How to use Behavior Charts for Students in the Classroom

When you are looking to make a change with problem behavior in your classroom, it is so important to focus on the good behavior that is happening and reward students for that specific behavior you are looking for. However, it can be challenging to just remember to do this throughout your day and sometimes students need something more concrete other than just words to hold themselves accountable. That is why a behavior chart is an easy way to up your classroom management strategy.

The Positive Aspect of Behavior Charts

Behavior charts operate on the principle of positive reinforcement, emphasizing encouragement over reprimand. This shift in perspective aligns with the goal of maintaining a supportive classroom ambiance. When students witness their progress displayed on the chart, they experience a sense of achievement and acknowledgment, reinforcing their commitment to sustaining positive behavior. There have many different names and they can be referred to as a reward chart, sticker charts, or even daily schedules. The name of it does not matter as much as the process.

When we are talking about behavior charts, I want to make it clear that we are not using a clip chart. These are not a public display of behavior. These should be done privately and in a one on one setting to be the most effective. If these are done publicly, they can damage your relationship, the student’s self esteem and eventually lead to more problem behaviors.

Implementation Methods

1. Clear Expectations: To establish a foundation for behavior charts, define clear behavioral expectations and classroom rules. This provides students with a solid understanding of the behaviors that will lead to recognition on the chart. The child’s behavior that is expected should be clear to both you and the student.  This may take time to teach the appropriate behaviors to be sure the student can even demonstrate them before implementing this plan.  Without knowing the expectations, it can be hard to ask students to make those good choices.

2. Visual Representation: Creating a visually appealing and accessible chart is crucial. Depending on the age group and preferences of the students, the chart can range from a simple grid to an engaging and interactive design. The charts can be a daily or weekly behavior chart. They can be points, smiles and sad faces, superhero and villains, or any other visual that is meaningful to the student. It is always a good idea to get students’ input when creating these, if possible, to get even more buy in at the start.

If you can include a high interest topic in their chart- this goes a long way. If they are into a certain show, how can you creatively tie it in? Do they like Minecraft? Can you tie in that somehow? Can the points be the same types of points in their video game? Be creative! This shows the students that you know them and they are going to buy in more because they are going to be more motivated than if you use a generic chart.

3. Individualized Goals: One size does not fit all. Customize behavior charts to cater to the unique needs and aspirations of each student. Acknowledge their strengths and areas for growth to set achievable targets.  Some students may need to check in with their chart between every activity in the classroom.  Others may just need to check in morning and afternoon, and even others may only need it at the end of the day.  The goals and targets need to be individualized for each of your students.  Some students’ goal may be to just remain safe and stay in the classroom. Others may be to complete all of their work for the day. For the best results, every single behavior chart you create should have different targets and goals.

4. Incorporate Rewards: Develop a reward system that corresponds to the milestones on the behavior chart. These rewards can range from small incentives like stickers to coveted privileges or activities that resonate with the students. Again, these rewards should be individualized.  It is important to first figure out what is motivating to the student.  Giving them choice in this process can help promote buy in to the plan.  When you get the right reward for the student, can you increase their motivation to engage in that desired behavior.

​Some students, especially young kids, may need rewards more often than older students.  Some students may need rewards every hour, in the morning and afternoon, and others may just need it at the end of the day. 

Rewards do not have to be items- do not go broke buying little trinkets. It could be additional time to play on the iPad or recess, watch a few minutes of a video, play a game with you, get out of doing homework & the list goes on. Just remember you can more away from the tangibles and move towards non tangibles, which will also lead to intrinsic motivation.

Also by incorporating rewards, it lends naturally to the teacher providing constant feedback in a more appropriate way.  Instead of having to be redirecting a student many times, you can check in with them and hopefully provide positive praise. 

Another important note with rewards is the student should be able to reach their reward most of the time.  If they are constantly not meeting their goal, then the goal should be adjusted.  This may mean lowering the number of points they need or breaking the day into smaller parts.

Holding Students Accountable

1. Ownership: Behavior charts hand the reins to students, allowing them to take charge of their actions. As they witness their progress documented, a sense of responsibility for their behavior naturally develops. Many times, you can ask the student how they thought they did during a block of time.  You can use behavior charts to motivate intrinsic motivation by having the students be reflective of their behaviors. 

2. Self-Monitoring: Encourage students to actively monitor their progress on the behavior chart. This self-awareness fosters a heightened sense of accountability as they track their accomplishments and setbacks. Sometimes, as the students get older you can do different things like allowing them to rate their entire day.  This self-monitoring is very empowering to students and can be one of the last steps before having them not need the support anymore.

3. Goal Setting: Assist students in setting realistic behavior goals. Involving them in this process encourages them to take ownership of their journey towards improved behavior. Be sure to give positive feedback along the way so students know that even the small gains they make can be celebrated.  But know, that everyday may not be a win.  There are some days when students is going to have a hard time and will not be able to engage in the appropriate behavior.  Note that this does not mean to abandon the behavior chart- it just means that sometimes we have off days and we can try again tomorrow! 

4. Reflection and Discussion: Regularly engage in discussions with students about their behavior chart progress. Celebrate achievements, address any challenges, and encourage them to strategize for ongoing enhancement. This will lead to overall better classroom behavior in both younger children and old.

There are many different types of charts out there.

However, you can get some printable behavior charts here and know they are proven to work.  Included are not just print and go charts, but also ones that can be edited to be specific to your student! This variety of different types of behavior charts is guaranteed to make your life easier!

Incorporating behavior charts into classroom dynamics extends beyond a mere visual aid; it’s a mechanism that celebrates positive behavior, nurtures accountability, and amplifies self-awareness among students. They should not require a lot of time to implement (once they are planned and ready to go) by the teacher. But by spotlighting achievements and acknowledging progress, educators foster a nurturing environment that inspires students to display their best selves. Implementing behavior charts necessitates meticulous planning, customization, and a steadfast commitment to maintaining a positive and motivating atmosphere.

It cannot just be about the behavior charts

We know that behavior charts aren’t the end all be all though. Although they are an important piece of the puzzle, they cannot replace all of the other important behavior supports such as setting clear expectations, building a relationship, having a clear schedule and so many others. I also always make sure there is a learning component to these charts. Are they constantly struggling with friends? Maybe spend time working on building relationships skills. Are they constantly exploding over small frustrations? Why not teach them some self awareness and coping strategies? When you put all these things together this is where the magic can really happen!

Here are some examples of things you can use to teach these social emotional learning skills:

  • Relationship Skills Task boxes: there are 16 different skills to tackle through hands on learning. They can be done 1:1 or in a small group to really foster these life long skills.
  • Self Awareness Task Boxes: This too has 16 different skills. They are aligned to CASEL, which is the overseer of all things social emotional learning.
  • Calming Strategies: This is a free calming tool you can use with your students. It is hands on and gives students the skills they need to stop and think before acting or reacting.

As educators, our influence stretches beyond academics; we have the potential to guide students towards positive choices. Behavior charts provide a tangible path to track and appreciate their growth, reinforcing the notion that their actions directly influence their own success. With the use of behavior charts, we’re paving the way for students to evolve into responsible, self-driven learners who possess the tools to thrive not just in the classroom, but in all aspects of life.

If you need more behavior supports, check out these posts to get more actionable tips:

  • 10 Tips to Manage Difficult Behavior: Learn some tips here for what to do when behavior happens AND how to prevent it.
  • 4 Tips for Recess Transition: Transitioning in from recess can be challenging for some students. There are easy ways that you can stop this behavior from happening AND tie it into the behavior chart.
  • A Guide to Contingency Maps: Haven’t used a contingency map before? Well, you need to! This is a proven strategy that can help teach new behaviors and stop problem ones.
  • 5 Tips to teach Emotional Regulation: It is not an easy task to teach emotional regulation- here are 5 easy tips to learn how
  • Implementing Think Sheets: Another tool you NEED to add to your classroom if you do not have them included already. Teach students to connect feelings to behavior and what to do instead of their problem behavior when they are feeling through emotions.

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