Reward systems are an incredibly powerful tool for teachers to use with their Online Teaching careers. Reward systems help to encourage students to try their best and participate in their online English lessons. They become apart of online teachers core resources to be used in every single lesson. Online teachers face the standard challenges that brick and mortar teachers encounter on a daily basis.
- Not every student will want to learn,
- they may be easily distracted,
- engage in other activities unrelated to their lesson,
- distract others
- or just simply refuse to join in.
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The difference, however, is that unlike in a classroom, you are physically present to remove distractions, move distracting students or physically move yourself to help encourage your students to return their attention back to the class. Online teachers are required to teach via a video camera on your student’s device. Simply teaching from lesson material in a plain, non-physical style, just is not enough to retain most students attention.
Now, not every student will need the whole ‘package’ as such with props, TPR, games and reward systems. But, from personal experience, the majority will. I personally specialise in teaching younger, lower ability students. They DO need all of this and more.
For starters, they are having to learn to sit still for anywhere from 25-50minutes for their online English class. That is a huge ask for 4-6-year-olds. They are placed in front of a camera with someone talking a completely foreign language to them, from a different country, whom they have never met. Again, this can initially be really scary for a young student and will need some form of positive encouragement and time to build a trusting relationship.
No wonder, they then might sit there refusing to participate, look at the screen or even remain in front of the camera.
From experience, not taking yourself too seriously can go a long way to encouraging children to participate and begin to enjoy their lessons with you. So when you introduce a reward system, it can help your lessons run a lot smoother and you’ll actually find your students participating more.
Reward systems are an incredible asset to your online English lessons:
- They encourage students to participate.
- They provide motivation for students to work hard and try their best.
- They help to break up lessons, particularly longer sessions of 50 minutes.
- They can focus on target language and help students practise speaking and answering questions in a positive and fun way.
- They can be used in a number of ways, rewarding students for behaviour improvements, participation, concentration, attitude, listening to instructions and of course answering correctly.
Top Tip: Ensure to treat each student individually. One reward might be ideal for one student, but unsuitable for another student. When getting to know your students, try and find out about their likes and dislikes from what they tell you or the toys they show you. If they cannot do either, it is a case of trial and error. Use a different reward system for the first few classes and then your students can begin to make a choice for the reward they would like to use.
Here are 15 of the Best Reward Systems for Online Teaching:
I am placing this reward type first as, without doubt, I use this in EVERY class, no matter the student’s age. Physical movement is fantastic as you can encourage your student to join in with you and it is great for relationship building. Physical movement rewards can be in the form of
- Virtual high 5s
- Thumbs up
- Creating a heart with your hands or arms above your head
- Pow stars – having your hand starting off in a closed fist, moving towards the screen opening up like a star exploding
- Whoop whoop – placing your arms up and down in the air and verbally saying ‘whoop whoop’
- Demonstrating a happy, celebration dance
My students love to get involved with these and often will give me a high 5 via the camera, hearts and join in with ‘whooping’. I don’t show every physical movement in every lesson. Most classes will incorporate stars, hearts and virtual high 5s. But I leave the ‘whoop whoop’ and happy dance for WOW learning moments.
For example, if a student has been working really hard with a particular skill e.g. pronouncing ‘th’ for the, that, this. If they have been working on it all lesson, trying hard, concentrating and then finally manage to make the correct sound, I will show them how proud and impressed I am with a big WHOOP or dance.
Top Tip: Many Chinese students struggle to create the ‘th’ sound, I don’t believe it exists within their language. Often, they will say ‘le, de, ve’ instead of ‘the’. When teaching this, ensure to focus on how the student is moving their mouth to create the sound. Make sure your student watches how you position your mouth and that they follow and copy this too. You can then visually check which mouth position they are making and show them the difference between the above letter sounds ‘l, d, v, th’.
I love my mini whiteboards and use these often in class. Not only are they the perfect size to hold in lessons and use to demonstrate different teaching points. But they are also perfect for drawing reward pictures or even using blue tac to stick-on foam shapes.
If you have letters, you could even set up a reward so that each time your student earns a reward, you add a letter to the board. By the end of the lesson, your students will have spelt out a word e.g. happy, smile, great, smart, proud. You can then tell your students a sentence with this word, such as ‘I am so proud of you’.
Alternatively, spell out words relating to your lesson, so your student can practise reading the word and making their own sentence e.g. pig, apple, sunny. ‘I like pigs. Apples are red. It is sunny.’
These are great because, with one investment, they can be used time and time again. I personally love the Melissa and Doug range of reusable stickers. They are super durable, I think I have had mine for over a year now! Plus, they come in a range of themes from under the sea, transport, the seaside, farm, jungle, and my students favourite, dinosaurs.
They also have even better themed reusable sticker sets, which I haven’t invested in…..yet (it becomes quite an addition!), but if you fancied some really fantastic rewards for your female students, check out their princess castle pack or princess pack.
Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I love these sticker sets. They think of everything! From pirates to sweets and treats, creating a meal to making a face.
Laminate Pictures and Stickers
If you don’t fancy becoming addicted to collecting all of the Melissa and Doug reusable sticker sets, why not create your own? You can easily use a free site such as Canva to create your own A4/A3 background and ‘stickers’. Simply choose from any of their free graphics, or upload your own graphics legally* found from stock photo and image sites.
*Ensure to check the licence for each image you find. Read each stock photo and image site’s T and C’s carefully.
You can then download and print them out. Using a laminator, laminate each image. Then you have a background you can use that is long-lasting and can either use velcro spots or bluetac, to stick on your student’s rewards. Here are some examples of rewards I have created using this method:
This is a particularly great reward if you teach 2 or 3 students per class. Students enjoy a bit of friendly competition and through racing each other to a finish line throughout a lesson can be a huge motivator.
You can create a race reward either by hand or online using Powerpoint. Simply create your track and then images e.g. cars, characters, horses, etc. Your students each choose an image and each time they answer correctly or do well in class, move their image one step closer to the finish line.
The first student to the finish line wins a virtual trophy or can choose a game to play e.g. tic tac toe.
Again, this is something ready-made and created for teachers to use and it’s free! You simply have to download the premade badge boards and badges and print these at home. Alternatively, you can edit the badges to be more relevant to each individual students and areas they need to work on. For example, if you have a student who constantly calls out you could have badges for raising their hand, waiting their turn and listening to instructions. On the other hand, why not check out this site and then use it as an inspiration to create your own themed badge builders.
A pretty simple, yet effective reward that can be incorporated and planned around the subject you are teaching. If, for example, you are teaching about animals, you could draw a picture of an animal and place it into an envelope. During the lesson, each time your student earns a reward, you can slowly start to show your picture, sliding it out of the envelope. By the end of the lesson, your student can guess what the picture is before the whole image is revealed.
What’s Behind the Shape?
Again, you can create this via Canva, hand or in a program such as Powerpoint. Personally, I use Powerpoint as I can switch screens when teaching with Whales English and it is easier to change the images virtually rather than recreating by hand. Add a number of images to your page, maybe 4-6. These can be themed to your lesson or something your student likes such as unicorns of superheroes. Then cover each image with a coloured shape. Each time your students earn a reward, ask them to choose a colour or shape and remove it to reveal the picture underneath.
Play a Game
Kids love playing games, so why not incorporate them into your lessons. There is a huge number of games that you can play either using the whiteboard, materials around you or just through speaking. Check out this post for some examples of games you can use within the classroom.
Top Tip: ensure to manage your time well and be aware of how long you spend on a game. Parents are paying for you to teach their children and hence if 10 minutes of a lesson is taken up playing tic tac toe, they might not be best pleased.
Magnetic Dress Ups
Sorry not sorry but YES, Melissa and Doug are amazing. Not only do they produce super reusable themed stickers, but they have magnetic dress-up sets as well. These dress up sets are well worth purchasing as they come in incredibly handy for teaching different topics such as
- The body
- Instructions e.g. put on/take off
Or can simply be purchased for fun such as the superhero or ballerina sets. The great thing about these sets is that you only need to purchase them once and they can be used time and time again.
I personally don’t give out certificates every class, I feel they would lose their appeal that way. However, I do provide all of my students a certificate when they have completed a course.
With Whales English, regular students book courses which are 25 weeks long. So it is a huge accomplishment for them when they come to the end of the 25-week block. Before they then begin their next course, I provide them with a virtual certificate, which is then sent to them after class to print out at home.
This section specifically focuses on rewards found on the internet. Not everyone will be able to use these, but they are too good to not include for those teachers able to share their screen with their students. I have had great responses from students when using these online rewards. They are incredibly fun and interactive, providing students with choices and to incorporate something they enjoy into their English lessons e.g. Disney, food, music and animals.
This reward is so much fun and great for your more creative students. This site enables you to create a tune by selecting different sounds. Ask your students to choose from colour and number, e.g. I would like green 5. If you have more than one student, have them take turns in choosing a sound. At the end of the lesson, you can then play the tune they created and dance as a reward.
This reward I must say goes down a storm with my younger female students. They absolutely love anything, Disney, especially if it is a princess or Frozen related. Thankfully, this site offers online sticker books. Your students can select from a range of images to create their own picture, usually themed.
This site is full of wonderful, interactive rewards that my students just love. The site is free to use on the computer, but be careful as sometimes you have to watch an advert before using a reward – so just ensure you have the reward fully loaded before your class. They offer a number of different rewards where you can provide your students with a selection of choices. My favourites from this site are:
- Making a Pizza
- Making a Face
- Create an Icecream
- Make a Cupcake
For seasonal rewards, I also use:
- Design a Pumpkin
- Decorate a Christmas Tree
- Design an Easter Egg
I only tend to use this game for my very young, lower ability students. Students are presented with 4 doors, in which I ask them to select a door – 1,2,3 or 4 and then play the sound. Each sound is an animal. Students have to guess what the animal is.
Class Dojo is excellent for your students and not just for a reward system. Its primary use is to create monster avatars for each student. You can then give each avatar points based on your student’s actions e.g. a heart for being kind to their peers or a lightbulb for participating.
You are also able to use this site to communicate with your students and parents. Through inviting parents via email, you can send students homework, updates or additional materials directly to parents. Plus, your students can send you things via the system as well, such as pictures they drew, their holiday photos and completed homework of course.
It is a great site for multiple reasons, but through awarding students points, they can visually see each week their scores increasing. When they reach a certain number of points, you could award them. For example, once they receive 10 points, you could play their favourite game. For 25 points, you could show them a minute-long clip of their favourite sport or song.
There are countless ways you can reward your students to encourage and motivate them during their online ESL lessons. This blog post lists some of the best reward systems for teaching online. Each reward system I have tried and tested myself and had great results.
Remember, not every student will like the same reward system. It will take some trial and error to find out which reward system works best for a particular student. But there are so many reward systems to choose from, your students certainly won’t become bored.
Top Tip: Alternate your reward systems every now and again with the same students. Using the same reward system becomes repetitive, your students will lose interest and your reward system loses its desired effect and impact. Alternating reward systems create interest, it’s something new for students to engage with and creates an element of surprise within your online ESL lesson. I hope you have found this blog post useful! Please share this blog post with your online teacher friends and colleagues to help support their online teaching careers.