The Best Student Incentive Program Ever!

Have you ever encountered a group of students that just don’t seem very motivated? Maybe they just need a little extra incentive to be awesome? I think I’ve found the answer!

For the past two years we’ve used an incentive program that our kids absolutely love. They get so excited that they are eager to answer questions, participate in class activities, pick up after themselves, and be just all-around awesome kids. Sounds too good to be true…but it is. Want to know what we’re doing?


I have to take just a minute to give credit where credit is due. We stole this idea from Sydney Cooper, a totally awesome and creative band teacher in our region! She gave us this idea a few years ago, and we’ve made it our own, so I’m not exactly sure if we’re still doing the same thing, but I wanted to give credit where it’s due. Thanks, Sydney! Now on to the awesomeness (apparently that’s the word of the day today…).

Based on Sydney’s idea, we created a house system similar to the houses found in the Harry Potter series, but instead of creating Gryffindor and Slytherin, we created Bach House, Mozart House, and Beethoven House.

All of our students are divided into these groups at the beginning of the year.  We split each class period evenly between the houses which makes separating the classes for group activities a breeze. All students in our Junior High, 6th – 8th graders, work together to earn points for their houses. This has really built a sense of unity and teamwork throughout the entire program.

We award points based on correct answers to questions in class (all of them at first, then maybe only 3 or 4 times throughout the class period when someone answers a difficult question), or if someone follows directions the first time when nobody else does. We also award points for taking initiative, such as when students go above and beyond what we ask of them.

We are not afraid to give more points for an awesome answer. We usually do something like 25 or 50 points per correct response. But if it’s a very detailed higher level answer, I might give 200 points.

Points can also be taken away.  The students know that if they don’t act as they are supposed to, we will deduct points.  As you can see on our leaderboard, there are more than a few points subtracted (all of the deductions seen below were for misbehavior).

IMG_4481As the year progresses, the kids get really excited by the incentive of more points per answer. I gave one house 1000 points today because only one student in the trombone section was ready to play when I raised my hands. You better believe the next time my hands went up every single horn in the room did as well!

Houses are rewarded a few times throughout the year at random. We don’t tell the students what the activity/reward is, and we don’t tell them when we’re planning to give a reward. But on whatever day we decide, we give a reward to the house with the most points. This gives all houses incentive to be in the lead every day because they never know when the reward is coming. When we give a reward, we reset all points to zero so it’s a clean slate again, leaving equal opportunity for any house to earn the next reward.

Some of our rewards have included:

  • a free day playing outside during our class while the rest of the group continues normal class activities,
  • candy giveaway (after school of course), 
  • getting to be teachers for the day.  They can pick whatever line in the book they want to conduct, select tempos, etc.
  • anything a student might think of as fun.

This program has taught our students that hard work, good behavior, and responsibility will be rewarded while anything else will not be tolerated. The students have begun to appropriately police their own behavior as students remind each other to pick up after themselves and not play at inappropriate times.

Some tips for making it work for your music program –

  1. Be spontaneous in assigning points. If the students come to expect rewards every time they do something right it develops an entitlement mentality.
  2. Don’t be predictable in giving rewards. Make it something different every time so students who aren’t motivated by a previous reward won’t give up on the whole program.
  3. Amend as needed.  We started out giving rewards every Friday, but the students acted terribly during the first part of the week, then cleaned up their act at the last minute. This is why we went to random intervals, but do whatever works for you.
  4. Keep points posted in a public place.  Students love contests, and they love the visual reminder on the board at the front of the room. They are constantly talking about how to earn more points and why points were lost.

If your program needs a little incentive program to take things to the next level, try the “House Program.” It’s worked wonders for our students and I have no doubt it can do the same for you.


33 thoughts on “The Best Student Incentive Program Ever!

    • You might consider breaking them into even more, smaller groups. Maybe you separate them into three houses per grade level. While you wouldn’t get the benefit of the grade levels working together, you would have the incentive to motivate your students, and the smaller groups might be more manageable. Hope that helps!

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! We love it and I am totally tweaking mine again to use some of your ideas! I really like the house points starting over at zero and giving a reward at random times.

  2. Hello folks.
    Yes this is great. I have a group of students from 7th grade that has been unmotivated so I have implemented an activity with the different secctions clarinets ,flutes,saxophones, Trumpets,trombones and percussion. points are acumulated and again can be taken away or not get any . Bringing all materials been prepared, practice and peforming in cass turnning in all projects on time and participation are the requirements. again a day to go out and play, candy, some certificates and the big pizza party for the best group. the students are responding much better now and we are making great progress with the group… Positive Insentive! well it’s working at the moment..
    Glenn Tomassi
    MYP/DP Music
    Colegio Internacional de Caracas

  3. When you divide them into houses, do you do that by last names? by instruments? (All the trumpets are in the Bach House) Great idea, thanks!

    • We try to keep it pretty balanced throughout the sections. This insures that each section is represented in each house. We sometimes have playing contests between the houses to see who is more prepared with their music. If you have a particularly strong or weak section in your group it doesn’t drastically change the odds for one of the houses.

  4. This is such a great idea! I’m already trying to talk my head band director into doing something like this next year. Thanks for the suggestion! I am super excited!

  5. Mr Stidham i love your blog and ur ideas. No matter what course we teach we all encounter apathy so your ideas are so helpful – Thank you

  6. I teach middle school choir and use a similar system in teams. The team with the most points each day gets to put their folders up first, and the team with the most points at the end of the week may or may not get a reward. Some weeks I set a total points goal, and if the teams together earn the total, the whole class gets a reward on Friday.

  7. I teach middle school band and orchestra (6, 7 & 8th band and orchestra.. each grade is a different class)… I love this idea and would love to utilize it.. But I’m wondering if it would be better to separate each class or grade or just have random pick… I know it would be a lot easier for me to keep track if each class or grade had their own “house” But I think it would bring more camaraderie throughout the whole program if I separate each class/grade.. I’m just looking for some ideas.

    • I would try to spread the houses across grades and classes. This keeps competition within each period (members of each house in each period.) We use three houses total for three grade levels in multiple classes. So you have 6th graders in the same house with 8th graders. This helps the younger members form relationships with the older members. But try whatever you’d like. We’ve just found what works best for us.

  8. I love this idea. I teach a 5th grade choir (split into 5 different class sections) and a 6th grade choir (split into 4 different class sections). I’m curious, do you only place members of the same ensemble in houses together? My fifth and sixth graders never sing together, so forming relationships between the two grade levels isn’t as much of a focus for our students. Does anyone try running two or more separate competitions for their different ensembles?

    • There’s really no wrong way to implement this program!

      In my previous school it was very important for the different grade levels of students to build relationships. I felt it kept a good continuity through the program, plus it was a little built-in recruitment for the younger kids by the older kids.

      Our students lacked that inherent motivation to want to do better and succeed. Because of this, we had an equal number of students from each house in each class. That way we could spit the class up and have them compete against each other for points. This really increased class participation as a whole, and got every student more engaged knowing that they needed to answer the question first or else another house would get the points.

      Our kids would not have been motivated by competing against another ensemble that meets at a different time of day. But knowing that kids in other classes and grades were depending on their hard work to gain points for the entire house did motivate them.

      If you have any other questions I’m glad to help!

  9. How do you remember/keep track of which kids are in which house when you’re giving out points? If you want to give points to John, do you ask him which house he is?

    • Thanks for the question Alyssa! If you look in the picture I used for the blog post you’ll see pictures of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Directly below each picture is a student roster of who is in each house.

      During day to day activities, I simply ask them what house they’re in. You’ll be surprised at how the students police themselves in this. If they want points, obviously they’ll give you the correct answer as to what house they’re in. If you are deducting points and lie to you, the other students will catch them. My policy on that has been if you lie to me I’ll double the amount of points I’m taking away. Really never had any problem with it.

      Hope that helps!

  10. I have been doing something similar in my elementary chorus program for about 8 years now. Each ‘house’ is named for their classroom teacher – and all classes come together for chorus (and they all sit in class groups – so I know who is who). Points for posture, readiness, focus, knowing their part, helping one another, behavior, singing with dynamics, following the conductor, listening to one another, passing out and collecting music efficiently etc… It has been a fabulous method to gain control of those very large rehearsals. At the end of the year all points were tallied and the class with the most – their teacher earned a laminated certificate for the room, each student received a certificate (these were given out during a whole school assembly) and each student in that class – got to pick something from the treasure trove (Dollar Store Items I collect thru the year). I love the twist on it you have posted. Using composer names and having students in each teachers classroom belong to a separate house – I may have to tweak my method a bit!!

  11. Thanks for this great idea and sharing! I am going to implementing this next week. I announced it last Friday and literally heard a gasp of excitement throughout the room!

    One question that I have thought of is… Do students stay in the same house from year to year, or are the houses changed up from year to year?

    • Thanks Jason for the comment!

      We did not leave the same students in the same house every year. We shuffled them up to keep the houses as equal as possible when it came to musical ability, etc. This kept the competition even throughout the year. If one group ended up having the more talented players, and stayed that way for several years I could see some problems developing.

      Basic answer: We intentionally chose which students would go in each house each year, and rarely were the same kids in the same house.

  12. This is a great idea and I plan to implement it soon. A lot of students come in and out of my classroom. How do you prevent students from “tampering” with the scores?

    • I typically use my phone to take a picture of the score each day just to make sure it didn’t change. I also threatened them that they would lose all of their points if I caught them changing the numbers.

  13. I would love to try this in my classroom! I teach multiple subjects (choir, orch., genereL music, and advisory) and my least motivated tend to be my general music and advisory. Do you think it would work to include them? I am thinking at the very least their friends in choir and orchestra would encourage them to do good things, or Vince versa if it ever became an issue…thoughts?

    • I think I might do a separate contest in the non performance classes (general music & advisory). But you could always try including them for a semester. You never know, it may work out to helping them feel more like a member of the overall music team!

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