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