Few things are more important to a happy online classroom than helping students be motivated and excited about learning. Even in a physical classroom in a brick and mortar school, it can be challenging to motivate students and find the best behavior management system to reward student behavior and participation. This difficulty is compounded in an online setting where physical rewards such as candy or small toys are not possible. The fact that the classroom rewards are different in a virtual classroom does not mean that rewards can’t be used, though; they just have to be thought of differently.
While the goal in a learning environment is always for students to learn to motivate themselves, proper rewards and feedback can help students build the skills and mindset needed to be intrinsically motivated. Talking to students to discover why they are learning the subject and what they hope to take away from the class can be helpful for understanding how to motivate your students and create a behavior management system that will engage the whole class. Remember that all students are unique and that what may be motivating for one student could be uninteresting or even a deterrent to participation for another.
Good ways to reward students in a virtual environment can include cheering, making a heart with your hands, and clapping. These simple gestures can show students how proud and impressed you are by their hard work.
Props can help motivate and excite students as well. Whiteboards can be a great way to give students points or rewards. Stickers, smiley faces, or checks can be written next to students’ names to provide them with some visual feedback praising them for their hard work. For teachers hoping to create a rewards chart of their own, there are a variety of free or low-cost options. Considering your students’ interests can help you decide whether to give stars in an outer space-themed virtual classroom reward system or flowers in a garden-themed system. What type of image you use to signify a reward can change according to the seasons as well. One of the best ways to ensure that students feel motivated by a rewards system is to allow them to provide input on the system. Perhaps you can add “scoops of ice cream” to a cone as rewards for students who have complained about hot weather or place soccer balls in a goal for students who love sports.
Holding up a ribbon, trophy, or smiley-faced toy can be a great way to show students that you see and appreciate their hard work. A prop like pompoms can help reinforce your cheering, too. Puppets can also be a fun way to encourage young students. You and the puppets can all cheer together. Songs can also be a great motivator, particularly those with fun gestures and hand motions.
Students can also be rewarded by letting them “take over” the class. Let students be the ones to read the instructions and do other “teacher” work. You can then play the role of a student. Let students ask you questions. Find out about their interests and spend a few minutes discussing what is fun for them if they have been working hard on the coursework. Often a student’s interest can be tied back into coursework. This is especially effective with older students and can help build intrinsic motivation as the students are able to see how the course work ties into things they care about
Games like hangman, word scrambles, and matching games can be another great way to reward classes that have made great progress on their coursework.
For an ESL student who is largely motivated by an interest in the English language and a desire to learn it, teaching a tongue twister or an idiomatic expression (eg “for the birds” or “happy as a clam”) may be a great motivation. Using connection as motivation is wonderful because it helps remind students how learning can help them in practical ways in life, such as allowing them to communicate more easily.
Be sure to consider the students’ age when trying to decide which kind of reward system is best for each class. Props and songs that may go over well with preschoolers are less likely to impress high school-aged students. Games and activities that may interest high schoolers may frustrate and confuse young students.
Remember to give students meaningful feedback on their work and ensure that they understand why they are being rewarded. Explain what they did well and note and reward improvement and effort, not just results. Meaningful feedback is an essential part of behavior management and ensures that students fully understand what is expected of them and where they can improve.
A classroom reward system can help to reinforce classroom rules and provide visual reminders of students’ hard work. Having an online classroom necessitates reworking reward systems, but it doesn’t mean they can’t still be a useful tool. These simple things can help add joy and increase participation in online learning.
Lauren Krystaf has been teaching with ALO7 since 2017 and loves having the opportunity to teach English from anywhere with an internet connection. She enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, and spending time with her family.
Lauren has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from SUNY Buffalo and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Drexel University. She also has a 120 hour TESOL certificate. Lauren is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Beta Phi Mu honor societies.