Punchcards For Motivation


I always have a yearly theme in my studio. Over the years, it’s been space, dogs, detectives, and all sorts of things, but this year, it’s emojis! I was inspired by a sticker collection. My students consistently asked for one of the emoji stickers when they earned stickers in their books. Everybody loves emojis – well, everybody except my high-school-aged daughter who rolled her eyes. “They’re not for you,” I told her, “and I like them!”

Last year was the dog year, and I tried a new thing. We used pawprint punchcards. Each time students finished a piece, they got to punch out a pawprint on their card. A completed card earned a prize. I liked it because the punch itself was a reward for effort. I also found it to be a great tool to get them to work harder. Sometimes, the dialogue went like this:

Me:  I don’t think that piece is QUITE ready for a punch. It still has some weak places, but you’ve worked very hard on it for these last 3 weeks, and I don’t want you to get too bored. (Teachers, you’re reading between the lines here, right? Smile.) I’ll let this choice be yours. Would you like to give it a good effort for one more week for a punch, or move on to something else? We’ll only spend one more week on this one.

Student: I want to get the punch! 

Friends, only rarely did a student opt to give up on a piece. Winning! 

The youngest students working on short pieces go through cards much more quickly than older students, but that’s okay with me. It’s the youngest ones who get the most excited about it anyway. The students aren’t comparing themselves to anyone else. They’re just working on their own progress. I like this punchcard system so much, I think I’m going to stick with it from year to year. It’s simple, theme-able, private to each individual, and fun.


I found this year’s emoji cards at Teachers Pay Teachers. They’re editable, so you can customize them with your students’ names. If you like this idea, but don’t want to use emojis, just search TPT for “punch cards” or make your own. Think carefully about how many punches you want your card to have. Last year’s cards had about 26 pawprints to punch, and that might have been too many. I’d like most of my elem – middle school students to be able to punch their way through 2-3 cards. This year’s card has 18 punches. My beginners are zooming through them (which is fine with me), but it’s a more achievable goal for my older students to finish 2 or more cards. I decided to let last year’s punches on their unfinished cards apply to this year’s card – that was a great decision. They felt their effort from last year was treated with respect. 

The first prize available to students are emoji stressballs that I found on Amazon. These are inexpensive and great rewards because they 1) help with stress, 2) exercise fingers, and 3) help you create a nice, rounded hand shape. Plus, they’re fun! If they finish a second card, they’ll earn a pack of emoji stickers, also found at Amazon. 

I haven’t gotten as far as figuring out what they’ll earn for a 3rd card. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. It won’t be something that I order in bulk because several won’t earn a 3rd card. This is when I give up and opt for something like a giant candy bar. 

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a second ‘splainer video on intervals. If you didn’t see my last post, I’ve started a YouTube channel! I plan to upload lots of explainer videos on musical concepts that my students might need a refresher on during the week between their lessons. Maybe your students can benefit as well. I hope you’ll subscribe to my channel! Here’s the first video on intervals