From Thanksgiving to Christmas: Positive Incentives and Templates that WORK!

From Christmas - graphic

I can’t believe it’s here already, but here we are: that span of time that can sometimes feel like one of the longest stretches of the school year – the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’ve had a taste of break. Those days off felt great! We’re refreshed and rejuvenated (well, I am anyway 😉)! The first week back feels great! But then, the closer we get to Christmas break, the more excited about Christmas the students get and the more stressed we tend to get. Why? I say the culprit is… presents! Kids are excited about them and we’re stressed because we’ve got to get them all (and clean our houses for guests, and prepare meals… so much to do before the big day)!

So what’s the solution to keep our sanity while we’re at school? I say adding an extra positive incentive is the ticket! Here’s why:

1. For your students.

The students may be getting bored with the current strategies you’re using – whether it’s PBIS, school cash, lunch with a friend passes, tickets, coins… whatever system you have going on your campus or in your classroom – no matter how incredibly awesome it may be – it’s been a few months and your kids *may* be less motivated by it than they were when it was first introduced.

2. For yourself.

As our students energy amps up with more and more excitement for the holiday break and for presents, and as our stress levels also tend to rise, our focus has a tendency to shift from seeing the positive things our students are doing to noticing those negative behaviors (admittedly, students may display more of these with all that extra excitement and energy just bubbling up). Research shows the behaviors we give the most attention to as educators are the behaviors we get more of – whether the attention is positive or negative. So, by adding an additional positive incentive, we are forcing ourselves to look for and reward students for doing the right thing – shifting everyone’s focus from the negative behaviors to the positive ones. I know for me personally, I am less stressed, happier, and more positive, when I am celebrating and rewarding students!

I am NOT suggesting you ditch whatever classroom management system you have in place. You do Class Dojo? Keep it up! You use PBIS school cash to motivate your kids? Don’t stop! What I am suggesting is that you add an additional layer of positive motivation for students for these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In order to layer in an additional incentive, you might choose to highlight a particular behavior your students need to work on. Students exhibiting the highlighted behavior might earn the special holiday prize. Another idea is to use this additional incentive when the excitement for the holiday is making your class extra chatty. Instead of getting onto the “talkers,” reward the on-task students with the extra-special holiday reward, while still giving out your usual positive reinforcement for all other behaviors. You will without a doubt, notice all of your students working harder to get noticed and picked for this “new” prize.

As I was brainstorming a new incentive I might create for students, I remembered one I had come across a few years ago called “Poke a Tree”. To create this incentive, the teacher fills plastic cups with trinkets and then covers them with tissue paper, then stacks them up like a Christmas tree and glues them to a poster board to hang up in the classroom. Ugh! I’m tired just thinking about all those steps. That is a lot of steps for me. So I created a digital version to share!

Check it out below: Click on the ornaments to reveal an incentive and the star to return home and play again!

Here’s how to use it in your classroom: First, grab a copy of the editable template by clicking here, then change the ornaments to display the prizes you want to use with your students. If you have a SmartBoard, Promethean Board, or other touch-screen display, show this on your board so students can tap to reveal. If you do not have a touch-screen device, just have students use the mouse. When a student demonstrates the behavior you’re looking for, allow them to tap one of the circles to “punch it out” and see what their prize is! This is also great to pull up on your board (without saying anything) if you AREN’T seeing the behavior you want to see. Just seeing the incentive displayed will remind students that you are looking and just like Christmas magic you will see students start to show that behavior you’re looking for! AMAZING! 🙂

Note: This is even more fun if you have a super soft pool toy (the kind that feels like a super light stuffed animal out of the water) or soft ball to let kids *lightly* throw it at your smartboard or Promethean to select their prize. I use to do games like these as a teacher and students LOVED it!

If the above template isn’t your cup of tea, here are some other non-digital ideas that are really easy to implement that I’ve tried in the past that kids have absolutely LOVED:

Die-Cut Holiday Shapes:
Die cut several holiday shapes and write a prize on the back of each one. Prizes could include: $1 of your school cash, ticket, or token system,  $5 of your school cash, Treasure Box, Lunch with a Friend, Write with a Pen, Sit in the Teacher Chair, etc. Tape these up on a cabinet and label them “Holiday Market”. When you spot a student who is exhibiting the behavior you are looking for, tell them to go pick a prize from the holiday market!

Holiday Menu:
You could add an extra PBIS menu or Class Dojo points menu for students to buy new and different prizes in your classroom only until the Christmas break or you could run a sale on your current menu. SALE! SALE! SALE! This week only! Lower the prices on the menu so that the prizes are more achievable and students who are close to earning that prize they’ve been wanting will work a little harder to get those last few points or bucks they need.  Check out this great website for new ideas to add to your menu!  

Wrapped Treasure Box:
Grab some treasure box items you have on hand (or from the dollar store) and wrap them in holiday paper. Display them in your classroom. Give students special “Holiday Tickets” when they are displaying the specific behavior you asked them to work on that day. Choose one per day to unwrap the treasure. Unwrapping stuff is fun! Even it is an eraser or a pencil! This WORKS!

Whole Class Incentives:
There is power in positive peer pressure!  By designing a whole class incentive, students encourage each other to stay on task and make good decisions.  

Team Hallway Display:
Competition can be very motivating!  Create a hallway display where each homeroom in a grade level is in competition to build a snowman. Give students snowballs and let them write their name and staple them up onto the outline of a snowman. Once a class fills their snowman body with snowballs, let them add eyes, buttons, nose, scarf, etc to celebrate!  Maybe a Texas Snowball fight with old scratch paper would be in order when they complete it!

No matter which extra incentive appeals to you, I want to encourage you to choose one and put it into place! It will help you to focus on positive behaviors and it will motivate students to display those behaviors!

PS – If you’re interested in how I set up the Tree Incentive shared above, I simply found a tree I liked online (that had the appropriate usage rights) and placed it into slides. Then, I drew circles on top of each ornament on the tree. Then – this is the crucial part for cuteness – I changed the color of each of those circles I drew to transparent (and the outlines, too). This is how you can see through to the cute shading and detail on the tree. I duplicated that first slide for the number of ornaments on the tree. I then clicked on each individual ornament and linked it to a slide within the deck (click on the circle, click CTRL + K, then select the slide you want to link to). I added the popups for the prizes. DONE! Reach out with any questions or ideas for using this fun linking idea!

5 thoughts on “From Thanksgiving to Christmas: Positive Incentives and Templates that WORK!

  1. Mindy Garcia says:

    Love this! I send out a Teaching Tip Tuesday email to our staff, and this is going out tomorrow! Won’t be the first Meredith Akers post we’ve had! Thanks!!


  2. Nancy says:

    Thank you! This is a great feature! I never knew there’s such feature out there that is so friendly user. Thank you for sharing your google slide, and I am planning to use this slide at our virtual holiday functions with the college students.

    Liked by 1 person

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