Many people have been asking about my participation system over the last few weeks. It's been a while since I wrote about my ¡Págame! system and a lot has changed since then.

When you read this, you're going to think that the system is very complicated, but I assure you it's not. It's extremely teacher-friendly and places nearly all of the accountability on the students instead of the teacher. I've never been one for carrying a clipboard around with a seating chart to make marks next to each student's name as they earn a point, nor have I had success with students self-evaluating their level of participation. This is what works for me and has worked for my for much of my teaching career.

Participation Points

These can be anything really, from flags to leaders to miniature country maps, but I use currency. I find an image of a particular country's currency and reduce it so I can fit at least 24 on a page (rows of 3X8). I print these out and cut them up. I always have a stack of them in my pocket to hand out to kids. I like using the currency (we change currency each grading period) because it's a great introduction into the culture of the country that uses that currency. Often there is a lot of history into what a country calls it's currency, plus I can talk about location, capital, size, and population in the target language for a few minutes. But really, anything will work. The key is to have lots of them and to always have them when you're at school.

Grade Book

Because I use a proficiency-based grading system, participation cannot be a part of their academic grade. Why is for another post, but suffice it to say that a student's grade can be artificially inflated or deflated based on their level or perceived level of participation. Participation should be tracked but recorded separately from the academic grade. For those of you who have the citizenship grade available to you, this is where your participation grade would go. For those of you who do not (me included) I have another solution that we'll discuss a little later on.

In your grade book, you will create a category for participation and give it 0 weight (this way it won't affect the overall academic grade). You will put a score of 70 (represents 70 participation points) for each student. This is where they start off each grading period. It's basically a C- based on percentage. From this original 70 points, you would subtract or add any points to the student's totals.

Earning Points

Students earn points for doing ANYTHING that contributes to language acquisition. These would include speaking to you in the target language in and out of class, asking questions, answering questions (even if their answer is wrong), winning in games, engaging in partner work, etc. Students earn points one at a time for doing any of these activities and you would hand them one of your participation points. Students are 100% responsible for the points one you hand them over to them and you explain this to them. You are like a bank. Once you give someone cash, anything that happens to that cash is the person's responsibility. The bank doesn't replace cash.

Students may also earn extra points by writing a 100-word story in the target language (not using a translator) and/or completing a voluntary homework assignment (usually a listening or reading activity). In both cases, students earn five points for these two activities and instead of handing the students points directly, you'll add the five points to their total in the grade book. This is how students usually make up any points lost during the grading period.

Losing Points

Students lose points five at a time for doing anything that detracts for language acquisition. This may include behavior issues, absences (excused or not), tardies, hall or bathroom passes, speaking English when not appropriate, etc. All of these points can be easily made up by writing a 100-word story or doing a voluntary homework assignment.

Many people ask why do I penalize a student for using the bathroom or having an excused absence. It's simple. First, I don't think of it as a penalty or a punishment, but during that time that you were not in class, you were not actively participating, hearing comprehensible input, and acquiring language. In any other class, when a student is absent, they will have make up work to do. We can't realistically duplicate the input they would have received if they had been in class, so asking them to do an alternative activity to earn their points back, is a valid way to assure they at least get some input.

Whenever a student loses points, I do not take the points from the student directly. I deduct them from the initial 70 that are in the grade book. I write kids' names on the board for behavior. At the end of each day, I look at my board and deduct the points from each student whose name is on the board. Weekly, I look at the attendance records and deduct for absences or tardies. Also weekly, I look at my hall/bathroom pass sign-out sheet and deduct for those. It takes only a few minutes per week to keep track.

End of Grading Period

At the end of the grading period, I have the students put their points in a stack, staple them, and write their name and the number of points in the stack on the back. They turn these in and I add them to whatever they have in the participation category in the grade book. This takes just a few minutes per class. The ending result is the student's participation grade in a percentage. If you have a citizenship grade, this is what would go there. If not, don't worry. I have a solution coming up.

Now, do I count each and every point that comes in. Heck NO! I have a LIFE! I trust the number the students write on the back unless it doesn't look like a match for the thickness. I tell the kids that if they write the wrong number on the back of the points, I will DEDUCT that number from their total. Kids tend to be very accurate counters after hearing this.

What if my school doesn't offer a Citizenship Grade?

This is me now. My current school does not have a citizenship grade, though all of my previous schools did. Here's how I adapted to this. My procedure is two-fold: one part is reward and one part is award.


I have a system of rewards that students can earn once they have a total of 95 points (25 points in addition to the 70 in the book). I'll give you my list, but it is best to make a list with your students because what your students see as a valuable reward may not be the same as for my students. So basically, how this works, is students can "pay" me with their participation points to earn various rewards. I make the higher rewards more points with the starting point being 25 points for a good call home (I want to promote these the most, that is why they require the fewest points).

Here's my current list for this year. It changes with each new set of kids.

  • Good call home = 25 points
  • Wear a hat for a week = 35 points
  • Sit at teacher's desk for a week = 45 points
  • Teacher buys you a candy bar = 55 points
  • You can eat in class ONE day = 65 points
  • You can choose your seat for one month = 75 points
  • Drop-a-Quiz pass = 85 points

Students are not required to buy anything with their points (they can save them all up and use them for their citizenship grade--if you have one). However, they must spend any points before the grading period ends as the whole process starts from scratch with each new grading period. Points from the previous grading period cannot be held over to the next grading period.

All of these rewards are things that my students want and are willing to pay me for. They will give me the required number of points, or I will subtract them from their grade-book total for them to receive the reward.


At the end of the grading period, I look at the totals for each student for a given class. I AWARD the top three in each class period with a certificate stating that they are the "Students of the Grading Period," post their picture on the Wall of Fame, and give them some little trinket like a Spanish pencil.

Remember that these totals may be reduced if the students "purchased" a reward during the course of the grading period. The points they used to pay for the reward are not counted in these totals.

So that's my participation system. It has worked for me both in high school and middle school. I have some students who try to earn as many points as possible and others that don't try at all. Each has its own logical consequences. Those that actively engage and earn points, generally acquire more and this shows up in their assessments. Those that don't, don't acquire as much language and this, too, is also reflected in their assessments.

Although I'm a fan of Alfie Kohn, I do realize that this goes against one of his basic tenants, but it works for me so I continue to use it.

I would love it if you would further the discussion below.