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Positive Reinforcement for Online Classrooms: Increase Connection, Improve Behavior, and Have Fun!

Whether teaching in person or online, it is important to build relationships and positive regard in your classroom. One fun and effective way to do this is to have a plan for providing frequent positive feedback to students. In this new virtual learning environment, make sure you reinforce students as they follow guidelines for success and demonstrate good behavior.

Research has shown that the more you pay attention to behaviors, good or bad, the more of those behaviors you will get.

To see more of the behaviors you want, be sure to give praise and acknowledgment to students. Here are some tips to get started:

Be Free.

No Cost Rewards are based on strengthening relationships, providing fun activities, and increasing privileges. Because they are free, they are much more sustainable than tangible rewards that drain your school resources or take enormous amounts of time asking local businesses to donate. Privileges and activities deliver more what kids are after: adult and peer attention.

Be Specific.

When you give positive praise to students, use your PBIS language (Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible) and clearly link those shared values to the student’s behavior. For example, “Thank you for showing responsibility by coming prepared to class/being on time,” or, “That was very respectful of you to help your classmate with that, I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself.”

Be Generous.

Don’t be stingy with recognition; research shows that teachers should strive for more positive interactions than negative corrections (usually a ratio of 4:1 is recommended). Don't just save it for special occasions. In fact, if improving overall culture and connection in your class it is best to reward routine positive behavior because that is the basis for a fantastic classroom atmosphere. Look to reward students for following expectations, attending class regularly and on time, helping others, staying focused in class, handing in homework on time, and more.

Be Random.

Believe it or not, this is one area in which you can be inconsistent. When you give points or reinforcements at random its called ‘intermittent reinforcement.’ Because there is an element of chance to getting a reward, it creates a stronger response in students and the positive behaviors are more likely to be sustained than if you were more consistent like a slot machine reliably doling out rewards. Remember, you are not paying them for services rendered. Your positive rewards are a symbol to students that you are happy with them, you are noticing their positive behaviors, and that you genuinely like them.

Be Obvious.

Public recognition can be very motivating for students, particularly younger students and adults (sometimes less so for teenagers). Know your students to gauge what will work for them.

Be Fun.

We forget that kids are hard-wired and highly motivated for “fun.” We need to be silly sometimes, laugh at ourselves, and value the “fun-factor” more. Positive Reinforcement by definition must be something that students actually value and want. A menu like the one below allows the students to choose what they find to be meaningful and fun.

Here are some ideas to grow the fun in your classroom:

Individual Rewards:

  1. Student gets to “wear” Snap Camera lens of choice for class that week

  2. Student chooses ‘intro music’ to class for the day

  3. Choose question for community building circle

  4. Choose a class game (scavenger hunt)

  5. Show favorite TikTok video to class

  6. Student shares talent with class (play guitar, show origami, etc)

  7. Teach entire class something they are interested in

  8. Learn how to do something special on the computer- like graphics, animation, video editing

  9. Learn how to draw something that looks hard, but with help is easy

  10. Student reads favorite book aloud to class

  11. Take attendance for a day

  12. Choose the teacher’s cursor for the day (teddy bear, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, etc.) by adding this Chrome Extension

13. Teach class a favorite game

14. Write a job recommendation for the student

15. Chance to join their favorite elementary school teacher to help teach a lesson about a topic of interest

16. Shoot a video about the school’s expectations

17. Help from an adult of choice on a class they are struggling with (Free tutoring)

18. Homework free night

19. Learning how to do something of interest on the computer (animation, graphics)

20. Learning how to play chess

21. Part of a brainstorming team with school staff

22. Give students a digital sticker or meme on their submitted google files

Classwide Rewards:

  1. Snap Camera - whole class comes “dressed up” in Lens of choice (fairy, potato, opposite sex, blue eyes, or on a tropical island)

  2. Class game, Fun Friday

  3. Pet show and tell (“Pet Parade”)

  4. Crazy hair day with your class

  5. Digital “thank you note/card”

  6. Positive Praises at the beginning/end of class

  7. Teacher will move ‘work area’ to strange location in house/yard, of student’s choice

  8. Teacher vs. students trivia game

  9. Video game tournament

  10. Listen to music during class, of student’s choice

  11. Make teacher reenact favorite Tik Tok Video (within reason)

  12. Teacher will drop into favorite video game students are into (e.g. Minecraft)

  13. “Special Guest” will come to class (principal, teachers baby, dog, partner)

  14. Teacher will shave head/ dye hair

  15. Teacher will play guitar, sing or share other ‘talent’ with class

  16. Teacher reads aloud to class a favorite book

  17. Teacher will show an embarrassing photo of themselves (Senior Portrait, prom)

  18. Pick which problem the teacher will make a freebie answer on homework

Rewards for Teachers & Staff:

Who said only kids need recognition? Watch attendance to your faculty meetings grow and participation increase when you begin to reward teacher behavior as well!

  1. Deliver coffee to their house and leave on the front porch

  2. Have pizza delivered to their house for dinner

  3. Pick a topic for a faculty meeting

  4. Have “staff member of the week” and feature them at the beginning of faculty meeting

  5. During daily email to staff, highlight something that an adult in the building did and tell why

  6. Leave flowers on their front porch from someone’s garden

  7. Email sent to staff member detailing something admired or appreciated

  8. Surprise staff member by letting two or three students wash their car- be careful on this one though- There are also services that come on sight and wash cars for a fee- possibly parent organization could sponsor

Home Rewards

Primary Level

Most parents would be happy to work collaboratively with their child’s teacher to improve behavior. Establish a communication method and a goal (100% attendance, homework turned in, participation in class) and work with the parent to reward the student at home for school behavior.

  1. Take-Out – every Friday pick up take out food from child’s preferred restaurant if they have demonstrated good behavior/perfect attendance/80% points on CICO from teacher

  2. Tie allowance to school behavior & participation

  3. Later bedtime

  4. Play catch

  5. Do an art project together

  6. Netflix party with friends (

  7. Earn a pet by showing exceptional responsibility at school and home

  8. More screen time for Television, Video games, and friends

  9. Video call with a favorite family member (aunt, uncle)

  10. Going for a walk with a parent

  11. Choose what is for dinner that night

  12. Game night (child’s choice)

  13. Pizza Movie night at home (child’s choice)

  14. Picnic in the backyard

  15. Rotate your child’s toys so that they can choose which toys they want out for a period of time

  16. Cooking together

  17. Making cookies together

  18. Camping in the backyard

  19. Listening to the music of choice in the car

  20. Free pass from chores

  21. Redecorating bedroom

  22. Magazine subscription

  23. Play music of their choice in the house

An online classroom can be a place that provides much needed human connection and belonging for students. What ideas do you have to amp up the “fun-factor,” improve participation, and increase the positivity in your class?


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