Like most teachers, I love trying out new ideas and strategies in the classroom. One of the most hindering phrases in education is “we’ve always done it this way.” We can’t grow as educators and improve instruction for our students if we aren’t willing to make changes as we go.
But when it comes to certain practices, I will also say this: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My Class Mall is something I’ve been doing since I first started teaching. I continue to do it over 10 years later because it worked for me then and it still works for me now. It’s gotten some tweaks here and there, but it’s still the same old Class Mall.
While I’d ideally like for all of my students to have intrinsic motivation to follow expectations in the classroom, I have no reservations about rewarding positive behavior. Adults like to be recognized for a job well done from time to time, and I don’t see any harm in doing the same for kids.
Teachers have found and continue to find a million creative ways to reinforce positive behavior. Many use clip charts, tickets, prize boxes, treats, or Class Dojo points, just to name a small few.
Personally, I’m a fan of incentives that are motivating for kids but also don’t require me to keep spending my own money. For example, my table group that earns the most points for good behavior each week doesn’t earn a tangible prize. They instead get to be the “V.I.P.” table for the whole week, which means they earn special privileges. Always getting called first to line up, taking out the playground balls to recess, first choice of what color paper to get during a class activity, etc. Things that matter to them but don’t cost me a cent. Plenty of my hard-earned cash goes toward supplies and other odds and ends for the classroom (it isn’t exactly tough to exceed the $250 tax credit during the course of a school year). So if I can save a few bucks by not having to buy a ton of knick knacks for a treasure box, sign me up!
I did have a treasure box my very first year of teaching. It was more of a box with pull-out drawers filled with goodies (fun pencils, snacks, party favor-type toys, etc.) and I called it my “Class Store.” Kids could buy items with their class money that they earned during the week for positive behavior. In order to promote responsibility, they also had to pay money for various offenses (no name on paper, mistreated or lost school supply, etc.). I still do this in my current classroom economy. The kids keep a Price List with their money so that they can refer to it on their own as needed.
Aside from the way it encourages responsibility, I’ve also always liked the idea of using money as a classroom management system since counting money is a second grade math standard.
My “Class Store” worked out just fine for me as a first year teacher, but I was constantly having to refill that treasure box and find new items to keep the kids interested. I also felt like the novelty started to wear off toward the end of the year. You know, when the kids get that 7-year-old version of high school “senioritis” around mid-May and teachers start counting down the days to summer vacation.
So then I thought of a way for the students to have more buy-in. And to save me from numerous Oriental Trading Company orders and trips to the dollar store. Playing into the economy that I already had going on in my classroom, I thought, what if I had the kids earn money to become business owners of their OWN class stores? And that’s how my Class Store first turned into The Class Mall.
My kids still earn money for demonstrating exceptional behavior. At the end of each month, they have the option to pay “rent” for their own store if they’ve saved up enough money. A note goes home to their parents notifying them that their child has been practicing positive behavior at school and has earned enough money for a store in The Class Mall.
There are multiple options for what the kids can sell at their stores. I tell the parents not to feel pressured to go out and buy little toys, etc. for their child to sell unless they want to. More often than not, kids will bring in their unwanted toys, books, etc. from home to sell. What parent isn’t happy to have a good excuse to get rid of old toys and clear out some extra clutter? I also tell the kids to be creative, and they always rise to the challenge. Here are some examples of the types of stores that kids have come up with for The Class Mall over the years:
-A Petting Zoo (student brought in a bunch of their stuffed animals)
-A Hallmark Card Store (student made their own greeting cards)
-A Photo Booth (student made props and took photos with a Polaroid camera)
-Student brought in their toy guitar and would play a song for you if you paid a dollar
-Student-designed Carnival Booth Games
I explain all of this in person to parents in my PowerPoint presentation at Back to School Night, and I also send home a detailed parent letter.
Parents are always on board, and the kids LOVE being entrepreneurs and coming up with ideas for their stores. Here are a few of my creative kiddos in action:
Another reason I love doing The Class Mall is that it provides some real-life learning opportunities. I see students doing mental math as they have to figure out how to make change during purchases. They have to price their own items and figure out what would be a fair or not fair price (and learn that an unfair price will not earn them many sales). They know not to spend all of their money at the first store they see, but to “window shop” first. The kids also learn not to push and crowd around at a popular store, but rather wait their turn nicely in line, “because that’s what grown-ups do at a real mall.”
You can use traditional-looking bills as currency, or if you want to try something your kids will get a kick out of, you can also have your own personalized class cash. That’s what we all went into teaching for, right? The fame and the fortune.
One big concern before the first Class Mall of the year is always, “But what if I have a store and I also want to shop?” The kids have two choices:
- They can make a “Closed” sign to display at their store. The kids know they are not allowed to shop at a closed store while the owner is taking a break to shop around.
- A seller can hire an employee to run their store for them while they are shopping. They must show or tell their employee the prices of their items, and also work out a verbal agreement for a “salary” to pay their employee for running their store while they shop.
All money is kept in our Cash Box, and one of our Class Jobs is “banker.” The banker helps with all money related tasks, such as assisting with handing out money and helping other students exchange their money for larger bills at the end of the week (for example, they can trade ten $1 bills for a $10 bill from the cash box). I don’t know if they even realize they’re doing math!
The Class Mall is held once a month and takes only about 20 minutes of the day. Not a bad time investment for a whole month’s worth of motivation for positive behavior. Even as I’ve added to, taken away from, and made changes to my classroom management, The Class Mall is one staple that I have continued to utilize year after year.
If you’d like to implement this classroom economy with your students, you can get more detailed guidelines in my Class Mall resource, which is in my shop and also on Teachers Pay Teachers. It includes the price lists and parent letters (all editable!), and ready-to-print money bills (as well as an option for the personalized ones you can customize with your face)!
What incentives for positive behavior do you use in your classroom? What’s something that has continued to work for you over the years? I’d love to hear about it!