The Good Behavior Game

good behavior game

Today’s MTSS entry is actually a BONUS! It’s the “plus one” to our 17 PCMs, and it’s a fun one! 

A valuable addition to any classroom’s Tier 1, The Good Behavior Game is used to increase time on task and rule-following behavior – not to mention the benefit of a fun and friendly competition to help students learn your content!


Read on to find out how to play and how to make it work for you in your classroom!

The Research 

Barrish, Saunders, & Wolf first conducted a study in 1969, of an inter-dependent group contingency behavior management strategy for classrooms. In a nutshell, that means they wanted to see if they could capitalize on human nature by using social influence, teamwork, competition, and positive reinforcement to get results in the classroom.

There have been 20 independent replications across different grade levels, types of students, and settings, and findings show that when effectively used as part of a healthy Tier 1 intervention, the Good Behavior Game works!

GBG has been shown to be effective with:

Talking Out Behaviors

Out of Seat Behaviors

Academic Engaged Time

Baseline = 96%Baseline = 82%Baseline = 58%
Intervention = 19%Intervention = 9%Intervention = 83%

Steps to playing the game

  1. Decide time and setting to implement
  2. Identify and define appropriate and inappropriate behaviors
  3. Identify rewards and preferred activities to serve as team reinforcer
  4. Teach students the rules
  5. Play the game

Getting started: The basics of GBG

When the Game is being played, the teacher instructs in the usual manner. He/she silently assigns (or subtracts) a point to that student’s team (e.g., as a tally mark on the board) and continues to teach.

  • Divide the class into 2-4 teams
  • Explain the rules of the game
    • Teams earn points based on following/exhibiting behavioral expectations
    • Teams lose points based on a problem behavior
      • Teacher simply shakes his/her head and erases a point and moves on
      • No discussion or verbal reprimands/input about the point loss
  • Explain the behavioral expectations
      • Pick 3 expectations, such as eye contact, sitting correctly, participation, note taking (or whatever you are looking for)
        • Demonstrate what the expectations look like
        • Have students model what the expectations look like (before the game starts).
  • When awarding points, simply nod and record. The point is to give continuous feedback (adding and subtracting points non-verbally) without disrupting the flow of instruction.
  • Reward/Incentive for winning the game
    • Can tell students what the incentive will be prior to beginning the game or use the “mystery motivator” where the winning team gets to select a slip of paper that tells them which reward they have won (the Whirlygig app is great for this)
    • Make the reward something students actually desire (e.g. 3 minutes free time with peers, extra recess minutes, first to clean up for lunch, late homework pass, pass for skipping a portion of a homework assignment – which you may or may not need them to do anyway, etc.)
  • Set a time limit: typically the time it takes to teach your lesson or complete a test review
  • Debrief when the game is over (don’t skip this step)
    • Give positive feedback on the game and what specific behaviors were seen. Be encouraging! Remind the students that they can improve performance next time
    • Discuss which behaviors “won it” for the team and how in the future team members can support each other

Variations of GBG

  • Vary time or subject matter: play same game over an extended amount of time over multiple days
  • Vary frequency of access to the payoff
    • Allow students to “bank” their win (if they decide as a team) for a bigger payoff later (within a week or less)
    • Surprise the class with a “win” for both/all teams due to their superior performance
  • Vary team composition
    • More/fewer groups as needed
    • Divide by tables: odd/even, etc. and run the game keeping scores by table groups (harder to manage for the teacher)
  • Vary rules
    • Golf rules: leas number of problem behaviors wins)
    • Basketball rules: most number of positive behaviors wins; maybe something extra special gets a “3” pointer
    • Whenever a team reaches a set number of points they both win (variation of Basketball rules)
    • Team with the least amount of points over multiple days wins (Golf version)
  • Vary incentives
    • Monetary: prize box, food, school supplies, tickets, etc.
    • Privileges: first to lunch, computer time, late homework pass, etc.
    • Ask the kids!
  • Vary letting them know what the prize will be awarded for (i.e. the “mystery” aspect)
    • Mystery behavior: only tell them 2-3 of the behaviors you’re looking for, but share that there is one mystery behavior you’ll be looking for that can earn them points, too… keeps them guessing
    • Mystery time limit
    • Mystery points: use a small white board or flip score card AND use a pad of paper that only the teacher sees. Only periodically update the score that they can see
    • Mystery incentive: give options for different incentives but don’t let on which one they’ll get; place options under styrofoam cups and have the winning team choose, or have the losing team choose for the winning team

Adding a “Most Valuable Player”

  • Acknowledge an MVP from the winning team – in front of peers (it doesn’t always have to be the most compliant, but can be someone who doesn’t always perform well, but did this time)
    • Have the team applaud this person
    • MVPs can also be picked from the losing team
    • MVPs can be chosen by the opposing teams (i.e. winning team picks losing teams’ MVP and vice versa)
  • Each MVP can receive an additional reward (e.g. name is a raffle for a week, name announced on team website, etc.)

See the GBG in action in a middle school! 

Click on the image to watch this video (

(notice the teacher doesn’t even call it the “good behavior” game… the kids are loving it!)

Tips for success!

  • YOU are master of the game. YOU can manipulate the game for whichever outcome you desire. YOU control how many points are earned/taken away, who earns them, and ultimately, who wins!
  • This game allows you to shape behavior: many teachers have “target” students in mind, making sure to acknowledge them when earning points or make them the MVP (remember, shaping behavior is reinforcing closer and closer approximations to your goals to get the desired results)

How to address potential saboteurs

  • Potential disrupters may emerge. Know that GBG is still a Tier 1 intervention, and sometimes a students will demonstrate a need for further support. Ideas include:
    • Have him/her be on their own team, a team of one, or a saboteur group, or have them sit out of the game (his/her behaviors won’t affect the team score)
    • Explain you understand that they may have a hard time playing the game and they can just “sit this one out”
    • Make sure that what the team wins is something the saboteur would want!
    • Ask the student if a “coach” would help them participate better next time (and pair them with a willing team member)
    • Include them on team but don’t count their points

THIS GAME WILL NOT BE EFFECTIVE if students believe the teacher doesn’t care about them.

As with any intervention, is it your positive encouragement and relationship skills that are your foundation for success. 

Strive throughout the day for a 5 to 1 ratio in your classroom – five positive statements, gestures, or actions, for every correction given. These are the classrooms that get the greatest results with The Good Behavior Game.

Finally, remember that overuse of GBG, as in most strategies in the classroom, can result in loss of appeal of incentives and lack of sustainable results.

Good luck and have fun! 


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