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8 Effective Reward Systems for ESL Learners in an Online Classroom

8 Effective Reward Systems for ESL Learners in an Online Classroom | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Reward systems can be a very powerful tool for teachers in an online environment. Having a reward system for your students is essential because it encourages even the more shy and reserved young learners to participate in their virtual English lessons.

More importantly, they can help you, the teacher, in overcoming the constraints of an online classroom - not being physically present to intervene in situations where a student is distracted or attempting to divert his/her friends’ focus from the English lesson. Reward systems can be a great part of the online teacher’s repertoire for the purpose of encouraging the young learners to focus on the lesson and participate.

Advantages of Using Reward Systems in Online ESL Teaching.

  • Positive Behavior: Students follow the rules more when they receive consistent positive reinforcement.
  • Greater Motivation: Students are more engaged in the lesson and demonstrate higher participation in the learning process.
  • Higher Self-Esteem: Students become more positive and confident as they see their achievement awarded and their success rising - they are motivated to achieve another successful badge/sticker/certificate.
  • Improved Learning: Students show improved results through their higher effort, i.e., test results, completed homework tasks.

Use Rewards Carefully: Potential Disadvantages

While using rewards with students has more advantages than disadvantages, teachers should be careful. The biggest “trap” in using reward systems can be the devaluation of rewards in the eyes of the students, who learn to anticipate them, and the “magic” is lost. Students can also focus more on getting the prize than the assignment, and completing the task to get the reward becomes the primary goal. That is why rewards have to be used creatively vs. excessively to prevent the loss of interest and engagement in the learning process. Rewards can be lessened over time, and teachers can gradually raise their expectations for students to earn the same award. Used that way, they’re sure to become a very valuable teaching tool.

8 Reward Systems for ESL Students

Physical Movement

Students can feel accomplished and rewarded by receiving a virtual thumbs-up, an enthusiastic high-five, or hands up in the air waving with excitement. Teachers might also make a heart with their hands to show how proud they are.

Teacher-designed Rewards

Teachers can create great, motivating rewards (especially attractive for the youngest students) by drawing/cutting out/laminating different props, i.e., an ice cream cone with scoops of ice cream. Every time the student performs well, he/she gets a scoop of ice cream. A Fishbowl can also be used, and sea animals can be added to it when students answer correctly.

Class Dojo

It is a free digital reward system in which students get evaluated on positive and negative behavior, and teachers, as well as parents, can access the platform by entering a unique code. Teachers can set up behavior tags consisting of a description and an icon. Positive icon gets the “+1” value; students get to have a digital portfolio to share with their parents, and every student gets their own funny and adorable monster. If there is parental cooperation, children can redeem those points at home to get such rewards as Skip a Weekly Chore, Watch a Movie, or Choose Dinner.


Terrific downloadable software to enhance live video lessons can be used to reward students. Teachers can search for any picture the students want to reward them for completing a task/reaching the lesson goal by displaying a fun picture on screen (animals, cartoon characters, etc.). It also allows for putting together a picture as a fun activity for the student. You can download ManyCam for free online.

Whiteboard Awards

Drawing student awards can be fun and exciting for the students. Teachers can partially draw a picture (i.e., a flower stem, and students earn flower petals or an animal, and students gradually add the teeth). Students could also get a choice of picture/shape/color according to the lesson’s theme.

Game Participation

Students love playing games, and teachers can use such games as Pictionary, Charades, Hangman, Simon Says, or Tic-Tac-Toe as exciting rewards.

Magnetic Dress-Up

Dress-Up Dino appears to be a very popular ESL student reward. Teachers can also rely on Melissa and Doug’s magnetic sets to serve as rewards.

Virtual Certificates

Teachers can use a free tool like Canva to design virtual certificates for students. It is even simpler than Photoshop and allows to add images, background, and text to design attractive and personalized rewards.

Conclusion: Reward Systems Motivate ESL Students.

To conclude, reward systems play a very significant role in building rapport with students, which in turn motivates them to be more engaged and outgoing. Excited and happy students learn better, and when their efforts are recognized and acknowledged, they develop a sense of pride and self-worth that will make English learning pleasurable and meaningful. If reward systems are used creatively and thoughtfully vs. rewarding “anything and everything,” students and teachers will reap the benefits in the form of better learning and higher student achievement.

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