For example, with my first and second graders I use what I call Obamabux (tm). I was dinking around the other day on the internet when I found an image of a $100 bill modified to have Obama's face on it:
Obama is treated in China as some sort of Pharaonic god-emperor, since he's both a smooth black guy and president:
So I printed a bunch of them out and use Obamabux(tm) to manage the classroom. At the end of class, if they have enough Obamabux(tm) they get a sticker. Of course, this is about as far as their little brains make it. Exactly what the benefit is of having a sticker is never made clear, but it really doesn't need to be.
Now meet Jungle Boy. I call him Jungle Boy not because he's Johnny Bravo's mediocre sidekick, but because he seems to think he's a lion. When asked a question in class, instead of answering he gives what he believes sounds like a lion's roar, but in fact just sounds like a 7-year old screaming in your face. As you might imagine, this gets real old real fast.
Anyway, Jungle Boy has these mood swings where he'll get upset at me for some unknown reason and a) start crying, b) try with varying levels of success to bite me, or c) get sore and refuse to participate in any activities for the rest of class. About midway through the lesson the other day he dumped his stack of Obamabux (tm) on my desk.
"Jungle Boy," I said. "No more Obama?"
In response I got a roar. I assumed therefore that he was just being sulky and resumed the lesson. Some minutes later I tried to reward Jungle Boy for participating in an activity, when he turned Obama down. Immediately the class erupted into pandemonium. This, to them, was unthinkable. Holy crap, they thought. He doesn't care about Obama? But...but...if he has no Obamabux (tm), he won't get a sticker!
Before they could follow this line of thought further, I settled them down and finished the lesson. After class, I pulled Jungle Boy aside and asked him in Chinese why he didn't want any Obamabux(tm).
He shrugged. "Why would I?"
Oh, hell, I thought. He's onto me. "Because if you don't have any Obamabux(tm), you won't get a sticker at the end of the class."
He looked at me flatly. "So?" he said.
Crap. I hope he keeps this to himself, otherwise I might have a revolt on my hands. "Well, what would you like instead?"
Without a moment's pause he replied "Well, I'd like to stay home." Ouch.
What I didn't say is that if this was going to be his attitude, he could stay home for all I cared. It'd save me a headache, and we'd actually get something done in class for once. Oh well.