So this idea is not originally mine. But I tweaked it to suit our classroom’s needs.

I first saw Teacher Tipster’s video a couple years back. He used something called Behavior Dots to teach expected behaviors in the classroom. But as we’ve been stressing Growth Mindset in our room, I decided to rename them Effort Dots as a way to reinforce not only expected behaviors but hard work, organization, and risk-taking in our room and indeed throughout the school. I was leery at first, because I’ve tried reward systems before and had sworn off them, as they had never gelled with my teaching style. This one, though, works for some reason. Maybe because it’s so easy and immediate.

In essence, I have a bag of sticker dots and I give them to students in different situations. They can then spend those dots on things like our Classroom Book Raffle or skipping a problem in homework, as Teacher Tipster demonstrates in his video.


These are what I buy:

I then use a fly stamp — elegance is key — and mark each label. (In this way, you can avoid students’ finding these labels in their homes and using them as counterfeit dots.) Actually, that’s not true — I don’t stamp them. I get a little committee of volunteer students to do it all for me. They go bananas. They stamp them, and then cut them into separate pieces and bag them. Once we start to run out, I get a little committee again and let them go wild. The resulting stickers are not Instagram-worthy, but it gets the job done and they get to learn about the concept of an assembly line. 🙂

Last year, the crime lords struck in the form of an Effort Dot thief. Kids’ dots rapidly went missing. It was a challenging week, as anyone who has experienced classroom drama can understand. The kids, however, came up with the clever idea of initialing their dots in pen as soon as they were awarded so that they couldn’t be stolen and used. (Kind of like spitting on your food, but less gross.) It’s now each child’s job to come up with a way to store their treasure trove safely. (Most keep them in their pencil pouches or their backpacks.) We never knew who our masked rascal was, but I suspect it was the same person who confiscated all our pencil sharpeners. Our job is never dull, is it?

My coteacher and I award the dots in a variety of ways, depending on the needs of our room at the time. Here are a smattering of the uses we’ve tried:

  • Mystery items. At the end of the day, during jobs, we teachers pick 2-3 mystery items that are out of place (things on the floor, disorganized clipboards, scraps of paper, a book left out, etc.) At the end of cleanup, we’ll award a dot to anyone who managed to put the mystery items in their proper places. This really gets the kids moving!
  • Cubby Fairy. We’ll usually give a heads-up on this one. Our Morning Message will hint that the Cubby Fairy might be visiting sometime that day. Then one of us will do a sweep of all the cubbies, usually when they’re off at a special. (All books and notebook spines need to be facing out, no loose papers, organized, etc.) This keeps our room more organized and helps them keep their own items easy-to-find. If a child has trouble with organization, they can ask a friend for help.
  • Listening to directions. When we give the silent signal, I’ll often award dots to the first kids who did what was expected.
  • Specialist raves. Sometimes a specialist will tell me how great the class did or a student did. I’ll wait until we get back, will review why that behavior/effort was so positive, and award the dots to the class/group/individual.
  • Reinforcing a new behavior. We have many blurters in our room. One in particular was blurting more than usual last week. I talked to him in private and told him that I’d be watching for a specific change in his behavior. (I didn’t mention the dots.) He really worked hard at it. Late that day, I called him up, told him about the improvements I had noticed, and asked him if it had been hard to change and how it felt. In explaining what he had done to change, he looked really proud of himself and pleased that the effort had not gone unnoticed. I awarded him 2 dots at the end of the day.
  • Going the extra mile. Sometimes someone goes out of their way to help someone else or to organize something in the classroom. I’ll usually give that effort dot privately. But if the child is looking like they’re doing it because they want me to notice them and give them a dot, I’ll usually just praise them verbally. 🙂 Those rascals.
  • Students who push through academic work even though it’s really challenging and perhaps frustrating to them.
  • Students who volunteer to take a big academic risk in front of the class.

Recently, we changed our math homework policy. I now make a two-sided math sheet focusing on two different skills or  a differentiation of the same skill.  (Worksheet Works is a great free resource as the sheets are easy to format and correct.) Kids only have to do one side, their choice. If they get everything right on that one side AND they’ve shown their work, they get an effort dot. One of the kids pointed out that someone could check their work on a calculator. “That’s a really good idea!” I pointed out. “Of course you can check your work on a calculator. Then if you’ve made a mistake, you can go back over your work, figure out what you did wrong, and correct it.” (If they don’t show their work, they get no Effort Dot credit and they have to do the homework over.) They were pretty thrilled with this revelation about the calculators. They think they’re getting away with something.

NOW, if someone wants, they can do BOTH sides of the math homework. If they’ve shown their work on each side and they get everything correct, they can earn TWO effort dots. Usually one third of the class attempts this.

We don’t do all of these things all of the time. It waxes and wanes. Sometimes days pass and we realize we forgot to award any effort dots. But on the whole, we usually give out a few a day.

Like anything, you can tweak this idea to make it work for your style. Give it a shot and see if it works for your classroom! And feel free to stop by and let us all know how it goes.