How to use token boards in a special education classroom


What are Token Boards?

Token boards are just positive reinforcement that works.  They are a visual reminder to the students to see how close they are to an edible or a preferred item or even a preferred activity.  Token boards give clear expectations and a goal to work toward and reduce negative behaviors all at the same time.  Students are able to stay focused and on-task, especially when the tokens are highly reinforcing.
They should be individualized for the students.  Some tokens work for some students and other students need images of the local news anchors, for example.

How to get started?

You want to make sure that whatever image you use is reinforcing enough for the student to stick with it until the end when they earn their reinforcer. Also, you want to individualize how many tokens a student gets.  When you first introduce a token board system,  you won't be starting with 15 tokens.  Most likely, you will be starting with 3 or even 5 tokens.
There are times that I will pair each token with an eatable reinforcer if the student is brand new to token boards and doesn't yet understand the concept.
Once the student chooses a board they want to use, let them choose the reinforcer they want to work for.  I typically give my students 3-5 different choices of things that they can work for. Then start rewarding good behavior with those tokens.  It can be associated with tasks or time.

5 Steps on Using a Token Board:

  1. Ask the student to choose what they are working for
  2. remind the student of the expectations
  3. reward the student with a token
  4. pair each token with a verbal praise
  5. give the student the incentive when all token has been earned


What do I do once they have mastered their token board?
Once you are using the token board for a bit, you want to try to increase the student's stamina and so you can increase the tokens that are earned.  One of my students right now is on a 20-piece token board and it works for him.
Should all my students have different token boards?
This will depend on the student. Some tokens boards will look very different than other students.  Other students will have a 20 piece, some will have a 3-piece, some will be large and some will be small.  Some token boards even come with behavior expectations! Other token boards are discreet enough to hide in a student agenda.  Each student's token board should be unique to them.
Am I allowed to take away a token once it's earned?
No, do not take tokens away.  Once a token is earned, the student gets to keep it.  Remember, this is positive reinforcement.  If the student earned a token but then started acting up, ignore that behavior and reward him as soon as he gets back on track.  Remind the student of the expectations.  Just think, if you worked all week and your boss told you on Friday that he wanted to take back a hundred bucks for being late a few days, you would be very upset!
When should I stop pairing the tokens with verbal praise?
You should never stop this.  This is the whole point we want to get to.  We want students to be able to enjoy and accept positive verbal praise instead of the token in the long run.  Intrinsic motivation is always the goal.
Can the token be task-based?
Of course.  I have students who need me to place a token on each problem on a worksheet.  When they complete the problem, they get that token.  It is very reinforcing to see the token on the page.  It makes the work fun and engaging.
Can I use a time-based token system?
This is harder to use, but yes you can.  I would highly recommend that the student understands time to do this.  For example, if you are doing every ten minutes a student is following the expectations they earn one token, this must be very clear and use a timer.  Students need to have an understanding of time.
If you are ready to get started with token boards you can check out my token board resource here.  I have a bunch to choose from!!

My students really love using token boards because they are so visual and rewarding.  They can see what they are working for and they can see the end in sight.  Let me know in the comments if you use token boards too!


That's all for now!

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I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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