Ditch the Trinkets: 5 Creative Ways to Reward Students

You can read arguments from both camps on the extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation rewards debate. In fact, I’ve been teaching the AOE class Managing the Art Room this summer, and some of our best conversations dug right into this very topic. Often the question came up, “If not material rewards, then what else can I do to recognize strong student choices?”

Here are five simple ways to give kids an experience rather than a trinket.

ditch the trinkets

1. Lunch with the Arts

When classes reached a behavior goal in the art classroom, I invited them in for a special lunch in my room. I put out plastic table cloths and battery-powered candles from the dollar store and put on some soft classical music. Sometimes we put up a few pieces of art and talked about them. Other times we watched a small part of a ballet or modern dance performance. Kids loved it and it connected to content!

2. Personal Note

It is amazing what a hand-written note can do for a kid. It’s a private little communication that can have a big impact. Wanna really go for it? Mail the note home! Imagine getting a positive piece of mail from your art teacher!

3. Choice Day

Give kids a day where they have the opportunity to experiment with materials. The only requirements are that students remain safe and use materials responsibly. A little freedom goes a long way!

4. Guest Art Teacher

Individuals who are really need rewarding can be art teacher for the day. These students can distribute supplies, line up students, even give some directions or choose the direction of the lesson.

5. Portrait Time

For teachers with drawing skills, making miniature portraits of students is very cool. I have done this for classes of up to 30! To make it happen during class time, students can work on free drawing while the teacher draws and projects onto a screen. Kids are mesmerized (think about how you feel when you watch an episode of Bob Ross!) and love to guess who you are drawing.

Rather than hand out pencils, candy, or landfill junk, consider one of these options to reward students for meeting goals or exceeding expectations!


How do you reward students in your room? 

What other creative ideas do you have to share? 




Sarah Dougherty


My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Sjboster

    LOVE these ideas! It’s really hard for me o give out things, either I forget or I don’t agree with it (like candy and trinkets). I like the idea of a lunch with the arts, so the ENTIRE class has a reachable goal.

    • So that you keep on track along with your students, clearly post the goal and their progress towards it in your classroom. It makes an easy reference point when you need to redirect.

  • Cynthia Gaub

    I use classdojo.com to track points and the kids love this visual program to see their progress. I ask my middle school kids what they want as prizes. Sit by a friend and listen to their MP3 player are both popular. I do still give trinkets but they are fancy pencils, erasers, and sharpeners, which they always need anyways. For whole class rewards I have done an art game day and an art movie day. Even middle school kids love animated movies. I hate candy because inevitably it adds to MY expanding waistline.

  • Sarah Novak

    My middle school kiddos really enjoy a quick funny video- I keep a spreadsheet of videos so I can keep track of what I’ve shown them. The kids know that the videos are shown daily, and self-monitor behaviors so they don’t miss out! I usually show them half-way through class or immediately following clean-up if there’s a huge multi-media mess.
    Reward for me and for them!

    • Sue Brunner

      What videos? Can you be more specific? Thank you for sharing!

    • blair

      I’d also like to know which videos?

  • Yvonne

    My students all know that they enter my room as stars. It doesn’t matter what happened last week or earlier today. In my room your a star as long as you follow the rules and the direction. At the end of class a student has followed all the rules and procedures for the whole class, receives a gold star to where on their collar. I know I’m still giving out a stars, so it is still a concrete reward. Please understand it isn’t the gold sticker they are wearing that is important, it is what it stands for. It is a symbol of a job well done. They all know that if they aren’t behaving like star scholars they don’t get to wear the star. Through the day there will be students who come to my room to say, Ms. D. I made a mistake and was unkind or didn’t listen or whatever. They hand the star back and promise to do better. I reassure that the star is waiting for them. You’d be surprised what that little piece of foil means to the kids. It is a badge of honor and a point of pride not a sticker.

  • lchavez

    I really like 3 of these. I have used the personal notes, pertaining to a job well done, the students reacted to this positive and even said,”Thank You”. The lunch with art and choice day sounds like fun. I think I will combined them and see how the students react to it.