One of the most important decisions you will make when setting up your classroom is what type of recognition and reward system you will use. Over the last 15 years, I have tried many different types of reward systems. But the one that I have had incredible success with is called STARS. STARS is a student recognition and reward system. It's easy to implement and cost very little to start.
There are two parts to the STARS program:
- a whole group, or class recognition and rewards
- individual student recognition and rewards
What is STARS?
STARS is a program where the whole class AND each individual student is recognized and rewarded for positive behaviors, academic improvements, and accomplishments. This program offers an excellent way for teachers to recognize, reinforce, and encourage each student individually. It also gives the teacher a way to recognize and reward the class as a whole group.
Benefits of Using the STARS Program
Here are some of the benefits:
- reinforce positive behaviors
- reward the completion of an academic goal
- reward the completion of a behavioral goal
- recognize areas of improvement
- encourage improvement in behavior
- encourage improvement in academics
- reward individual students consistently
- can be used with a behavior modification system
List of Supplies Needed to Start:
- STARS Program Guide
- Plastic bin to collect tickets
- Stars Reward Chart
- Plastic Stars
- Velcro dots
- Tickets (raffle tickets found at office supply stores work best)
- A prize bin
- Class rewards list--brainstorm together
- Prizes (reward cards and/or other small goodies or prizes)
Part One: Individual Recognition
When a student acts in a positive behavior or meets an academic goal, he or she is given a ticket. The student writes his or her on the ticket and places it into a bin. Each Friday, 5 (or more) names are drawn from the bin. Those students are allowed to pick one reward or item from the treasure chest. The key here is that there is no limit on the number of tickets a student can earn. That is the reason why students want to earn as many tickets as they can so that they have more chances to earn a reward at the end of the week.
How to Earn a Ticket
Because each student is unique, he or she can earn tickets for different reasons each week. It's important to stress that ALL students are STARS!
Below are some examples of when a student might earn a ticket:
- when a student helps another student without being asked
- when a student leads a group during group work
- when a student shows great teamwork
- when a student stays on task for a specified time
- when a student follows directions right away
- when a student prepares for the next transition without directions
- when a student gives a compliment to another student
- when a student helps the teacher without prompting
- when a student has handed in his or her homework all week
- when a student has done an exceptional job on a presentation
- when a student has done a great job on a project
- when a student has shown improvement
- when a student has accomplished a goal
- when a student didn't give up but instead persevered
- when a student displayed a growth mindset
- for any behavior that you want to reinforce and encourage
- for any improvement (academically or behaviorally) no matter how small
- for meeting a goal (academically or behaviorally)
Best Practices of the Program:
- When a student earns a ticket, he or she can choose to donate the tickets to the class fund instead of entering them into the bin for an individual prize. This encourages generosity and the idea of putting others before yourself.
- Because each and every student is has different goals, he or she might earn a ticket for different reasons. That is why at times, it's best to reward students quietly so you don't draw attention to or embarrass a student in front of the class.
- When drawing names from the chance bin at the end of each week, I only allow each student to earn one reward, even if their name is drawn two or three times that day.
- Students are not allowed to donate or give away their tickets to other students. Earning a ticket is a huge accomplishment and should be treated as a big deal.
- If a student loses a ticket, or it goes through the wash, or the dog eats it, they are out of luck. No replacement tickets will be given. This encourages students to take responsibility for their own personal items.
- When a student has been rewarded a ticket, they may not get up to place the ticket into the bin during class time. There are only certain times during the day when students are allowed out of their seats to place their tickets into the bin. These times might be during free time, at the end of the day, or the start of the day, or another time during the day that works for your daily schedule.
- At the beginning of each month, I empty the bin and we start over again. Make sure to empty the bin when the students are not around so that they don't pick the tickets out of the garbage to put back into the bin later. (I learned by mistake when one student was in tears after seeing me throw the unused tickets into the trash.)
- Never take a ticket away from a student. If a student earned a ticket on Monday and then makes a bad choice on Tuesday, don't take the ticket he or she already earned the day before away from him or her. The purpose is to encourage and reward positive behaviors. This undermines the value of earning a ticket. Instead, when a student makes a bad choice, there needs to be consequence equal to the action. For example, if a student didn't complete his or her math homework on Tuesday, then he or she will have to give up part of their recess time to complete the missing math homework. But please don't take a chance ticket away from a student that he or she already earned on another day previously.
- On the last day of school, I pull from tickets from the bin until we run out of time, or every student has won a prize.
- For the tickets, you can use decorate slips of colored paper with STARS that you copy at school. But, I have found that purchasing the raffle tickets like the ones you might see a fair or festival offers the most cost-effective way.
- I have seen a similar system used with paper money instead of tickets. Then students save their money to buy items at the classroom store. This is an excellent way to reinforce basic economic skills. One of the problems that I have encountered with this system is that often times, students misplace or lose their money. This can cause them to become very upset and takes the focus away from earning a reward.
Part Two: Whole Group Recognition
It's as simple as collecting stars on a chart! As part of the STARS system, the whole class is recognized and rewarded too! Each time that the class has done something that should be recognized, the teacher places a star in Stars Reward Chart. When the chart is full OR the class has earned a set amount of tickets then the class earns a reward.
I usually laminate the stars reward chart and then attach one velcro dot in each box and one on each star as shown below.
Set the number to win a class reward at 25 or 50. The rule of thumb here is, the bigger the prize, the more stars required to win it!
Below are a few of the many examples of when a star might be earned by the class:
- the principal walked into the classroom to deliver a message to the teacher and the class acted respectfully and stayed quiet
- every student handed in their homework that was due that day
- the class received a great report from another teacher (art, music, computer lab, etc.)
- the class walked quietly through the hall to music class
- during centers time, all students stayed on task and worked hard
- at lunch, the class worked together to clean up their area
- the phone rings in the classroom during indoor recess, and the class quiets down so the teacher can answer it
- the class was well behaved for a substitute teacher (this earns 2-3 stars)
Likewise, there are times when a star might be removed from the Stars Reward Chart. If the class receives a bad report from the P.E. teacher or another teacher, for example, then remove a star from the chart. It is important for students to learn that there are consequences for our actions. This builds classroom community because students do not like to let down their peers. This instills the fact that they need to think about their actions and make good choices.
The ultimate reward for filling up the Stars Reward Chart with 50 stars is a class party, a special day, or some other predetermined prize. Depending on your school's policies, you might want the reward to be in the form of extra recess time, free time, or a special snack.
Brainstorm a List of Class Rewards
At the beginning of the year, as a class, we brainstorm a list of rewards that they can earn. It's fun to see what ideas the class comes up with and values most. Sometimes, it's a simple thing like extra recess time, having an ice cream party, or eating lunch in the classroom. After we create a list together, we narrow it down to the top 10 or 15 rewards by holding a class vote. On average, your class will earn one whole group reward each month so 10-15 rewards will give you plenty of options.
I like to write the rewards on a large piece of poster paper and hang it up where the class can see it. This creates a visual representation of what the class is looking forward to earning. Each time the class has earned the 25 or 50 stars, we refer back to the reward list and vote to determine what their next reward will be. The age of your students will determine what rewards will have the greatest value to them. Younger elementary students tend to like the fun-themed days and the older students will love having a pizza party or earning extra time to socialize with their friends.
Here are some ideas that my class came up with as rewards. Having the students brainstorm a list with you, ensures that the students will buy into this system and gives them choices. This combination equals a win-win situation!
- crazy hair day
- mismatched sock day
- hat day
- double recess time
- dress up as your favorite book character day
- Sit anywhere you want for a day
- extra free time at the end of the day
- stinky feet day
- pizza party
- eat lunch in the classroom
- watch a movie
- PJ day
- ice cream sundae party
- smoothie party
- upside down day
- create an invention from recyclable materials
- create your own special day
What's in the Prize Box?
You can decide what is best to put inside the prize box for your class. I like to have a combination of special treats and other non-food prizes. I try my best NOT to include treats that are high in sugar. For healthier options, I might include granola bars, small bags of pretzels or crackers, Rice Krispy treats, or other prepackaged snacks.
Other prizes might include sugar-free gum, chocolate kisses, or even small trinkets or toys. Some years I’ve purchased or had parents donate small toys, books, bubbles, and other trinkets that were bought at the dollar store to put into the prize box.
Rewards That Don't Cost Any Money
Other rewards in the prize box that don't cost anything and students love are small laminated reward cards with the following prizes:
- pick a partner for any activity
- pick a favorite book to read aloud to the class
- eat a healthy snack while you work
- switch seats with anyone in the class for a day
- you’ve earned extra free reading time for the whole class
- you’ve earned a nature walk for the whole class
- you’ve earned an extra game time
- eat lunch with a friend for a day
Rewards for Under $1.00
- granola bars
- small-sized candy bars
- sugar-free gum packs
- chocolate kisses
- bouncy balls
- small trinkets
- gummy bear pouches
- small pouches of pretzels, crackers, or other snacks