What are reinforcers and how can I organize them?

blog header about reinforcers

What are Reinforcers?

Reinforcers are things like a special activity, food, or tangible objects that are used to increase wanted behaviors. And because every student with special needs is different, the range in what the student's likes and interests can vary greatly. 

Teachers can't just choose whatever reinforcer they want and hope for the best.  It doesn't work like that. 

Students are more likely to repeat the desired behavior if they are rewarded with an effective reinforcer. 

In addition, when you are choosing a good reinforcer, make sure that you keep these questions in mind:

  • Is it age-appropriate?
  • Is it readily available?
  • Is it effective?
  • Can you give it frequently?

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box of reinforcers

5 Types of Reinforcers

Tangible Reinforcers: (for example, stickers, playdoh, fidgets) These types of reinforcers are most popular for self-contained classrooms.  

Edible Reinforcers (For example, chips, pretzels, or candy) is a widely controversial type of reinforcer but is HIGHLY effective, and is something that you do not have to take back from the child, avoiding a struggle.

Social Reinforcers (For example, when a teacher or friend is playing cards with you)  This is a great group or whole classroom reinforcer.

Activity Reinforcers (For example, extra iPad time, listening to music, or jumping on a trampoline)  These reinforcers are for kids that are a little more self-directed and can hand a bit of a delay between the desired behavior and activity. 

Escape Reinforcer (For example, not wearing shoes, getting out of a math assignment, having no homework) This type of reinforcement takes an undesirable task and removes it.

You can read more about how to use reinforcers in this blog post!

Token board with in of reinforcers

How to Organize Reinforcers?

I know if you are anything like me, you had random reinforcers all over the classroom and when you needed them, you couldn't find them anywhere! 

Well, it's time to get you organized.  Especially with these tangible reinforcers

I grabbed these shoebox-sized bins and made one for each of the students that I had.

However, you can make one big bin for the whole classroom.

You just need to put all of your preferred reinforcers in a bin! Make sure to add labels and you can even add some icons or make your own!

I like to pair all of my reinforcers with a working token economy that my students are using.  Token boards are used all the time in my classroom! 

using a snesory break choice board

Using Choice Boards

In addition, adding in using choice boards is a great way to make sure that the reinforcer that you are using will be effective.  The purpose of giving students a choice is so that they can have some control of a situation.  Both adults and children like to have some control over their lives.   Using choice boards may reduce some situational behaviors by simply providing choice.   You can check out my visual aids pack here.

Do you have any tips for organizing your reinforcers?  Please share with us what you do in your classroom below!

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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