Designing a System for Acknowledging Expected Behavior

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Once behavioral expectations for important classroom routines have been explicitly taught to students using effective instructional, developmentally appropriate, and culturally relevant instruction, they must be routinely acknowledged at high rates. The goal of routine acknowledgement is to increase the likelihood that your students will exhibit the expected behavior in the future. Moreover, positive acknowledgement has also been associated with building rapport with students.

One very effective and practical form of routine acknowledgement is specific verbal praise.  The word praise originates from the Latin verb pretiare, meaning to highly value. Specific verbal praise is the use of positive words accompanied by positive affect that is delivered contingent upon a student or group of students exhibiting the expected behavior.  The behavior should be described in specific terms.

Comments such as, “I noticed that you transitioned to reading group silently and quickly.  Thank you.” or “Well done. You followed all the steps in completing the board problem in the exact order.” or “How does that make you feel when you were able to find that answer on your own?”  Research suggests that the use of praise is most effective when it is (a) genuine, (b) used at high rates in comparison to negative reinforcement, typically 4:1 positives to negatives, and (c) paired with a visible acknowledgement system associated with a group goal. 

To make using specific verbal praise associated with a visible system practical, it would be helpful to align it with the new behaviors you have taught for certain routines.  First, set up a one or two week timeframe.  Then, pick the most important expected behaviors from the teaching plan to acknowledge.  Next, set a daily goal for the class of how many times you want to catch them being good with verbal acknowledgements for the day, week or two-week period.   Fourth, identify what the visible symbol will be.  Connecting it to a class or schoolwide theme would be ideal.  For example, the South Londonderry Hawks use cut out hawks made from construction paper to pair with specific verbal praise during a two-week rollout of behavior.  A student is given the hawk and they are immediately collected in a classroom nest.  The focus is on a collective classroom goal of getting a certain amount of Hawks in the nest, rather than individual student competitions.  Once the expected behaviors have been taught, provide high rates of specific verbal for the expected behaviors during that time frame paired with your visible symbol.  Some schools fill up trees with leaves, other Tiger dens with paws, etc. based on the goal set.  The visible display shows a collective effort towards a goal set by a class, grade level or school.  Many classrooms end up with a celebration of student success once the goal has been acheived.


Examples of Systems for Acknowledging Behavior (Gallery of Examples)

 Bulletin Board 2 Pawsitive Bulletin Board3 Mascot High Five Poster5 Poster6




Planning Chart for Acknowledging Expected Classroom Behavior

Case studies with examples of evidence-based practices such as Specific Praise, Criterion-Specific Rewards, Choice Making, Effective Rules, Contingent Instructions, and Group Contingency are described in one page summaries for easy classroom implementation. IRIS Center. Case Study Unit. Encourageing Approrpiate Behavior. 


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By Howard Muscott, posted on Thursday January 2, 2014


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