Which reinforcer do students

respond to best?

Positive Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a stimulus which follows and is contingent upon a behavior and increases the probability of a behavior being repeated. Positive reinforcement can increase the probability of not only desirable behavior but also undesirable behavior.

Different Types of Reinforcers


In order to test which positive reinforcer students respond best to, I first implemented a token economy in my first grade classroom. Token reinforcement involves awarding points or tokens for appropriate behavior. These rewards have little value in themselves but can be exchanged for something of value.I used Class Dojo to award points for positive behavior and these points could be exchanged for the choice of a preferred activity or a tangible.

The students and I brainstormed rewards together as a class. I wanted the students to get involved to have buy in with the system, and this helped me give them rewards they actually wanted. We combined some tangible rewards activity rewards. I determined the points value for each reward, however, and explained that that part was negotiable.

  • 5 points - STAR Ticket
  • 5 points - Pencil/Eraser
  • 10 points - Piece of Candy
  • 10 points - Snack from Home
  • 20 points - Line Leader for the Day
  • 20 points - Read a Book to the Class
  • 20 points - Show & Tell
  • 30 points - Pillow Time
  • 30 points - Read to Another Class
  • 50 points - 15 Minutes iPad Time/Choice Time
  • 50 points - Lunch with Mrs. McKinney/Mrs. Hall
  • 50 points - Seat Swap
  • 75 points - Teacher for the Day
  • 75 points - Free Homework Pass
  • 150 points - Popcorn Party with Two Friends
  • 500 points - Whole Class Movie

The point systems seem high, but that’s because I was constantly awarding points to my students. I really wanted to focus on the positive and reinforce them for the great things they were doing so many students were earning 10-15 points a day. The STAR card was our whole school recognition program.

My students earned many points each day. At the end of the day, the students recorded their points on a chart. I walked around and monitored their recordings and honestly never had any issues with students being dishonest.

It was a simple four column chart (the left is cut off in this picture). Students recorded the date, they wrote daily, their points, and then their new points total. Students kept their chart in their cubbies that we used each day. At the end of the day, I reset all the bubbles in the system. A few days a week I would allow students to use their points for rewards. I didn’t do it all within ClassDojo because I didn’t want it to inaccurately reflect as a problem behavior if I deducted points so we did it all on paper. This also allowed me to then use the percentages within ClassDojo as a behavior grade since we have to give a letter grade for behavior.

In conjunction with Class Dojo, students were also praised for their good behavior. This was often times, but not always, followed by the statement, "go sign the chart." The Keep That Good Behavior Rollin' Chart was another positive behavior reinforcement. Students were invited to sign a square on the chart and when all the squares were filled up we would roll a die to determine a winner. The winner got to choose from one of three prizes:

  • Treasure Box Visit (tangible reinforcement)
  • Get Out of Jail Free Pass (activity reinforcement)
  • A Positive Office Referral (social reinforcement)
Introduce students to ClassDojo

How Should Reinforcement be Delivered?

In order to make positive reinforcement an effective intervention I followed these guidelines throughout my investigation:

  1. Reinforcement must be consistently delivered, according to a planned reinforcement schedule. If it is no, no connection will develop between appropriate behavior and the reinforcement and the behavior will not change.
  2. Reinforcement must be delivered immediately. Students should know when they can expect reinforcement If you wait until the end of the day to reinforce a student for remaining in her seat during the math lesson that morning, the effect of reinforcement is reduced it not lost. If it is possible to deliver reinforcement immediately, verbal reinforcement should be given and the student should be told when he or she can expect to receive other reinforcement. In this way, a contingency between behavior and reinforcement will be strengthened or maintained.
  3. Improvement should be reinforced. Do not wait until the student's behavior is perfect to deliver reinforcement You should recognize important and let the student know that you recognize the effort.
  4. Do not give reinforcement because you feel sorry for a student. If a student does not achieve the required criterion, delivering reinforcement will only teach the student that rewards are rapidly available regardless of behavior and may even lead to an escalation of the behavior. Rather, recognize that you know the student is disappointed but that they will have the opportunity to try again tomorrow. Reinforcement must be contingent on behavior.
  5. Whenever possible, pair any reinforcement with social reinforcement. If your reinforcement plan is letting students participate in preferred activities, make sure to give some sort of social reinforcement, such as telling the student, "You really did an excellent job today. You should be really proud of yourself" or let the student choose another student for the activity.
  6. Make sure that social reinforcers are not ambiguous. They should be sincere, clear, and identify the specific behavior for which they are being delivered.
  7. Reinforcement should be age-appropriate. Expecting a high school student to change his behavior by rewarding him with stickers is likely to be ineffective and insulting to the student.

*Burke, J.C. (1992). Decreasing classroom behavior problems: Practical guidelines for teachers. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.

Investigation Results

After conducting my investigation for 4 weeks I came to the conclusion that, on average, students will choose a preferred activity more often than they will choose a tangible and they are least likely to choose a social reinforcer.

Through this investigation I have learned that the most important step of delivering reinforcement is that reinforcement be appropriate for the individual. If what you is delivered to the student as reinforcement is not preferred by him or her,


  • Walden, E.L., & Thompson, S.A. (1981). A review of some alternative approaches to drug management of hypersactivity in children. Journal of Learning Disabilities,14, 213-217.
  • Burke, J.C. (1992). Decreasing classroom behavior problems: Practical guidelines for teachers. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.
  • Collins, M.M., & Fontenelle, D.H. (1982). Changing student behaviors: A positive approach. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Zirpoli, T.J. & Melloy K.J. (1993). Behavior Management: Applications for Teachers and Parents. New York: MacMillian Publishing Company.