Classroom Management

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? 




Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Sarah Dougherty

Sarah Dougherty, a visual arts curriculum coordinator, is a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator. She loves working with diverse populations to bring art into students’ homes, communities, and everyday lives.

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