only has one or two in the bin. This can be hard for little ones to deal with. Also, since the raffle takes place at a different time than the original good behaviors, there isn’t really a direct link, making the whole system less effective.Also remember that random reward can work to your disadvantage if you are inconsistent in your discipline. Don’t train your students to repeat a bad behavior because they sometimes get away with it.

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How do you use random reward in your classroom? Please share with a comment.
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