Black dot in the white square – a simple reward strategy – Leyla Pattison


During his keynote speech at the NSTA INSET day Andy Buck gave people who participated a number. At the end a randomly selected number won a prize. Why? What was the purpose? This provided an unexpected starting point for my five minute teach meet discussion on simple reward strategies.

In our discussion there were lots of ideas on the purpose of this: it turns contributions into a competition, gave us an incentive to engage, provided a mini thumbs up no matter whether your contribution was correct or not, and you got more “tickets” if you worked extra hard. As a collective of teachers we know how to behave during a talk but giving us a carrot made us all sit up a little straighter.

The starting point for my use of raffle tickets came about in a slightly different way. While supervising year 10 students during a PSHE day, it came down to me to sanction 4 students who we unable to display the self-control the session was trying to encourage I know that, as teachers, we should not take behaviour to hearty but I genuinely felt embarrassed, cross and upset that these students could be so rude. Later in the session, I had a moment. I looked around the gym and saw 96 other students. These 96 were behaving brilliantly. They were engaged, listening and taking part in a way that made me feel proud. It made me realise that I had been focusing on sanctioning the 4 students who were unable to behave themselves at the expense of rewarding the 96 who were. I happened to speak to Chris Hildrew about the incident and he told me to focus on the white square, not the black dot. Intrigued, I went away and read about the work of Bill Rogers.

A colleague in science had been using raffle tickets to reward good behaviour in his period 5 lessons. I decided to give this a go.

I carefully explained the rules to my groups:

  • They receive 1 raffle ticket for exceeding my expectations in lessons. I decide the criteria for this. It could be for getting equipment ready and being one of the first to settle. It could be for answering a question or for completing challenge work.
  • The students write their name on the back of their ticket and the number in the back of their exercise book.
  • At the end of the lesson, the tickets go in the class jar.
  • At a time that suits me (could be at the end of a lesson, week or term) I draw 5 names from the jar and those students win a prize. This could be sweets, science-themed stationery or freebies that I have picked up at conferences.

I explained to the students that there will only ever be 5 prizes and they can only win once, but the more times their names are in the jar, the more likely they are to win.

The results were transformative. Students are quick to settle (only the first few get a raffle ticket) and engage with the lesson. Their contributions are immediately valued and good work gets either a public or private thumbs up. I never take raffle tickets away. Just as good behaviour doesn’t erase poor the same works vice versa. They see the fairness in the system and they want to win the prize.

I gave out 1000 raffles tickets in the first term of using this. That’s 1000 good things happening in my lessons. I still use the rewards and sanctions system but this is a very visual representation to me and my classes. The white square is always bigger than the black dot, you just have to make sure you can see it.


Further reading on this:

Bill Rogers – Classroom Behaviour

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