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Classroom Management: Sugar-Free Student Incentives

Janelle Cox

Rewards can be an effective from of classroom management to encourage positive student behavior. However, when you use sugary treats to reward a student, you may be doing them more harm than good. If you think that a little sugar is OK, it’s important to understand the harmful effects a non-nutritious treat can have on a students’ health. Here we’ll take a look at the disadvantages to using food as classroom management rewards, as well as a few sugar-free student incentives.

Disadvantages to Using Food as a Reward

Filling students up with sugary treats is not only unhealthy, but it also teaches children that eating unhealthy is OK. While children may love candy, they don’t need the extra sugar. The obesity rate among children has become a national concern, and when teachers use non-nutritious foods as rewards, they are just adding to the problem. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 school age children ages 6-19 in the United States is obese. Studies also show that one quarter of children ages 5-10 are showing warning signs of heart disease. When you use sugary incentives to reward children, you are actually undermining nutrition education that is being taught in the school. You’re also encouraging foods that are high in fat and full of sugar. It’s teaching children that it’s OK to reward yourself with non-nutritious foods. These statistics prove that you’ll have a least a few students in your class who should not be rewarded with sugary incentives.

Sugar-Free Student Incentives

If you would still like to reward students with a food-related incentive, you can do that just as long as it’s healthy. Non-food incentives are also just as motivating for students. Here are a few suggestions.

Nutritious Food Incentives

  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • String cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Goldfish Crackers
  • Fruit

Non-Food Incentives

Non-food rewards such as pencils, stickers, erasers, bookmarks, books, trinkets and temporary tattoos are all fun incentives that young students love. But what about the older students? Here are a few more suggestions on non-food options to help motivate students.

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Homework Pass – A homework pass is a great incentive for students, because who wouldn’t love a day off from doing their homework?

Digital Time – Technology can be a very attractive incentive, especially when it’s not allowed in the classroom. Time spent playing an educational game on the iPad can be just the motivator for students who love technology.

Celebrity for the Day – The opportunity to be the class celebrity for the day and get treated with all of the perks that comes with the status may be just the reward that students will want to strive for.

Lunch Break – While eating lunch with your friends in the school cafeteria can be fun, eating lunch with your friends in the VIP section of the classroom can be even better, especially when you get perks like the ability to watch a video or play on iPads.

Extra Credit – When you’re in middle or high school and you miss the merit or honor roll by a point or are on the brink of failing, then you’ll just about do anything to get your grade up. The reward of extra credit can be a great incentive for these kinds of situations.

Listen to Music – Music is a huge part of many adolescents’ lives, and having the incentive of being able to listen to it while you work in class can be a huge motivator for many music-loving children.

Photo Recognition Board – If you crave attention, then getting the opportunity to have your photo on a bulletin board in the main hallway at school may be just the incentive for you.

Class Party – Pajama day at school or an ice cream social (non-sugar, of course) can be just the incentive for students who love to be rewarded with the whole class.

Gift Certificates – Older students would love a gift certificate to their favorite store, restaurant, or music site. You can go to Donorschoose.org to ask for $5 donations to your students’ favorite places, or you can ask your local community for donations.

Field Trip – What child wouldn’t love the opportunity to go on a class field trip? A popular filed trip is to have students read a book then go to the movies to see the movie version of the book. This year, the book “Wonder” has come to the box office, and students love to see their favorite book come to life.

Sugar-free incentives are an effective way to reward students. Instead of using your own money to buy sugary treats, try any of the ideas listed above for a healthier alternative to use as a reward.

What are you favorite sugar-free incentives for students? Please share your classroom management thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear what you have to say.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.