Simple, Old-Fashioned Game Improves Classroom Behavior, Studies Say

By Holly Kurtz — June 16, 2014 2 min read
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If you’ve been inside a classroom in the past 40 years, you have probably experienced a version of the Good Behavior Game. Although instructors have likely used similar methods since the dawn of classrooms and schools, the game’s name dates to a classic 1969 article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. The article describes the successful use of a game to reduce “disruptive out-of-seat and talking-out behavior” of students in one fourth-grade classroom.

Through the years, multiple approaches and variations have emerged but basically the game works like this: The class is divided into two teams of even size. Teams get debits for breaking the classroom rules and credits for behaving well. At the end of the week or day, the group with the best behavior and/or fewest infractions gets some type of reward. Typical awards include classroom privileges such as lining up first for lunch or (before the era of childhood obesity and allergies) candy for the winning team.

“The [Good Behavior Game] allows teachers to engage in several behavior management strategies including acknowledging appropriate behavior, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behavior, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement,” writes Andrea Flower, an assistant professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin and her co-authors in an article published June 12th by the Review of Educational Research, a peer-refereed journal. “Thus, the [Good Behavior Game] is a potentially effective classroom management tool for teacher use.”

But does it really work repeatedly, in multiple school settings, over time? Two previous research reviews suggested that it did, but they did not focus specifically on the game’s use in classrooms. Nor did they use statistical analysis to quantify the game’s effects.

Flower and her co-authors set out to fill that gap by conducting statistical analyses of experimental and quasi-experimental studies described in 22 articles. The articles appeared in peer-reviewed journals between 1970 and 2013.

What they found was that the Good Behavior Game had “a moderate to large effect” on reducing a wide range of challenging classroom behaviors, including aggression, talking out of turn and straying from the task at hand. To put this in context, it is relatively rare in educational research to find a small effect, much less one that is moderate to large. The game was equally effective in elementary and secondary schools, with behavior immediately improving and remaining better than it had been. It worked not only in regular classrooms but in school libraries and other educational settings. It tended to work best when teachers let students choose rewards. The Good Behavior Game was especially good at improving the behavior of students who had problems staying on task or controlling their aggression.

“A simple management procedure, such as the [Good Behavior Game], may facilitate increased time devoted to teaching and learning,” Flower and her-coauthors conclude. “The fact that the [Good Behavior Game] shows effects after a short time may be particularly important for teachers in classrooms where challenging behavior is frequent and teachers are struggling with classroom management. In these situations, GBG use may facilitate changes in student behavior so that teaching and learning can take place.”

The American Educational Research Association permits you to access Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings for free for the next month.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.