Using Incentives to Motivate Students

Updated: Jul 12

If I'm being honest, I always felt incentives are a "proper" way to say a bribe.

incentive (n): a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something

bribe (v): persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or another inducement

Although they both make someone "do something," an incentive feels less sneaky. I'm going to stick with incentives vs. bribes. ;)

As a high school teacher, it can be tricky to think of rewards to motivate them. I hope this list serves you well. These are just a few ideas I use for student incentives.


1. Movies/Netflix shows Ok, we all remember those days where we were thrilled to watch a movie in class. It's a classic incentive, but it gets the job done. If you want to be real fancy, you can pick a movie to match a theme or topic you can connect to class.

2. Food Another classic, but again it works. Here is a list of some foods I have prepared over the years: nachos, pasta, meatball subs, buffalo chicken dip, chips & salsa, popcorn, yogurt parfaits, and popcorn chicken bowls. I would recommend pairing with another teacher (maybe someone within your team) to help with the cost. Again, these might seem a little daunting, but they aren't that expensive when divided among a group.

3. Homework or Assignment Pass

These are quick and easy to make and very effective. You could also drop a low grade or something along those lines. Students always appreciate having this type of option.

4. Screen Time Depending on your school policy, screen time can be an excellent student incentive. My students also love to play Kahoot, so sometimes I let them play a fun Kahoot for an incentive. You could also use this with computer games or iPads, if you have that option for technology.

5. Pie in the Face Who doesn't love to see a teacher with a pie in the face? I would suggest making this some type of drawing to enter. For example, if a student receives an 80% or above on a test, their name is entered in a drawing. Students can enter to see who gets to pie the teacher. I personally like to get the administrators involved in this one. Students, of all ages, appreciate seeing someone get a pie in the face.

6. Field Trips I know finances can be difficult for field trips, however, they are an excellent incentive. In the past, I have picked top students based on their grades, behavior, and work ethic to attend a field trip. Making it a "special" trip motivated students to work hard throughout the year. I had students asking if they could go, and I would remind them of the areas we would be looking at for the decision. If you have the funding available, field trips are excellent incentives. Also, you could always check into using "Go Fund Me" or a fundraiser website. The trip doesn't need to be anything fancy. We raised money to attend a local production of Titanic the musical (educational and fun). We rode the public buses because we don't have transportation and made a day of it.

7. Treasure Box Who says high school students are too old for a treasure box? There are so many items you could stick in a treasure box besides candy or snacks. I have some pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, lanyards, a water bottle, stickers, and other random goodies I personally wasn't using. You could make students earn points to pick a prize or however you decide.

8. Craft turned Room Decor This is one of my favorite activities to use with students. Again, even high school students enjoy coloring and being creative. After a Thanksgiving break, I bought cheap ornaments from Walmart and let students decorate them. However, students could only decorate when they were finished with their work for the day. They LOVED painting them and placing them on the tree in our room. Many of them had never made an ornament before, so they wanted to make a bunch. Not only did it motivate them, but it also was a quick way to decorate our tree. This would work for any seasonal decorations you need up. Find a craft for them to do, and use it to motivate them. Also, I hope this goes without saying, but make sure whatever craft you do is appropriate for your school (especially if it is for a holiday/seasonal thing).

9. Fun Day One of the annual traditions I hope to continue my entire teaching career is a gingerbread house competition. I am 100% Christmas obsessed. I asked the admin to be our judges. I told the students we would have guests from "The North Pole" visiting to judge. I cracked myself up, and they were embarrassed by me as usual. Our categories for judging included: "Best in Show" & "Most Likely to be at the North Pole." I just purchased a couple of candy canes, filled with chocolate, at Walmart for their prize. An activity like this is rewarding and builds classroom community.

10. Karaoke My students LOVE having rap battles. I'll put on some beat from YouTube, and I'll let them go at it. In the past, I will have them even print a poem or something like that to read as their "lyrics" to the rap. Sometimes other students want to sing a karaoke song, so I'll let them pick one off of YouTube.


There are just a few incentives I have found to be successful. If you have any other ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comments.

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