A Classroom Economy is a powerful way to help students to focus and become involved in active learning. For more than fifteen years, I have run a classroom economy with great success.
I remember one tough class I had that it really worked for. It was some weeks since I’d implemented the classroom economy system. The Special Ed teacher walked in, and stopped in her tracks. 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! What have you been doing?” she gasped. This had been a particularly difficult group with many learning difficulties and negative social attitudes.
“It’s because of my classroom economy system I started using,” I explained. “We made up some pretend money, a few rules, and a shop. This is the eighth week and the work they’ve completed is amazing.”
All the students loved the idea of our classroom economy shop and getting to spend their hard-earned ‘Cats Dollars’. They worked for their prizes, which they were able to purchase on a Friday if the shop opened. It depended on everyone getting their work done, – peer pressure sure does work.
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.
Are you tired of classroom chaos and want to change your students’ behaviour? That can be difficult, since it’s hard to change others. So, instead I concentrate on what I can change. Me. What I do, I have the power to change.
Although starting a classroom economy may seem like a daunting task, don’t be intimidated, my friend! With a little bit of prep work, you’ll have a finely-tuned system that will make your classroom management game strong.
Trust me, the payoff is totally worth it. Let’s get organised, shall we.
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 my applications list sheet to find another suitable student.
In my classroom economy system I have created 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 my class website 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 applications list sheet helps me to know who to hire on the next rotation of classroom jobs.
A favourite classroom job is teacher assistant. I usually try to make sure there is one student per group who has this job so they can complete their responsibility quickly. 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 ‘Cats Dollars’, sometimes I use my name ‘Skinner Dollars’, I’ve also had ‘Owl Dollars’, and ‘Monkey Dollars’. It can be any name that you and your students find appealing or/and matches your theme.
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 Cats dollars on my desk to reward positive behaviour or kindnesses or critical thinking. It’s quiet, unobtrusive and students love it. TIP – though I have penalty cards, 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.
A cost effective way to get wallets is to have your kiddos make their own wallet out of folded and stapled card or use envelopes. They can decorate them and get real ownership. 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 but 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 (I’ve had two bankers with some of my bigger classes), provides the teacher assistants, with the amount they need to pay their group members for the jobs they have done. Or just use dojo points ( ie one point could equal one cent).
When students shop they can choose to go to the bank and save their Cats 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 an online banking system 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 for younger students.
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 Cats Dollars, the other groups are completing classroom jobs, maths games, reading to self, and any unfinished tasks.
There are also some lollies and purchased prizes from places like Smiggles or vouchers from EB Games. A Smiggle pencil has a higher value than a 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.
I have ten FREE rewards listed on special vouchers, and four bonus cards, these are great rewards because they cost me nothing and save me time going to the shops. Okay one favourite is having lunch with the teacher but that just gives you opportunity to spend time with those students and they feel noticed.
Some students choose to save their Cats Dollars in the bank. When they reach their goal later in the year, 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 or fifty Cats Dollars equals one real dollar. That way, I can be generous with how many Cats Dollars I give out and students get excited by BIG numbers. Their computation skills increase a lot!
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 Cats Dollars.
Now you know there’s always one student who just can’t quite follow the class rules. I had one such student, let’s name in Tim. He loved our classroom economy system, but he couldn’t control his own interruptive behavior. Despite his best efforts to keep his cat dollars safe, he just couldn’t seem to resist the urge to speak out of turn. It was a vicious cycle of remorse and anger. So, what’s the solution here?
I gave him a string of beads, a simple strategy for classroom management. It worked beautifully and linked in with my classroom economy system.
My classroom economy is simple to implement and comes with a simple illustrated student handout so they can run it themselves after you’ve helped them to learn how. It gives students real life practice with money management and reduces behaviour issues.
If you want ‘My Cats Classroom Economy System‘, take a look in the shop.