4 Steps to Set Up a Classroom Economy Behavior Management System

A classroom economy can be a wonderful behavior management tool. We know relationships are the key to creating a safe and stable learning environment.  However, a classroom economy can be an added layer of support which ties real world experiences into the classroom. It is not only motivating for students to earn and choose rewards. They are learning the basic ins and outs of finances–saving and spending! I am going to highlight some things to think about if you want to set one up in your classroom. I also share what I do and how it works (or hasn’t worked) for me!

When I first started subbing, I had the opportunity to work with two amazing 4th grade teachers at the beginning of the year. I was “extra help” because they went from class sizes of about 22 or 23 to 30 that year. They each had their own classroom economies and their currency was a play on their names. Mrs. Reinhart had “Reinhart hearts” and Mrs. Stettler had “Stettler Stars”. I die cut a bajillion laminated hearts and stars for them to start off the school year. A few years later, Mrs. Stettler bequeathed her stars to me! (She transferred into a reading specialist position). So that’s how Stahl Stars were born!

Whether you use something tangible like paper stars or fake Monopoly money, or something digital like Class Dojo points, choosing your currency is the first step! There are a few things to consider when it comes to classroom currency:

Where will students store their currency? 

I have tried (and seen) few things. Mrs. Stettler had this AWESOME large purple pocket chart that was labeled with each students’ number.  Kinda like this one, except it was purple but I could never find one that was exactly the same. 🙁

My first year, I had my students keep them in their desk in a plastic baggie that had a label with their name on it. Nothing fancy and it worked–for the most part. The problem with the desk is they mess around with them, count them, and lose them often. I would also find them on the floor all the time and it drove me crazy.

This year, I had my students thumb tack their baggie to a strip of cork board that is under my whiteboard/SmartBoard area.  This worked WAY better. Students could only access their bags in the morning and afternoon.  Bags didn’t go missing and stars were all in one spot!

I moved my rules to above the Smartboard and this is where my students thumb tacked their “Stahl Star” baggies.
How and how often will the currency be distributed?
Will you hand it out or will this be a student job? Are you handing out currency hourly, daily or weekly? In 2nd grade, I usually do the handing out for at least the first month of school. It is definitely a big responsibility for the little ones to be handling the currency accurately! I actually pick 2 students to do it since it is such a big job!
I pass out my stars at the end of each day. If students are still there, they put them away right then.  Sometimes, I forget or it is too busy so I don’t get to it until after they are gone or maybe even the next morning.  In that case, students put their stars away as part of their morning routine.
Next, you have to think about how students will earn (and possibly lose) the classroom currency.  I use a clip chart. I know not everyone is a fan but it is what has worked for me and my former classes. I feel that the emphasis on Stahl Stars has helped me use the clip chart is a mostly positive way. Each spot on the clip chart correlates with an amount of stars. Here’s a closer look at the chart:

I put the stars on the clip chart so it is super easy for everyone to remember (including me and especially students who end up with the job of handing out the stars!). If a student end up below Ready to Learn, they do not receive a star for that day.  I, however, do not take away stars. I have thought about it but it just hasn’t happened–not to say I never will.

Another way students earn stars is through their classroom job.  Jobs are worth different amount of stars. I am strict about students doing their job daily in order to earn the stars! I usually start this after the first marking period–not right at the beginning of the school year.

{Writing down the daily lunch choices is a 10 star per week job}

Prep your rewards

What will the rewards be? When will you give them out?

On Friday afternoons, I hold “Stahl Star Store” (try saying THAT 3x fast!). While I call over 2-3 students at a time to shop, the rest of the class is reading with a partner. I lay out all of the reward options which includes about 20 different coupons and a box of candy. My first year, I planned to only do coupons. BUT I realized quickly that some of my students just didn’t have the drive to save up for anything and candy was what motivated them. I figured that if they didn’t see the value in their currency, motivation would be lost so I kept the candy box. I fill it up about once a month with candy from the $ store. A piece of candy is 5 Stahl Stars. All of the other rewards vary in price from 5-50 stars. Lunch with the teacher is the most expensive (because I’m worth it, right?)
If you are interested in these reward coupons, you can find them here.
I am always SO proud when students say they are going to save. <3
This year, my plan is to only introduce about half of the coupons at the beginning.  Then I will add a few here and there throughout the year. I think this will keep things fresh and exciting!  I bought this jewelry holder hanger thingamabob to keep all my reward coupons in. I will hang it in the closet and then it will be super easy to pull out on Fridays! You can find it here on Amazon.

Adjust to student needs

After all your planning and preparation for your new system, you may find out early on that you need to make some changes. Or mid-year, you notice your students just aren’t as motivated as they were. There is no shame in changing things up to fit your students’ needs. Just don’t try to change too much too often or it will get confusing and lose its effectiveness.
One year, after lots of girl drama, I had to ban combining stars to buy rewards. Students were making promises to put their stars together and purchase lunch with the teacher.  Then they would change their mind, feelings would be hurt and Stahl stars would be all mixed up. This year, I didn’t have issues with it so I let it go!
I hope I was able to answer some questions or provide a few ideas to getting started with a classroom economy behavior management system.  If you have any other questions, leave a comment below!
Happy Teaching!
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