Behavior Management: Activities as Reinforcers


This is a series of seven blogs to help teachers, parents and therapists bring students under instructional control so that teaching can occur. The components of the series are

  1. Behavior Management: An Overview
  2. Behavior Management: Bribes or Rewards – The Fundamental Question
  3. Behavior Management: Praise and Encouragement
  4. Behavior Management: Activities as Reinforcers
  5. Behavior Management: Point Systems
  6. Behavior Management: Behavior Contracts
  7. Behavior Management: Why it works

Kicking it Up a Gear: Activities As Rewards

There are situations in which rules and praise are insufficient for maintaining acceptable student behavior. At that point, to maintain control and to keep students on task, the instructor has to be able to kick it up a gear. In the hierarchy of reinforcers this means adopting the use of activities as a reward.

Any of us who have been in the classroom know that there is a long list of activities that students are willing to work for. They have even been known to put pressure on non-compliant students because they want to earn the activity. At times, for a teacher, peer pressure can be a good thing when it allows them to teach better.

Teachers can create a list of activities with the input from the class. They can also involve the class in determining the conditions under which the class earns the activity. Students often suggest some of the following as activities:

  • extra gym time
  • quiet time to work on fun activities such as puzzles, crosswords etc.
  • a pizza party for lunch
  • story time where the teacher reads to the class
  • a day without homework
  • a field trip
  • a game outside
  • a spelling bee
  • a class movie
  • computer lab time
  • an extra art class
  • a visitor to come and speak to the class
  • a bingo game

The teacher and the students decide on the rules for appropriate behaviour. (See the previous blog in this series.) They also decide on how points for activities will be awarded. I suggest the teacher wears a golf counter to keep track of points without needing a pencil & paper. Points are displayed on a thermometer on the side of the whiteboard.

Doubles Day

Sometimes near the end of the day when everyone is likely to be more tired, more cranky, and less inclined to work hard, I will announce a “doubles” period. During this period all points are doubled. I use this sparingly. I have also used the period immediately preceding to the possible “doubles period” as an incentive. Badgering me about having a “doubles” period costs points.

Hint: Many children who are distracted and cause behaviour problems have an underlying educational problem, usually in reading. Go to our free reading test to see if an uncooperative student may be unable to do what you want because of a literacy issue.


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