Cheap and Easy Ways to Celebrate Student Success

By Scott Sterling

Celebrating student success is a key aspect of building a positive classroom culture. It can also have a lasting (and perhaps permanent) effect on the self-esteem of students.

That being said, many teachers have the idea of celebrating student success with the occasional pizza party. However, there are many less disruptive—and cheaper—ways to recognize students for all breakthroughs big and small.

Good email/text home

By far, this strategy was my most successful. Students have been conditioned to assume that when you are reaching out to their parents, it’s not positive. So, flip the paradigm.

At the beginning of the year, make it known that parents may receive positive calls and emails. Then, surprise the students by using these throughout the year. Eventually, you’ll have students lobbying for calls in an effort to get their parents to ease up on privileges or invest in expensive electronics.

Golf clap

Full applause during the course of a lesson is disruptive, especially if students are working in small groups or centers and aren’t paying attention to what is going on in other parts of the room. Instead, start the tradition of the “golf clap” (a light clap that makes very little noise) whenever a student makes a breakthrough. The trend will catch on quickly.

Hobby presentation

Most students don’t hate giving reports and presentations; they just hate giving them on topics they don’t care about.

Instead, at regular intervals throughout the year, give excelling students the opportunity to show off their favorite hobby, sport, or interest. It gives them a reward and an opportunity to practice crucial communication skills.

Sit close to/far away from the teacher

Young students tend to idolize their teachers. Older students might, as well, but they also value their own privacy. Reward each accordingly by allowing the younger students to sit next to you (or even have lunch with you), while allowing the older students to pick out their own quiet corner of the room away from everyone. This little bit of autonomy can do wonders as a reward.


Kids love to express their creativity and/or send messages to each other. Organized graffiti makes both possible.

Keep one of your bulletin boards blank. When students make a breakthrough or do something worth a reward, give them a marker and tell them to write whatever they like on the board (within reason, of course). Kids will draw, vent, or send messages to their friends in other class periods. They might even get addicted to it, just like texting. And all it cost you was a bit of paper and ink.

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