Everyone knows what positive reinforcement is and why it important. Whether you are a special ed teacher or a general ed teacher, positive reinforcement is something that will increase appropriate behaviors. Positive reinforcement can be in the form of teacher praise, tokens, candy, treats, etc. Every child is a little different! Praise works as a reinforcer for many children – but not for all! For some children praise is not reinforcing. So what’re we going to do about that?

Conditioning Praise as a Reinforcer

For some of our kiddos praise is not a reinforcer. Do we just accept that and move on? Nope! Praise is important to develop into a type of reinforcement because praise is a naturally occurring reinforcer! It occurs in the real world. So for our kids that praise is not  a reinforcer – we need to work on conditioning praise. We can do this be constantly pairing praise with things that are a reinforcer. Every time you give a piece of candy, iPad, or a token – pair it with praise! Eventually you will be able to fade out the item and use only praise!

Keeping track of reinforcers can get confusing with a room full of students! I use a laminated page on the wall near my behavior data center that I can use a dry erase marker to write highly preferred items/reinforcers for each student. That way – aides, subs, and therapist all are up to date!

Using Positive Reinforcement Effectively – for all ages and children!!

The key to using praise as positive reinforcement effectively is it needs to be:

  • specific: Make your praise as effective as possible by making it specific. Say who you praising and why! “Jeremy – thank you for putting your homework in the finished folder. That was so great.” Some kids not understand more general praise and the positive reinforcement will be wasted!  
  • immediate: Use praise immediately after the appropriate behavior occurs!!
  • frequent: Make sure praise is frequent! This is such a common mistake! Once is not enough – keep praising those great behaviors to keep those great behaviors going!

Tips to Making Sure you are Using ENOUGH Positive Reinforcement

The background behind me writing with this post is that I am guilt of not using enough praise. Lock me up! Ugh! I’m mad at myself now. But I guess acceptance is the first step. My excuses: I get busy, things get rolling in our class, kids are all over the place, there are lessons to run, behavior plans to moderate, paraprofessionals to manage… I know, no excuse. So I have been make a concentrated effort to make sure I am using enough praise. How much is enough? There are different theories on this. I have heard 6 positive statements a minute while working one on one with a child. To me that seems like way overkill and verbal overload. I have also heard 4:1 positive statements to negative statements. Figure out what works for you. You will know it working because your lovely positive behaviors will be maintaining instead of fading out!


      • Have a coworker or paraprofessional keep track of your praise statements.
      • Self record your praise statements by using tallies or a clicker like this one:

      • Make a quick data sheet with a list of your students names. Use a different color pen for each period or time of the day and tally your praise statements. This may give some helpful information regarding which students you are praising (or are not praising) and what times of the day your praise is lacking (the afternoon is rough for me). This will help you realize what specifically you need to work on.
      • Set a goal for yourself! My goal is increasing my praise statements in the afternoon by 50%. The afternoon is also when some behavior problems tend to pop for my kids … coincidence?? I think not. Increase praise for appropriate behaviors will help decrease the negative ones.

For more related information check out my post on Applied Behavior Analysis and my Behavior Week Posts: Identifying Behaviors, Attention Behaviors, Escape Behaviors, Sensory Behaviors, and Token Economies!


I linked up with Miss Kindergarten’s Teaching Tip Linky Party!