What Are Incentives?

ExchangeWhen parents or teachers want you to behave in a certain way, they sometimes offer incentives to encourage you or influence you to make a choice. Offering incentives is one way to get people to do what you want. When a teacher offers stickers to students who finish their work on time, this is an incentive. When a parent offers ice cream to their children to finish their vegetables, this is an incentive. Incentives often work to influence people's behavior. However, not all incentives work for all people. Let's learn more about the incentives offered to you. Which incentives influence you? Which do not?


You will identify incentives used at home and school. You will identify which incentives are positive and which are negative. You will discuss which incentives work to influence their behavior and choices and which incentives do not work.


Activity 1: Incentives at Home & School

Let's look at some common incentives found at home and in school. After you read the list below, brainstorm with your partner to come up with two more incentives at home and two more at school. Think about the incentives that your parents and teachers offer.

Incentives At Home

  • Getting an allowance for doing chores.
  • Time out for being rude to parents.
  • Grounded for fighting with sister.
  • Extra $ for raking leaves.
  • Lose TV time if room is not clean.
  • Hugs for being helpful.
  • Can you think of two more incentives at home?

Incentives At SchoolReward

  • Stickers for turning in homework on time.
  • Note home to parents for misbehaving in the lunchroom.
  • Good grades for studying.
  • No recess if class work is not finished.
  • If you lose a library book, you can't check out new ones.
  • Field trips for classes that behave well.
  • Can you think of two more incentives at school?

Activity 2: Rewards & Penalties

Look above to the list of incentives at home and in school.

Positive incentives make kids better off if they choose the correct behavior. These are called rewards. Can you find the rewards above?

Principal OfficeNegative incentives punish kids and leave them worse off if they do not choose the correct behavior. These are called penalties. Can you find the penalties above?

Read the stories below and discuss the questions with your partner.

Mr. Lopez told Brandon he had to clean his room to earn his allowance. Mr. Smith told Jacob to clean his room or he won't be able play outside. Both parents want their children to choose to clean their rooms. They offered incentives to help influence their kids.

  • Who offered a reward?
  • Who offered a penalty?
  • Which incentive might work better?
  • Which incentive would influence you and get you to clean your room?
  • What about your partner?

Mrs. Chun told the students that if they turned in their homework on time, they would each receive a new pencil. Mrs. Jones told her students that if their homework was not turned in, they could not go out to recess. Both teachers want the students to turn in homework. They are using different incentives to encourage their students to choose to do their homework.

  • Who used a reward?
  • Who used a penalty?
  • Which incentive would influence you and get you to turn in your homework?
  • What about your partner?

Activity 3: Incentives: How Do They Influence You?

Rubber DuckThere are many incentives offered to you at home and school. You decide if the incentives will affect your behavior. Sometimes you will want to earn a positive incentive like extra recess, money, or stickers, and you will behave in a certain way to receive the incentive.

However, some incentive that does not interest you enough to make you try to earn it. Not all incentives work for all people. Let's review what you have learned about incentives and find out which incentives influence you. Click here to complete and activity called "Incentives & You Activity."

Read the questions below and think about which incentives influence you. Record your responses on your printed activity sheet.

  • Was there ever a reward that you wanted so much, you had to earn it?
  • Was there ever a reward that just did not interest you, so you decided against earning it?
  • Was there ever a penalty so awful that you had to behave so you would not get it?
  • Was there ever a penalty that just did not bother you, so you did not care if you earned it?


Now you recognize that incentives are used to influence your behavior and choices at home and at school. Think about incentives you have been offered and the choices you have made.

  • Do rewards work best with you?
  • Do you like to earn special time, activities, or goodies?
  • Or, do you respond better to avoid penalties?
  • What types of incentives do you think work best for you?
  • Are there any incentives out in the community (ie. Businesses, civic groups, media, sports teams, etc.) aimed at children?
  • Can you think of incentives in your parents lives?


Refer to Inventive Incentive and Economic Incentives in Our Community for further lessons on incentives.