The World’s Easiest Token System for Behavior Management
The token system was the first behavior management plan I designed for primary grade students, and the popularity of this system continues to astound me! I posted it on my website many years ago and had no idea just how well it would resonate with other educators. There are literally hundreds of teachers around the world who have used this plan, which I named ‘The World’s Easiest Token System’ after researching complicated token economies that had me exhausted by the time I got through reading about them.
The system described here is excerpted from The Cornerstone book. It was featured in Education World and was listed as a resource on the National Education Association’s website shortly thereafter. While I love creating new plans and have since experimented with numerous other behavior management systems over the years, the World’s Easiest Token System will always be special to me because of its powerful resonance with other teachers and its positive impact on so many classrooms.
Why This Token System Works
The token system is effective because it DOES NOT require:
- you to track each child’s behavior in order to penalize or reward
- the entire class to ‘behave’ in order to be rewarded
- you to punish those who did behave due to actions of those who didn’t
- the same behavioral standards for everyone
- students who are frequently in trouble to get all of the reinforcement
- any money to be spent on candy or prizes
- the staging of elaborate rewards
- a complicated class helper system (tokens assign many job privileges)
- class time that should be spent on academics
- a lot of maturity in students: even preschoolers can participate
Setting Up the Token System
Find some chips, tokens, cubes, or whatever items you can access—even small laminated slips of paper will work. 10-20 per child should be enough. (If you want tokens exactly like the ones I used, check out the two color counter math manipulatives on Amazon.)
Assign personal identification numbers (PINs), and write them on your tokens. If your students don’t have numbers for another purpose, assign them for this. (You could write children’s names on the tokens, but then you will have to make a new set each school year and whenever new kids transfer to your class.) Keep each group of tokens sorted into separate sections in some kind of container, like a tackle box or craft supply organizer. (Mine was given to me from a retiring teacher, who got it from her construction-worker husband). Last, find or make a box or bag to put the tokens in when they are awarded. I use a sparkly purple and gold drawstring bag I found from a dollar store a few years ago. You only need one for the whole class.
Introducing the System to Students
Explain to your class that each teacher has a method for rewarding good behavior in students. Ask them to recall some of the ways other teachers have rewarded them, e.g., stickers, play money for a class store, or a paperclip chain to earn a pizza party. Be prepared to limit the discussion, as rewards will be a very popular topic!
Discuss with the kids how they might have earned those rewards in previous classes. Encourage specific responses. This is also a good way to set behavioral expectations for the year, and check prior knowledge. You may want to list their ideas, or write down just the ones that you will be reinforcing. Decide ahead of time whether you will also reward academics with the token system or if it will be purely social/behavioral.
Tell children that this year, in their new class, tokens will be awarded to the children who exhibit the behaviors you discussed and other appropriate actions. Stress that tokens will not be awarded every single time, but that you will surprise students and they never know when they will have a token added to the bag. This is an important point so that they do not wait to be rewarded each time they follow directions. You might also want to mention that if a child asks for a token, he will not be given one, no matter how good of a job he did. You are the only person who determines when tokens will be awarded.
Make a big production out of showing the token organizer and your special container, then demonstrate how you will award tokens. Tell a child that you liked the way she came in that morning and started working right away, so you will take a token with her number on it and put it in the bag. Tell another child you noticed he walked quietly in the hallway, and make a big show of putting in a token for him. Give specific reinforcement to each child in the class and add tokens to the bag. Tell the students that they will have opportunities to earn tokens every school day, all day long.
Demonstrate how you will pull tokens and give rewards. Emphasize that tokens will be pulled whenever you have a special job in the classroom, and how you might pull a token at any time throughout the day. If you will also pull tokens at a set time or on a specific day, explain that as well.
Begin using tokens for classroom privileges right away. If you go to music class right after the discussion, you could pull a token to determine who will line up first, or who will carry the chorus permission slips. Use the tokens frequently during the first few weeks of school so children can learn how the system works and make connections between their behavior and privileges. Keep your token economy rewards simple and use them frequently!
How to Use and Maintain Your Token System
Put tokens in the bag whenever you see behaviors you would like to encourage. Pull tokens from the bag whenever you need to select a student for a privilege or special responsibility. Using tokens prevents you from having to recall who has ‘behaved’ recently and determine whether you are calling on students equitably. Since appropriate behavior is what causes tokens to be added to the bag, the higher the incidence of good behavior, the more likely a student will be to receive extra responsibilities and privileges.
Using tokens will simplify your helper system—you don’t have to assign every conceivable job to a student, because you can pull tokens for occasional tasks. Use tokens when you need a student to:
- pass out art supplies
- take a message to another teacher’s room
- work a problem on the board or overhead
- participate in a role play
- hold a book, poster, chart, or other prop while you teach
- call the other students to line up
- run irregular errands
- choose a read-aloud
- complete small tasks for other teachers
- monitor behavior when you are briefly out of the room
- help the Star of the Week
- bring you something from another part of the room/school
- carry things in the hall
- sit in a special seat
- read from texts to the class
- share journal entries
- serve as group leader for activities
You can pull a set of number of tokens on a certain day or time, such as every Friday at dismissal, to distribute additional rewards. If you give your students prizes, this would be a good way to do it, but this system does not require any tangible rewards or expense on your part.
Be sure that after you pull a token from the bag, you put it back into your organizer, rather than back in the bag. Empty out the bag every week, month, or quarter, depending on how many tokens you have and how often you want your class to have a fresh start. Students should be able to sort the tokens by number back into the organizer for you during indoor recess or dismissal.
There’s more! Learn how to balance intrinsic motivators with rewards so that students behave because it’s the right thing to do (not because they expect a prize). It’s all in The Cornerstone book! You’ll also find pages of ideas on extending the token system through incorporation with classroom jobs, letting kids nominate each other for tokens, and more!
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Find even MORE info about behavior management and The World’s Easiest Token System in The Cornerstone book! Book-exclusive content includes:
Ch. 14: Strategies for Preventing Behavior Problems
*When you’re not seeing results: how to determine which of 2 problems you’ve got and remedy it immediately
Ch. 15: Teaching Children to Be Self-Reliant
*Setting teacher-student boundaries and training kids how to get your attention appropriately (i.e., without tapping you or following you around the room)
*The importance of the 3-Before-Me rule (and why the first person your kids should ask is themselves)
*How your response to attention-seeking behaviors is the sole determination of whether they’ll continue
*Ways to choose encouragement over praise and replace evaluative responses with ones that foster self-reliance
*The difference between teacher control and self control
*How to construct effective questions to redirect behavior (instead of answering a child’s redundant question yourself)
*One-liners to untangle yourself from petty issues during instruction: what works and what backfires
*Teaching kids to solve social problems independently
*Discussing physical confrontations and the claim “If someone hits me, my mom said hit them back!”
*A sample discussion of the consequences of fighting (no sugar-coating or political-correctness here!)
*An example of facilitation using active listening
*The hidden reason why children tattle: once this issue is addressed, you’ll see major break-throughs in self-sufficiency
Ch. 16: Whole Class Reinforcement Systems
*How to balance intrinsic motivators with rewards so that students behave because it’s the right thing to do (not because they expect a prize)
*2 pages of ideas on extending the token system through incorporation with classroom jobs, letting kids nominate each other for tokens, and more
*More resources for the bead system: ways to incorporate other class rewards, handle potential problems such as stealing, trading, or losing beads (the solution is simple!), and involve special educators and other school staff in the bead system for greater student accountability
Ch. 17: Meeting Individual Needs
*Considering the 6 student positions (needs/motives): identify WHY the child is acting out so you can choose an appropriate response
*5 student responses to correction, and how the teacher should enforce consequences for each type
*Being consistent while differentiating for students’ needs: handling jealously by getting kids to recognize and accept that your job is to be equitable, NOT fair
*The secrets of low-key rule enforcement and the importance of revealing your reasoning
*2 critical strategies for dealing with violent, defiant, and emotionally unstable children
*How to avoid power struggles with a calm, unemotional demeanor and repeated expectation reminders
*Stand-offs with a defiant child: step-by-step directives on what to say and do in the most extreme and/or violent encounters
*4 examples of personal improvement (individual behavior modification) plans that work with real kids (read their before-and-after stories!)
Ch. 18: The Challenges of High-Poverty Schools
*The realities of teaching in low socio-economic areas–everything they didn’t teach you in college!
*My own background and experiences living and working in the inner city, and why I have a special heart for the teachers and kids there
*Lessons learned from a teacher who didn’t make it: 5 important mindsets that a former co-worker never developed…and was terminated for, after only 2 months on the job
Ch. 25: Teaching Techniques That Minimize Off-Task Behavior
*How variety and creativity in lesson implementation make the difference: NINE pages of tips to help you keep kids engaged WITHOUT spending hours designing perfect lessons and activities!
Ch. 31: Keeping Parents Informed
*Managing daily or weekly reports to hold kids accountable for their behavior and work habits
*How student-led conferences empower students to reflect on their actions and take the pressure of explaining misbehavior to parents off of the teacher
*When to hold conferences, how to prepare, and sample questions to involve students and their parents in meaningful discussions
Ch. 32: The Importance of Documentation
*The definitive guide of what to document and when–protect yourself from allegations of not meeting students’ needs or not keeping parents informed, and get kids the services they deserve
*4 situations in which you need to keep extra documentation (and how to do so with minimal time expenditure)
*Step-by-step guidelines on how to document and suggestions for utilizing your teacher’s union in difficult situations
Token Economy Systems
Token economies differ from a token system like mine in that they are much more elaborate, with students earning tokens (or play money, etc.) for classroom jobs and other tasks, and spend their earnings on items from the classroom store or privileges. While I don’t recommend them for teachers who are looking for something easy to maintain, and I’ve never used them myself, I know many excellent teachers who have successfully implemented token economy systems and wouldn’t use any other plan. The biggest advantage to a classroom token economy is that it can have cross-curricular academic tie-ins. Students have a practical application for math skills and the principles of economics they learn in social studies (opportunity cost, credit/debit, etc.). The older the students, the more in depth you can go. The best of the token economy examples that I’ve seen is Mrs. Newington’s mini-economy: she includes photos, instructions for setting it up and utilizing it, downloads of related forms and activities, and ways to tie the system into classroom jobs.
Adaptations and Extensions of The World’s Easiest Token System
Here’s a thread at AtoZTeacherStuff in which a teacher shares the parent letter she uses to introduce the World’s Easiest Token System to students’ families. Great explanation!
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The Bead System
Routines and Procedures
Bathroom, Hall, and Water Fountain
Passing Out/Collecting Papers
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