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Gold stars


Disciplines > Teaching > Classroom management > Gold stars

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When a student does well at something, 'award' them with a gold star that is stuck to a chart with the student's name on it.

There are many variants on this basic theme. The 'gold star' can be a red dot, a tick on a calendar, a hole punched in a card, a physical token and so on.

Different awards can be given for different types of achievement, for example a red star for academic achievement and a blue star for behavioral excellence.

Awarding the gold star can be reward enough. It may be extended further by adding further rewards, for example:

  • Reading out the names of the students in assembly who have been awarded gold stars.
  • Being allowed pick a sweet at the end of the lesson.
  • The number of gold stars in a term being mentioned in the report home.
  • Five gold stars earns a small gift.

Another technique is whenever a gold star is given to a student, another one is given to the whole class. Then when the class gold star reach a certain level, they all get to do a popular activity.

Another variant of this is the 'marble jar': when the class is doing well, a marble is added to a jar. When the jar is full, then the class gets a reward.

Make sure that you give out gold stars using consistent rules. Do not have favorites. Do not give gold stars out of sympathy or as a bribe. If you abuse the rules then the rules will fall into disrepute and the gold stars will lose their value.

A simple rule for using gold stars is 'catch them being good'. This is especially true of those who are more naughty than good, where the stars (or points) can be particularly powerful with children who are more used to punishment than praise.


Misha, John and Glennie have all got over 90% in the test, so that's a red star for each of you!

Mike's done well and gets a gold star. I'm also giving a blue star for the class as Mike's increased your overall average.


Done well, it is amazing how well this method can work, even with the hardest of students. When they start to think of themselves as being good students, they will likely increase this.

The basic principle comes from conditioning and states that reward increases behavior. The complexity of human motivation means that rewards are far more reliable motivators than punishment, which can lead to retributive action.

Other gold star activities include:

  • If they have been good enough all day, put a smiley face on the calendar, if not, put an X. Five smiley faces in a row earns them a reward.
  • Have a bowl of sweets on your desk and give them out for good work. You need not do this every day, but do not announce when you will.

Curiously, gold stars work better even than more substantial rewards. This is because the consistency principle leads students to change their self-image. If you gave larger rewards, they could explain their 'good' actions as being solely to get the reward. However they have greater difficulty in telling themselves that they have behaved well just to get a sticky paper star. Their only reasonable conclusion is that they actually wanted to behave in the way they did, and that they really are good.

Giving a parallel star to the whole class is a good way of short-circuiting envy of those who get stars. Indeed, they may become more popular, giving even more reason for others to strive for gold stars.

See also

Praise, Conditioning, Intrinsic Motivation

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