A familiar brunette head popped out from the door. Victoria, the Special Ed teacher, passed by for a quick hello and some small chatting before she had to hurry along. As the other woman walked in, she stopped in her tracks, marvelling at the classroom. Her eyes widened as she gaped at the scene that played out before her – each student at their desks, completing the tasks at hand. There were no arguments, groaning, or yelling from the students. It was a sight to behold.
“Wow, the second bell has only just rung, and they’re already back in class and working! That’s amazing!” Victoria gasped.
“It’s because of the new classroom economy system I’m using,” I explained. “We made up some pretend money, a few rules, and a shop. This is the eighth week and the work they’re completing is amazing.”
That was the truth to the success I had seen in the students; it was simple yet effective. All the students loved the idea of our shop and getting to spend their hard-earned class money. They worked for their prizes, which they were able to purchase at the end of the week. Since the implementation of the classroom economy, many changes in their attitudes and behaviours had occurred. It made for happy students and a happy teacher.
“Well, they love what you’re doing. Keep it up!” Victoria said. That had meant a lot to me. After all, this particular class was known to be troublesome and for how easily they got off-task. Admittedly, at the beginning of the year, they were distracted and rowdy, but that quickly changed with the introduction of the pretend money. Now, they were all self-motivated and working on different tasks without much push or fight from me.
Classroom Economy is a powerful way to help students to focus and become involved in active learning. For more than ten years, I have run a classroom economy with great success. Let me introduce you to its wonders.
The Special Ed teacher walked in and stopped in her tracks. Wow, the second bell has only just rung, and they’re all working! That’s amazing! They love what you’re doing. Everyone was on task. All self-motivated and on different tasks. How does this work? Here are a few tips for developing a classroom economy system that will help you do just that.
Starting a Classroom Economy can seem like a lot of hard work, but the reward in classroom management is well worth it. A little planning will have your program up and running in no time!
List the jobs you know need to be done in your classroom economy and decide how much each task is worth. I tried making sure the less popular jobs were worth more but in the end, I just made all the jobs the same value. Our payday is on Fridays, an excellent way of motivating students at the end of the week. Payday is also my shop day but more on that later.
Students have to fill in a simple application form explaining why they fit the job. If students want the same position, I choose the one I think is best suited and place the other names on my waiting list for that job. Next month or next term when I rotate the jobs, I only have to look at the list to find another suitable student.
I create job cards that briefly explain what is required. Younger classes could have a photograph of what to do, added to the job cards. I keep the classroom economy cards on Google Drive so students can find them quickly, wherever they are. I keep a file of student applications and a quick reference list of qualified candidates for each long-term job. The reference list helps me to know who to hire on the next rotation of classroom jobs.
A favourite classroom job is teacher assistant. I usually make sure there is one student per group who have this job so they can complete their responsibility quickly. Their daily duty is to check that each student has done their job correctly. Teacher assistants also do the job of any absent students.
I suggest you limit your class money to just a few denominations. Students love it if you create a name for your class money. We call ours ‘Monkey Dollars’, sometimes I use my name ‘Skinner dollars’. It can be any name that you and your students find appealing.
I usually print about 100 of each denomination and double it for the small denominations. Students love the feel of it. If you want to keep it for years then laminate them and if you have older students get them to cut them out. It gets them super excited about the classroom economy.
I always keep a stash of class money on my desk to reward positive behaviour or kindnesses or critical thinking. It’s quiet, unobtrusive and students love it. TIP – I try not to take away class money as a punishment. It is better to look for positive behaviours and reward those. I’ve used my classroom economy system in all Primary year levels and different schools with success.
Now its no fun if you don’t have something to hold your class money. I tried using envelopes at first, but they didn’t have the wow factor! So, I hunted around for real wallets that would be of interest to my students. I walked into Smiggle to buy a few class rewards – Australian primary students, especially girls, LOVE Smiggle. Though I found my boys love it too if the colours are black, green or blue. Green is their absolute favourite. Whereas the girls loved the pink, red and purple colours. Anyway, I found these gorgeous wallets and bought a class set. Our classroom economy took off! Some save their class money to buy their own wallets to keep. Unfortunately, the Smiggle wallets have gone up in price. Even so, they’ve become trendy. Please note I do not get any commission from Smiggles. My students just love their stuff.
I know most teachers don’t like to overspend on their class or can’t so use envelopes but plastic envelopes from Office works are much better if you can stretch to them. Pencil cases are another alternative. You can collect the wallets or whatever you are using and keep them in the bottom of your filing cabinet at the end of each day or just let the kids keep them in their desks, which is what I do. They will even fit in a binder as they are flat.
I keep the class bank in a small lockable metal index card box. You can use any container you wish. The beauty of the lockable box is that the banker can keep hold of the bank. When it comes to paying the students, I give the key to the banker whose self-esteem rises quadruply as he or she opens the box in their care. The banker provides the teacher assistants, with the amount they need to pay their group members for the jobs they have done. When students shop they can choose to go to the bank and save their monkey dollars instead. The banker uses the classroom economy bank sheets to record their savings. I make sure to rotate the Banker position each month or term.
If you want to go further and teach banking electronically, I have used https://www.smartpiggybank.com/ where you can set up all of your class bank accounts in less than an hour. It was set up for parents to teach kids about money, but I’ve used it in my classroom too. It looks like a real online bank and older students do like it.
The electronic banking system seems to works best if every student has access in class to a device. Having used both, I find the manual method works best for all students of all levels, especially students who have learning difficulties. Electronic banking is too abstract.
The Class Shop is an essential part of my classroom economy – in the eyes of my students at least. To participate in the fun students must complete all the week’s work before the last lesson on Friday. It’s amazing how quickly students can get their work done. We work in groups so while one group is shopping with their monkey dollars, the other groups are completing classroom jobs, maths games, reading to self, and any unfinished tasks.
I purchase my prizes from places like Smiggles or vouchers from EB Games rather than lots of cheap stuff that students don’t want. A Smiggle pencil has a higher value than a mere simple lead pencil, but it still doesn’t cost the earth. Of course, I add chocolate bars and a few other favourite lollies to the shop. Students are limited to one purchase per week of these items from the shop.
We also have special vouchers, giving students 30 mins computer time, working at an exclusive corner for 30 mins with soft beanbags, or lunch with the teacher.
Some students choose to save their monkey dollars in the bank. When they reach their goal, they request an item they can afford which I purchase. Every student has a choice and freedom to work as hard as they wish. In our classroom economy, twenty monkey dollars equals one real dollar. That way, I can be generous with how many monkey dollars I give out.
Once a term, we have a class auction. Students work in pairs or groups to create items for the sale, stationery and business cards. The highest bidder gets the item and pays with monkey dollars.
A classroom economy is simple to implement. It gives students practice with money management and reduces behaviour issues.