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The Marble Jar Reward System as an Extrinsic Positive Behavior Reinforcer

by Model Teaching | May 23, 2022.

Classroom management involves strong routines and procedures, setting clear expectations within the classroom, assigning appropriate behavior-aligned consequences, and methods for motivating students to meet expectations. When the teacher rewards behaviors, that is extrinsic motivation. A student who experiences extrinsic motivation will follow instructions, complete a task, or meet other requirements to receive a specific reward. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation occurs when a student has an internal desire to complete a task to receive some internal reward- like satisfaction, pleasure, or happiness. Teachers must juggle a tricky balance of providing some extrinsic motivators to teach students basic and simple behavioral expectations or tasks but must also create a learning environment that heavily favors intrinsic motivation to develop children into individuals that will work hard and persevere based solely on internal rewards.

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The Marble Jar Reward System

This article will demonstrate the Marble Jar Reward system as a method of extrinsic motivation in your primary to elementary students. While you can use this reward system for every age group, by middle to high school, students should be more intrinsically motivated and may deem behavior reinforcers such as a reward system too juvenile.

The Marble Jar Reward System is a common classroom management tool to help reinforce desired behaviors. This positive reinforcement strategy is typically utilized as a whole class reward system but can also be modified for individual students. The most common use of the Marble Jar System is for the teacher to set up a glass jar in an easily viewable location, like the top of a shelf or her desk. Choose a jar size that is not too large; or, if you choose a large jar, add a tired system by drawing lines at various points along the jar to create levels that students can achieve as they work to fill up the jar.

How to Use the Jar

Marble Jar SampleExplain to your students that they will earn a marble each time they display a desired behavior. Describe a specific reward they receive when the entire jar is filled with marbles or when they reach one of the levels drawn on the jar. When a marble is added to the jar, be explicit with your students: explain why the class earned the marble, why it is important, and praise the behavior you witnessed. Individual students can earn a marble and add it to the class jar, or the entire class can earn marbles added to the class jar. Children especially enjoy hearing the “clink” of the marble into the jar as the teacher rewards them for a positive behavior, and this can be another positive reinforcer of their behaviors. If you do not have marbles, you can use stones, coins, beans, or anything else that can fill a jar and make a nice sound as you drop them in.

Positive Behaviors

When implementing the Marble Jar Rewards System into the classroom, you must pre-plan what behaviors you are looking for, communicate this to students, and continually remind them of the behaviors they must exhibit.
You will need to determine what behaviors you will be looking for and how students can earn marbles. You might reinforce your behavior management plan in your classroom, telling students that they can earn a marble each time you see one or more students exhibiting appropriate behavior. These behaviors can consist of actions like raising their hand before speaking, taking out their homework upon entering the classroom, or keeping their eyes forward during direct instruction. You can also select behaviors you’d like to reinforce as part of your social-emotional implementation strategies. These behaviors can consist of actions like reinforcing kindness, helpfulness, or respect. Whichever behaviors you choose to focus on, work with students to ensure they understand what they should be doing and how their behaviors will lead to a marble in the jar.

Praising your Students

As one student meets an expectation, you might drop a marble into the jar. As you witness 2-3 students display a positive behavior, you might draw a marble into the jar for each student. Any time that you add a marble to the jar, be sure to praise the individual students or the class as a whole for the behavior, explain why it is important and good they are exhibiting the behavior, and remind them why they earned marbles. Focus your feedback and effort on highlighting and identifying why the behavior they are exhibiting is good. This will help to slowly form students into intrinsically motivated individuals, where they also receive their own rewards by feeling good about their decisions.

Did a student or the class do something really awesome? Perhaps they went above and beyond expectations or did something thoughtful and kind without prompting. Consider making a huge statement by taking a large number of marbles and filling the jar up, making a big deal about how proud and impressed you are that your students have gone above and beyond. This gesture of gratitude and love toward your students will fill them with pride, help build intrinsic motivation, and keep them more engaged in the future.

Rewarding your Students

Once students have filled the jar to the desired level, it is now time for the grand prize! You should reward your students with something that they feel is worth working towards.

Jar with levelsFor example, you might reward students for each level they achieve as they fill up the jar, which can be important to keep your students motivated and ensure they stay interested in participating in this reward system. This reward will be a smaller reward, like a free homework pass, a bookmark, or five extra minutes of recess.

Build rewards for each level on your jar so they can celebrate small successes on the way to their grand prize.

When students fill the entire jar, design a grand reward! This might be a pizza party, a popcorn and movie day, or even a free grade they can apply to their class. You can even consult with your students and have them design their own rewards!

Extensions and Modifications of the Marble Jar Reward System

How might you begin to foster some intrinsic motivation within students through this system? You can consider asking students to praise one other- and have students identify a good behavior that a peer exhibits. This action can help reinforce kindness, respect, and positive interactions within peer groups in your classroom and can be a great way to keep the whole class accountable to each other. Allowing students to call out a peer for something great and then add a marble to the jar could be a great approach to improving behaviors across the classroom.

Combining your Marble Jar Reward System with a Behavior Tracker to Take Home

The Marble Jar Reward system isn’t a unique method to reward students. It’s similar to sticker charts, checklists, or behavior trackers. The benefit comes from the visual and the sound of the Marble Jar Reward System being utilized in the classroom. But how might you easily communicate the positive behaviors you see daily to your students? Consider pairing your marble jar system with a behavior tracker that comes home each night. Or, to keep it more fun, provide each student with a paper jar and marbles, where you can reward them with stickers to add to their paper jar for each contribution. When their jar is filled, that individual student can also gain a reward! You can download a paper jar reward tracker in the resource section below for use in your classroom.

A take-home reward tracker can be a great way to engage your student’s families in a positive behavior approach. In addition, showcasing only the great things a child is doing can help to help foster more intrinsic motivation as the student can feel pride in doing a great job and being recognized for it.

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My Marble Jar Template

Give this tool to your students. For each positive behavior you assign that they show in class that contributes to a marble in the class jar, your student earns a sticker! Once they fill up the entire jar, they win a prize.

  • TRY THIS

Identify a handful of desired behaviors you wish to see in your classroom- either aligned with your classroom rules and expectations or focused more on individual positive character traits.

Explain to students your expectations, demonstrate how the marble jar system will work, and then work with your class to choose one or more rewards. Pair your in-class reward system with a take-home version to help incentivize individual students even more, and allow them to showcase their positive behaviors with pride to their family members.

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