by Nathan Hamilton
“Did you bring your dinosaurs?” asked Riley as she rushed into class and scanned the room for Fluffy and Maximus. These T-rex twins are a favorite with many kids in my class, but others prefer my bright yellow Minions, Stuart and Kevin, or one of the many other behavior incentives that show up in my class regularly. Of course we don’t call them behavior incentives in class; we call them games. (If you ever meet kids from my class, don’t tell them their favorite games are actually all part of my top- secret plan to maintain order in my class.) Saying, “I brought a game for you today!” always goes over better than telling kids, “I brought some rules for you to obey.” A behavior incentive is a prize, game, or activity that motivates the children to behave. When I was a kid, people often used “Quiet Seat” as a behavior incentive where one child who followed the rules was chosen to receive a prize at the end of class. This type of behavior incentive can be helpful, but I have discovered many children aren’t motivated by it because it often only affects the end of class and there is only one winner. So I began planning and playing games where lots of kids could win and where the children received frequent fun reminders throughout the class about following rules. This may sound complicated if you’ve never tried it before, but it’s really as easy as 1, 2, 3!
1. Explain the game at the beginning of class.
2. Play the game throughout your class.
3. Congratulate the winners at the end of class.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
Step 1: Explain the game
As you begin your class, tell the children you’re going to have a contest! Behavior incentive games can be played as contests with kids competing against each other as teams or kids competing against the teachers. Choose how you want to play and explain the game to the kids. Explain that you won’t be playing the game all at once, but will pause occasionally throughout your class to play. Tell them that in order for them (or their team) to have a turn playing the game, they have to be following the class rules. Of course this means you need to have some class rules for the kids to follow. I like to use the UPs rules: sit up, zip up, look up, listen up, and hand up. Reviewing these rules before I start every class ensures that the kids know exactly what I expect of them. Then I say something like, “If you want to play the game, you need to obey. I’ll be watching closely throughout the whole class and when I see someone doing an incredibly fantastic job obeying the rules, they (or their team) get to play the game!” Of course, once you’ve made this promise, you need to keep it by actually remembering to watch for positive behavior and play the game periodically throughout your class. That brings us to the next step.
Step 2: Play the game
Gradually playing the game bit by bit throughout your class is what makes these games so effective. It gives the kids a way of tracking their success when they can actually see their team’s dinosaur mascot gradually moving toward the finish line. It also motivates them to try harder when they see the other team pulling ahead. The friendly competition adds an element of fun that permeates your entire class. But you may get so caught up in teaching your class that you forget to watch for good behavior and play the game. You may need to enlist a sidekick to help you get started. Another adult or teen can watch for kids who are obeying the rules and use a secret signal to point them out and remind you to play the game. “Woot! Woot! Woot! Woot! Little girl in pink dress at three o’clock! Initiate game protocol in 3,2,1…” You could also plan to pause between each activity to play the game or maybe even put a neon sign at the back of the room that says “PLAY THE GAME!” Do whatever it takes to remind yourself to watch for good behavior and pause periodically throughout your class to reinforce good behavior by playing the game. This is what makes these games so effective!
Gradually playing the game bit by bit throughout your class is what makes these games so effective.
Step 3: Congratulate the winners!
Before dismissing your class, tell them who won the game. If desired, you can reward the winners in a variety of ways. The easiest way to reward them is to just let them have the joy of winning. It’s fun to win! Of course you can also give the winners a prize, but this can quickly get expensive if you do it regularly. Here are a few other ways I have rewarded winning teams in my class.
1. Award one billion points to the winning team—points are free, but kids love getting them! 2. Let the winning team be dismissed from class first.
3. Bring two silly hats (scarves, masks, or gloves could also work) and let the winning team vote on which one you will wear for the next five
minutes. 4. Make a silly trophy and display it on the winning team’s side of the room until your next class.
These are just a few ways to congratulate the winners. I would tell you more, but I hope to eventually make that the subject of an entire article so stay tuned! Now you’re ready to start playing behavior incentive games! I’ve compiled some of my favorites to help you get started. Let the games begin!
These games don’t exactly fit a particular theme, but I use them a lot because kids have so much fun playing them.
Having a behavior incentive that relates to the theme of your lesson can help children learn and remember what you’re teaching. You can choose an object from your lesson and plan a simple game that uses that object (or a picture of that object) to encourage obedience as you teach.
Kids enjoy games any time of year (fun is never out of season), but they can get extra excited about activities that fit the theme of the holiday or season they are anticipating or enjoying right now. Here are a few favorites.
These games require no advance preparation so you can be ready to instantly motivate positive behavior in a fun way.
Read ideas for each type of game here