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A Positive Spin on the Good Behavior Game

good behavior game in classrooms

What is the Good Behavior Game?

Looking for some fresh ideas for behavior management in your classroom or group?

The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a research-based class-wide behavior management strategy to promote prosocial behavior and reduce challenging behavior. It uses a game format with teams and rewards for teams that follow certain rules or meet certain milestones. In ABA terms, it’s a group contingency with a component of competition thrown in. Whether you have students on IEPs or simply want some fresh ideas for your rowdy bunch (or anyone!), let's look at this option.

The origin goes way back to the late ‘60s where a graduate student saw a teacher using a sort of game to help her students behavior better. Harriet Barrish, Muriel Saunders, and Mont Wolf (1969) published a study on the effects of what they called the Good Behavior Game.

Since then, there have been more than 60 published studies posted at the National Library of Medicine

How do you play the Good Behavior Game?

It typically goes something like this:

  • Class is divided into teams, typically two
  • Rules are established, and points or tallies are given for disruptive behavior such as calling out, hurting words, leaving group
  • A visual is created to show the team points
  • Throughout the established time period, points are awarded according to the rules
  • At the end of the time, the group with the least points earns a reward, or any group that doesn't have any more than a certain number of points earns a reward

Let's Flip the Script!

I'm certainly not the first one to recognize the strength of reinforcing prosocial behaviors in lieu of giving attention to challenging behavior! So while, traditionally, the Good Behavior Game was about NOT earning points for certain behaviors, I just feel better in my heart if we focus on those prosocial, positive behaviors.

In lieu of tallies for challenging behavior, we can play the same game and just flip it to earning points for prosocial behavior such as raising hand, being kind, getting work done.

Same game. Same name. And actually, fits the name better! It's the GOOD Behavior Game, not the Not-So-Good Behavior Game!

What is a good example of the Good Behavior Game?

Here are some variations and examples of the Good Behavior Game I have personally used or seen colleagues use.

Large Group

One way: Teacher and students work together to create a list of rules for their classroom. A timeline is established (I've seen it work for a certain project time or for a full day), and teams are generated (teacher-created so it can be balanced with strengths and needs), and teams get points for following their agreed-upon rules. Reward is given if any team earns a certain number, or a bigger reward giving to the team who earns the most.

Another way: Before a specific activity, teacher and students come up with a small number of specific prosocial behaviors they are going to aim for. This one can work really well if you want to assign a student to be the points-giver! Now, this should be an honest and fair student, of course, but if you have that, then this is GREAT way to get student buy-in, AND save you a little time to focus on the lesson!

whole class good behavior game

Small Group or Individual

beat the teacher

This is a system I have used many times, either in a small group or in a one-on-one setting. And it's so quick-and-easy! I call it “Beat the Teacher.” I get a small sticky note and make a T-chart with “Me” and “Teacher” on each side. We talk about expectations, and then the student(s) gets points for their prosocial behavior, and Teacher gets points for, well, the opposite. 

A couple things. First, depending on the student, I will either make the “win” just if the student gets more points that me. “You beat the teacher!” That might BE the reward! Or, there might be an actual tangible reward. 

Second, I have done it where we all work off the same T-chart, or, with other groups, I will put a sticky in front of each student and just give points to each one, individually. Then, we can count them all up as a total or just have rewards for each student separately.

Lasty, and this is MOST important, I am LAVISH with student points and reserved with teacher points! In fact, I usually give a warning before giving me a point. “Oh, hey, buddy, looks like we lost your body from the group! I hope I don't get a point here in a minute!” 

Class Store

One variation of the Good Behavior Game is simply a reinforcement Class Store. In this situation, teacher sets up a system of rewards with some monetary value and a “menu” of what types of prosocial behaviors earn how much money. At some designated time (I like to use “Fun Friday”), students can exchange their earned bucks for tangible or social experience rewards. 

class store

This system is typically a piece of a schoolwide behavior system that you might have in a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). 

I've even seen this done on the individual level with a student putting together their own menu of behaviors, monetary value, and rewards. Super great for buy-in!

Level System

level system

In *rare* circumstances (typically in a self-contained behavior classroom only would I consider it), one variation of the Good Behavior Game might be a level system. These are becoming more a thing of the past because it can become punitive and ineffective if not done very carefully and with someone who has training and experience. But I do want to present it here because it is an option and one you might have seen somewhere.

In this system, expectations for the classroom environment are laid out and then a system of “levels” (usually 3-4) are introduced. Throughout the day (or over the course of multiple days), students move up or down the levels according to their behavior. The levels afford them certain privileges and independence in the school. The goal is typically to use the data of the levels (how often and for how long a student is able to maintain the highest/independent level) to steer placement and intervention decisions. For example, for a student in a self-contained behavior class on a level system, if they are able to maintain the highest level and full independence, it may mean it's time to look at additional GenEd and inclusion time. 

Tips to Implement the Good Behavior Game in your Class

  • Have students choose the rules. If you have the students participate in coming up with classroom agreements, you will have better buy-in!
  • Respond to challenging behavior neutrally and unemotionally. This is especially true for students who engage in attention- or connection-seeking behavior. There is no point to belabor a decision, especially in the moment. Once the system is in place and point is earned, let it speak for itself!
  • Do NOT call out student or overly give attention to challenging behavior. Similar to responding neutrally, avoid the attempt to make public displays of correction. Oof. Remember the old adage: praise in public, correct in private. This goes to a student's dignity if nothing else!
  • Everyone can win! If you set up a system where each group or each student can achieve some level of success, that's awesome. I like it when an easy-to-achieve level is set for some reward, and then perhaps a larger, more exciting reward is set up for the highest positive points. And I'm telling ya, doing the game with just the goal to “beat the teacher” works marvelously! 
  • Consider how much time should be part of the “game” during the day. Perhaps you want to just use one activity time, or just the afternoons because they tend to be a difficult time, or the whole day, or whatever works for your students.
  • Make positive points easier to achieve in the beginning, and then make them work for them more as time goes on. This builds behavioral strength and longevity. Keep moving that “aim” further out so your students continue to achieve!
  • Don't be afraid to make changes. Know that even the best system will fade in reinforcement value. This is called the principle of satiation. I love Skittles. But if you give me Skittles for every hour I'm on task, I really will get tired of them. Mix things up; try something new. Whether students are getting bored with the current system OR they now need higher expectations, change can be a good thing!

Other data collection ideas that might help!

Research on the Good Behavior Game

Some examples of research-based articles on the Good Behavior Game:

An Evaluation of the Good Behavior Game in Kindergarten Classrooms

“The good behavior game (GBG) is a classwide group contingency that involves dividing the class into two teams, creating simple rules, and arranging contingencies for breaking or following those rules. Five kindergarten teachers and classrooms participated in this evaluation of the GBG. Disruptive behavior markedly decreased in all five classrooms as a result of the intervention. This study extends the GBG literature by systematically replicating the effects of the GBG with the youngest group of students to date.”

The Good Behavior Game in preschool classrooms: An evaluation of feedback

“The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a popular group contingency implemented to decrease disruptive behavior in classrooms. However, despite numerous replications of the GBG, there are few direct comparisons evaluating the effectiveness of specific components of the GBG. In the present study, we directly compared the type of feedback delivered during the GBG on the effectiveness of the GBG to reduce disruptive behavior in two preschool classrooms. Results showed that delivering vocal feedback (e.g., “raise your hand”) alone or in combination with visual feedback (i.e., hatch marks) was superior to no feedback or visual feedback alone during the GBG. These results suggest that different variations of the GBG are not equally effective and that a collection of effective procedural variations from which teachers can choose would be beneficial.”

Comparison of components of the Good Behavior Game in a preschool classroom

“The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is an effective intervention package for decreasing disruptive behavior in various populations and environments. There is, however, limited research evaluating the GBG with preschoolers. Furthermore, few studies have evaluated the effects of components of the GBG, and of those that have, most have done so only after exposure to the GBG package. We evaluated the effects (a) of the GBG on disruptive behavior of preschoolers during group instruction and (b) the major components of the GBG before and after implementation of the GBG package (c) at both the group and individual level. Results suggest that the GBG package was necessary for decreasing disruptive behavior. However, after exposure to the GBG, a response-independent contingency was effective for maintaining low levels of disruptive behavior at both the group and individual level.”

Effects of Daily and Reduced Frequency Implementation of the Good Behavior Game in Kindergarten Classrooms

“An effective group contingency, the Good Behavior Game (GBG), has been implemented successfully with a wide range of age groups. However, improvements in student behavior are often not observed when the GBG is abruptly terminated, and research has yet to evaluate the effects of the GBG when the frequency of implementation is reduced. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the effect of the GBG, implemented daily initially then on a less frequent schedule. The study utilized a multiple baseline design across three kindergarten classrooms to evaluate the effectiveness and maintenance of the GBG at reducing classwide and target student disruptive behavior (DB) and increasing classwide and target student academic engagement. Reduced Frequency data were collected while withholding implementation of the GBG. The results indicate that the GBG was highly effective in improving classwide behavior, which was maintained throughout the final Reduced Frequency phase in which the GBG was reduced in frequency, and moderately effective in improving target student behavior during both phases.”

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