Good Behavior Game


NOTE: Directions for the Good Behavior Game (GBG) on this page are taken from an original description published in 1969.

Since then, extensive research has been conducted at Johns Hopkins University on how to implement GBG effectively in classrooms and school-wide. You can view this research and find out more about this program by visiting:


The Good Behavior Game is an approach to the management of classrooms behaviors that rewards children for displaying appropriate on-task behaviors during instructional times. The class is divided into two teams and a point is given to a team for any inappropriate behavior displayed by one of its members. The team with the fewest number of points at the Game's conclusion each day wins a group reward. If both teams keep their points below a preset level, then both teams share in the reward. The program was first tested in 1969; several research articles have confirmed that the Game is an effective means of increasing the rate of on-task behaviors while reducing disruptions in the classroom (Barrish, Saunders, & Wolf, 1969; Harris & Sherman, 1973; Medland & Stachnik, 1972).

The process of introducing the Good Behavior Game into a classroom is a relatively simple procedure. There are five steps involved in putting the Game into practice.

Steps in Implementing This Intervention:

Step 1: Decide when to schedule the Game. The teacher first decides during what period(s) of the school day the Game will be played. As a rule of thumb, instructors should pick those times when the entire class is expected to show appropriate academic behaviors. Blocks of time devoted to reading, math, content instruction, and independent seatwork would be most appropriate for putting the Game into effect./p>

Step 2: Clearly define the negative behaviors that will be scored during the Game. Teachers who have used the Good behavior Game typically define three types of negative behavior that will be scored whenever they appear during the Game. Those behaviors are:/p>

  • leaving one's seat,
  • talking out, and
  • engaging in disruptive behavior.

Out-of-seat behavior is defined as any incident in which a student leaves his or her seat without first getting permission from the teacher. Related behaviors, such as "scootching" one's seat toward another desk are usually scored as out-of-seat. Instructors often build in certain exceptions to this rule. For example, in some classrooms, children can take a pass to the bathroom, approach the teacher's desk for additional help, or move from one work site to another in the room without permission as long as these movements are conducted quietly and are a part of the accepted classroom routine. Children who leave their seats intending to complete an allowed activity but find that they cannot (e.g., walking toward the teacher's desk and then noticing that another student is already there) are not scored as being out of their seat if they quickly and quietly return to their desk.

Talking-out behavior is defined as any incident of talking out loud without the permission of the instructor. Permission is gained by raising one's hand and first being recognized by the teacher before speaking. Any type of unauthorized vocalization within the hearing of the instructor is scored as talking out, including shouts, nonsense noises (e.g., growling, howling, whistling), whispers, and talking while one's hand is raised.

Disruptive behavior consists of any movement or act that is judged by the teacher to be disruptive of classroom instruction. For example, knocking on a table, looking around the room, tearing up paper, passing notes, or playing with toys at one's desk would all be scored as disruptive behaviors. A good rule of thumb would be to regard as disruptive behavior any action that does not fall under another category but is perceived by the teacher as annoying or distracting.

Step 3: Decide upon suitable daily and (perhaps) weekly rewards for teams winning the Game.

Teachers will need to choose rewards that they feel will effectively motivate students to take part in the Game. Most often, instructors use free time as a daily reward, since children often find it motivating. To cite a single example, one teacher's reward system included giving her daily 4th-grade Game winners the privilege of wearing a "victory tag," putting a star next to their names on a "Winner's Chart," lining up first for lunch, and getting 30 minutes of time at the end of the day to work on fun, educationally related topics.

When choosing rewards, instructors are advised to consider using reinforcers that fit naturally into the context and mission of a classroom. For example, allowing winners to play quietly together at the end of the school day may help to promote social skills, but dispensing material rewards (e.g., comic books) to winners would probably be less likely to contribute directly to educational and social goals. Of course, if both teams win on a given day or a given week, the members of those teams all receive the same rewards.

Step 4: Introduce the Game to the class

Once behaviors have been selected and clearly defined by the teacher, the next step is to introduce the Game to the class. Ideally, time should be set aside for an initial group discussion. The teacher mentions that the class will be playing a game and presents a schedule clearly setting forth the instructional times during which the game will be in effect.

The teacher next divides the classroom into two teams. For ease of recording, it is usually recommended that the instructor divide the class down the center of the room into roughly equal halves. Some teachers have used three teams successfully as well. To build a sense of team spirit, students may be encouraged to name their groups.

The children are informed that certain types of behavior (i.e., leaving one's seat or talking without permission, and engaging in disruptive behaviors) will earn points for the team to which they belong. Students are also told that both teams can win if they earn no more than a certain number of points (e.g., 4 points maximum per day). If both teams happen to exceed 4 points, then the team with the lowest total at the end of the day is the winner. In case of a tie, both teams earn the reward. The instructor is the final judge of whether a behavior is to be scored. (As an option, students can also be told that the team with the fewest number of points at the end of the week will win an additional reward.)

It is a good idea when introducing the Game to students to clearly review examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. After all, it is important that all children know the rules before the Game begins. To more effectively illustrate those rules, children may be recruited to demonstrate acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, or the teacher may describe a number of behaviors and ask the class to decide with a show of hands whether such behaviors are to be scored or not.

Step 5: Put the Game into effect.

The instructor is now ready to start the Game. During those times that the game is in effect in the classroom, the teacher continues to carry out his or her usual instructional practices. The only alteration in the routine is that the instructor is also noting and publicly recording any negative points incurred by either team. Instructors might want to post scores on the blackboard or on a large piece of paper visible to everyone in the room. If working with children in a small group, the instructor can record negative behaviors on a small note pad and later transfer them to the blackboard. Teachers can also choose to publicly announce when another point has been earned as a reminder to the class about acceptable behavior. It is helpful to keep a weekly tally of points for each team, especially if teams are competing for weekly as well as daily rewards.

Care should be taken to be as consistent as possible in scoring negative behaviors. Winning teams should be praised as well as rewarded for their efforts, with that praise tied when possible to specifically observed behaviors. Instructors may want to alter the Game somewhat as necessary (e.g., changing rewards or more carefully defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors with students). Obviously, any alteration of the Game, no matter how small, should be shared with the classroom before being put into effect.

Troubleshooting: How to Deal With Common Problems in Using the 'Good Behavior Game'

Q: What should I do if a small number of students try to sabotage the game for other children by deliberately acting out and earning penalty points for their team?

If a small number of students are earning a large number of points during the Game, consider forming them into a separate team. While not the norm, occasionally a single student or small group of children may be tempted to undermine the Game by deliberately incurring a large number of penalty points for their teams. (Such children may find the resulting negative social attention of other members of their team to be its own reward!) A simple remedy for this problem is to modify the Game by making those disruptive students into a separate team. The Game will continue unchanged, except that your room will now have three teams rather than two competing for rewards.

Q: I have used the Good Behavior Game for a while and have found it to be effective. But lately it doesn't seem to have the same impact on my students. What do you recommend?

If the Good Behavior Game appears to be losing effectiveness over time, be sure that you are consistently noting and assigning team points for inappropriate behaviors and that you are avoiding verbal arguments with students. It is very important that points be assigned consistently when you witness inappropriate behavior; otherwise, the Game may not bring about the expected behavioral improvement among your students. Teachers using the Game sometimes find it helpful to have another adult familiar with the Good Behavior Game observe them and offer feedback about their consistency in assigning points and success in avoiding negative verbal exchanges with students.


  • Barrish, H.H., Saunders, M, & Wold, M.M. (1969). Good behavior game: Effects of individual contingencies for group consequences on disruptive behavior in a classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 119-124.
  • Harris, V.W. & Sherman, J.A. (1973). Use and analysis of the "Good Behavior Game" to reduce disruptive classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 6, 405-417.
  • Medland, M. B. & Stachnik, T.J. (1972). Good-behavior Game: A replication and systematic analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5, 45-51.

Jim's Hints

The Good Behavior Game is an effective strategy for managing a classroom-but don't overdo it! Allow breaks from the Game during the school day. A caution should be kept in mind when involving your students in the Good Behavior Game: Generally, the Game should be scheduled for a maximum of 1-2 hours per day in any classroom. After all, students will need some time to relax, socialize, and "be kids."

Of course, minimum standards of acceptable classroom conduct remain in place whether the Game is in effect or not.