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  • Writer's pictureGaila Cohen Morrison

Dear Gaila - To Reward and How to Reward - Those are the Questions (Part III)

In this series I've discussed the reasons for rewarding students and last week I explained about the worth of the rewards. This week I'll share with you the secrets of the A.H.A.V.A. dollar!

Once stickers and teabags no longer interest my students (they reach that stage at some point), I institute my own personal fake currency. The biggest perk is not having my own face printed on dollars (how many people do you know that have their face printed on a dollar bill?), but that this is an adaptable system that really works.

My secret weapon to motivate my students

Dollars can be given in different increments. A dollar for a sentence or a dollar for a composition. Moreover, I can give a dollar for homework done, two dollars for completed homework and three for 100% correct homework. My students are thus encouraged to work as hard as possible.

Subsequently, my students redeem these dollars with prizes. While just giving out prizes can also motivate them, here different prizes have different prices. This way, even those who earned only a few dollars can gain prizes. There are always students who prefer to save up for a worthier prize. This has a side benefit of teaching them delayed gratification - a sadly lacking quality today.

A.H.A.V.A. students redeem prizes with their dollars

Beyond this, because the prizes are whatever I acquire (I never buy any prizes), I often become heavy on girly or adult appropriate prizes. Thus, I often have children who choose to buy something for someone else - a mother or a sister - rather then for themselves. Several times, mothers have called me up very touched to have received a present for their birthday or just because they are loved (albeit that there was nothing else available). However, quite a few times students have searched for an appropriate birthday present for a family member - not a piece of candy to eat, but rather something with value and worth that that family would want.

A.H.A.V.A. dollars allow my students to benefit from gaining independence and understanding of the monetary system. Similarly, a strong sense of ownership and having chosen there own prize gives it more value than a prize chosen by others for them.

For high school students, who are no longer interested in prizes, I instituted a better redemption system. They could buy letters to parents saying that they behaved nicely, brought their materials or worked nicely. Additionally they could save up for a combo later of all three. Furthermore, if they wanted it signed by the principal, they had to add an extra $3. Interestingly, they almost always wanted the combo + principal signature!

Students are motivated to work

I used this system on an unteachable 7th grade class which all the other teachers had given up on. They became very willing to work and willing to save up for the prized combo letter signed by their principal.

Yes, children do say "Is this worth a dollar?", or "Do I get a dollar if I do it?". This might be annoying but be firm on what gets rewarded. We do want to reward them for their classroom behavior! Much chaos subsides due to students understanding what is the correct behavior. I see vast improvements in their behavior when I pull out the fake currency.

I'll finish off with the ultimate story: One day, I had an older sibling ask if he could buy a teabag for his younger sister with his dollar. He wanted to buy her a birthday present and he knew she valued the teabags!


Gaila has almost 40 year of experience teaching and runs A.H.A.V.A., a non-profit to promote English literacy. Would you like to ask Gaila a question? Email us at or send us a message. Look out for more Dear Gaila columns

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