Cheap or Free Rewards for the Upper-Level Classroom

I know it’s easy to start phasing out rewards in the upper level classrooms. They’re older. They’re not interested in little games, and they really don’t need rewards to stay focused.

Rewards in my upper level classroom are less about timing and focus, and more about practicing conversation.

It’s important to know that as our students progress, their learning progresses as well. They need to practice authentic conversation. Rewards a great way to integrate personal conversation.

Just like with the younger kids, these rewards don’t have to be complicated or expensive.


This one is popular in all levels. The older kids get through it faster most of the time, so I like to do best out of three. I do these rewards in the same way I do in my lower level classes. When the student does well, or they start to seem bored I give a reward. For this one, just ask them where they want their pieces and then take your turn. It’s easy enough to draw up a game on a whiteboard. If you want something more substantial, check out traveling games.

Board Games

In the vein of games, board games are a great way to liven up your classroom. You can customize them to the levels you teach most often, or make it more of a get to know you game. I have a few printable boards on my rewards Pinterest board.


I went rafting with a bunch of my friends in high school, and our guide gave us riddles to solve between rapids. It was so much fun. The only one I remember was about a gangster with a glass of gin. He made a bet and the answer had something to do with ice melting. I really like math riddles. Remember not to get too complicated with these. Keep your students’ English level in mind. I have a few examples on the rewards board I mentioned earlier. There are also wonderful riddle books for kids on Amazon. BONUS! You can get them on your kindle.

Fake Money

This one is wildly popular. I use this one a lot in my Level 3s. That’s where most of my kids seem to struggle and I need something that interests them but is also quick. I can teach the names of American money, or work on counting/addition vocabulary. The Dollar Tree sells fake money, but if you’re a homebody like me, there’s always Amazon.


I mentioned this in my first prop post. It works well with my little students, but it works well with my older students as well. I especially like it for assessment days when I need something fast. It’s also great with Level 3 students. There are all sorts of ideas on Pinterest. I’ve used animals and super heroes.


Remember that game the substitute teachers used to play at the end of the day? That’s the one! The student guesses a letter, and they either get it right and earn part of the word, or they get it wrong and they earn a body part. If the student gets the whole body before guessing the word, the teacher wins!

I’m weird maybe, and it freaks me out a little to do true hangman with ESL students. Like… why are we killing someone? I just don’t know. If you’re a little weird like me, there are a lot of other ideas! My favorite is one where you grow a flower instead. Same basic idea, but instead of earning body parts for wrong letters, the student earns flower parts. You could combine this idea with the drawing idea above to really add some variety.

Get to Know You Questions

This is an idea I just recently tried. It’s amazing! It’s fast, so it works well for L3/L4, but the older students love the ridiculous options. I found a few great lists online, but this is the one I’ve bookmarked and come back to a few times. It’s on Ministry-to-Children. I leave out the religious questions, but there are so many options. They’re simple and fun.

Rolling Dice for Points

The Dollar Tree sells these foam dice that are the perfect size to store at a desk. I have a regular level 3 student who loves math. It’s been a huge part of building my connection with him. When he starts getting bored with math problems on a whiteboard, we roll dice, mark it on the white board and add them up every time he gets a star. There are many ways you could make this into a more challenging math game for quick upper level students. Did you know that they make white board dice? They’re amazing! I’ve ordered a set of these for my math student. I plan on writing math problems and just rolling the dice as we go. So cool. *BONUS! You could write sight words on them for practice with your younger students. You can also get the regular dice like I use currently.

Guess the Object

This game is almost like “I Spy” but they’re not looking in your classroom for some specific object (although that could be a fun variation). Choose an object – from the lesson or not – and give the student clues about what it could be. For example, if my object is a lion, my clues might include that this thing can probably be seen at a zoo. They live in Africa. They are big cats. They like to hunt at night. The boys have a mane. And so on until the student guesses the animal. I’d imagine that this game is much like the guessing of the word – make sure you have an extra object in case they guess your first one quickly. I love these animal flashcards. I use them all the time, but they’re especially great for this activity.

Would You Rather Questions

This is my absolute favorite right now. My level 5 students get a kick out of the funny options. I found a great list of kid friendly questions on an awesome blog called The Measured Mom. I just keep the page open in my browser and pick one at random. It’s been so much fun hearing some of the reasoning behind my kids’ choices.

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