Learn More

40 Hour Workweek

Uncategorized   |   May 7, 2010

Behavior Plans and Charts

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Behavior Plans and Charts

By Angela Watson

Need ideas for an individual behavior modification plan and printable contracts? No matter how good your whole class behavior management system is, there will always be a handful of challenging students in your class who just can’t be successful with the group plan.  These are the kids who are constantly losing their recess, being isolated from the group, not earning the sticker or treat, and so on.  The info on this page (which is excerpted from The Cornerstone book and The Cornerstone webinar) will help you design and implement simple, positive behavior contracts and behavior agreements based on specific student needs so even your toughest kids can be successful.


Should you modify your whole-class system FIRST?


Individual behavior plans do constitute additional work for teacher, no matter how simple they are.  Therefore it is advisable to first try adapting the whole class system(s) already in place.  Here are a few intervention ideas:

Use your whole-class rewards (beadstokens, etc.) to reinforce your troubled students’ efforts toward behaving.

“Wow, he bumped into you and you chose not to push him back!” or “You took your paper out and put your name on it right away, without any reminders.  Thank you!”  After the first few months of school, these accomplishments might be too minor for the rest of the class to earn beads for doing.  However, you can always whisper to an individual child and reward her privately if that’s what she needs in order to be as successful as the other children.

Structure your routines and procedures so that there are more immediate and concrete rewards and consequences for the child (“Three Strikes”).

For example, my students know if they are continually disruptive, they will have to move their desks and sit alone.  But there are some kids that aren’t able to monitor their behavior well enough to understand when this consequence will apply.  Rather than developing an entire behavior plan for the child, I just say, “You’re going to get three warnings a day about that behavior.  If I have to say something to you about that more than three times, you will need to move your desk away from the group for the rest of the day.  It’s just like in baseball, except I’m giving you one extra chance—three strikes and THEN you’re out!”  When that fourth correction comes (and it normally won’t using a consequence this immediate and clear-cut), I simply say in a firm and disappointed (not angry) tone, “I’ve had to stop teaching four times today because of that behavior.  Your three strikes are up and you’re out.  Please move your desk back from the group. Thank you.  I hope you will do better now that you are sitting alone.”

Never underestimate the impact of a private word with an encouraging teacher.

Talking individually with the child usually has a powerful influence on behavior.  Taking a few minutes at various points in the day to comment on good decisions and the reasons for bad decisions may be all a child needs for success the majority of the time.  Call the child over to your desk first thing in the morning and say, “You’ve got a fresh start today!  I know you’re going to do the right thing.  How are you feeling? Are you ready to do your best work?  Go for it!”  Whisper to the child in the hallway on the way back from specials, saying, “I loved how on-task you were during reading groups today!  Keep up the great work when we do math this afternoon!”  At the end of the day, stand in the doorway and pat the child on the back.  “Hey, what happened today during science? You seemed really spaced out and you were playing in your desk a lot. [Help the child reflect on what she did and why].  Everybody gets distracted sometimes.  I know you’ll be more focused tomorrow.  Have a great afternoon, honey!”  The purpose is to let the child know you pay attention and care about everything she does.  This is the personal touch that makes a world of difference to most kids.  Taking a few minutes to talk everyday can eliminate the need for a more formal behavior plan—which is easier on you in the long run.

How to design individual behavior modification plans

Meeting individual needs is a big part of The Cornerstone Pro-Active Behavior Management Webinar. This web seminar helps you understand why your toughest kids are acting out and address the root cause of the problem. Once you’ve identified a child’s motivation and triggers, the webinar walks you through each step of creating a behavior agreement. Check out this excerpt of the video:

Designing personal improvement plans

I prefer the term ‘Personal Improvement Plan’ to the more traditional ‘Individual Behavior Plan’, despite its unfortunate acronym, PIP.  That’s because my purpose is more focused on helping the child become a better person than on modifying his behavior.  The PIP is designed to help the child reflect on her actions and connect them to logical consequences (and motivating rewards if needed).  It is typically a contract or evaluation that is created in conjunction with the child and parent.  Here are guidelines to help you design a plan that meets individual student needs, followed by examples of plans that I have successfully used with children:

Choose ONE specific area you want the student to improve upon.

Some kids have so many disruptive behaviors that there’s no way you can address everything at one time.  Choose one behavior that most interferes with learning, e.g., calling out, playing around in the desk instead of listening to the teacher, talking back, or arguing and fighting with peers.  As you see improvements, you can add other criteria.  The idea is to break down the task of being a responsible student into small, manageable steps so the child can experience success and build self-confidence.

Explain the need for a plan to the child.

Form an idea about what you want to do, and then speak to the child about it.  You could say, “I know how hard it is for you to control yourself when you get angry.  I want to help you.  I’m thinking of a plan that would have us talk about your choices at the end of every day.  I have a paper that looks like this, and what will happen is, I’ll give it to you each day during dismissal.  We’ll discuss your decisions and then I’ll send the paper home for you to look at with mom.  Do you think it would be helpful for you to talk about your behavior with me?  Do you think that showing mom will help you?  I’d like to bring her in so we can decide on this together.  We’ll meet with her tomorrow morning, and then start the plan right away.  Does that sound like it will work?  I’m proud of you for wanting to do the right thing, and I feel good about our plan.  If we need to change anything later on, we’ll talk about it, but let’s give this a shot.  I believe in you.”

Involve the child and parent in setting up the plan.

When you meet with the parent, leave things open-ended for his/her feedback, and emphasize that the plan’s purpose is to provide the support the child needs to be successful.  Present the information in a nonchalant way that clearly communicates you don’t think the child is ‘bad’ and needs ‘punishment’.  Show enthusiasm and optimism about the entire process, and let both the parent and child know you are confident that you will all be able to work together and find a way to help the child be the best s/he can be.

Make sure the rewards and consequences are effective for the particular student.

Not all PIPs have built-in rewards or consequences, because sometimes the child just needs verbal accountability and attention.  If you feel that the plan will work better with incentives, by all means discuss those with the child and parent.  To achieve the optimal results, you should not determine the reinforcements on your own.  Some kids will work hard for privileges in the classroom (extra computer time) or to avoid consequences (having to sit alone).  If you have a very supportive parent whom you know will follow through consistently at home, you can add rewards/consequences for there as well (extra video game time, or loss of it).  If the parent wants to reinforce the plan at home but you have reason to believe that this will not be enough for the child, or the parent won’t follow through effectively, provide classroom reinforcements as well.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
Browse Articles by Angela


  1. Good day I am Vetline Vigilant an intern at an intellectually challenged school and I have to develop a behavior modification program with students. They have problems as cursing,disobeying school rules,fighting, being rude to teachers and speaking aggressive to each other. There are 12 students who have been identified by the school to be part of program. Grateful if I would get some ideas to include in my program, also activities I could engage students in. Thanks

  2. Hello Ms. Watson and all,

    My name is Angelique Tatum. I’m a mother to a 5 year old daughter, that has been diagnosed with disruptive behavior. I’m at my wits end, and so is her school. So much that her school is ready to give her the boot. She has a temper tantrum every so often, that when she does, it disrupts her entire class/school, because she is so loud, crying and screaming. For example, she cried one time because she didn’t like the way her paper turned out, it was nice to her teacher, but my daughter, she did not like it, so she balled it up and started crying. She cried one time because she went to the bathroom, and when she came back journal time was over, she missed journal time and got upset and again cried very loudly. She has gotten better, but just one small thing can trigger a big loud out burst, and the teacher/principal are fed up, and some of the other parents are starting to complain. It is a small private school, so I can understand why the other parents are upset. I have taken her to the doctor and she has come up with instead of punishing her all the time and focusing on the negatives, flip it and focus on the positives, rewards charts, praises, etc. But I have to be consistent. I have been doing this. The Christmas break is now over and she has returned to school, how can I help my child get a better handle on her emotions and how to respond differently when things do occur. She loves her school, teachers, friends, but I know that if the school asks us to leave, this will set my daughter back even more. I do believe that it is sinking in, and that she is understanding how serious this is, given she is only five. I have explained this and her doctor has explained the consequences to her so that she understands. The principal wants a behavior plan in place, but her doctor says it is not up to her to provide this, that the school should have one. It is a small private school, so the resources are not there to provide in-house counseling and resources. I need to do something very fast before the school removes her. CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME, DESPERATE MOM!

    1. I would think of the behaviour of your daughter in functional terms.What is the payoff from a crying outburst , is it the exclusive attention of an adult or a soothing response to feelings she doesn’t understand? and then teach her another way to respond that fits in more appropriately with the context and then positively reinforce your daughter when she produces the alternative acceptable behavior.
      Step 1 Identify the payoff for the behaviour that makes it worthwhile for your daughter to keep rrpeating the behaviour
      Step 2 Identify an alternative acceptable behaviour for your daughter to do when faced with a trigger context
      Step 3 Teach your dsughter the alternative response ralking it through , role play it with you playing her give her some self talk phrases this does not have to bother me Im a big girl now
      Step 4 Positively reinforce with a real uncentive when she approximates the alternative acceptable behaviour
      Step 5 Celebrate wins no matter how small and tell her how proud you are of her
      Step 6 Be patient , let go of mistakes and worries and be real calm but be persistent.
      Ask the school to support you through this- they should take it as an opportunity to learn new skills and grow as educators.
      Wish you well and your daughter success!

  3. Hi Angela,

    I really like your approach and underlying philosophy for discipline. I do have a question, though: I’m absolutely in accord with your “Three strikes, you’re out” plan (with me, it’s two strikes, but essentially the same technique).

    However, what would you do if a student, as in your example, reached the three-strike limit, you gave the consequence, and they refused to obey? I don’t like to resort to the principal’s office and haven’t so far, but the insubordination is getting serious, with the student either smiling and defiantly disobeying or frowning and silently disobeying. I’ve tried to ask him what’s bothering him, but he doesn’t respond and is often fixated on an object he’s playing with or looks elsewhere with his head bowed, but as far as I’m aware he doesn’t have special needs.

    In order for you to understand where I’m coming from, I must add that I’m a music specialist, not a regular classroom teacher, so the dynamics are different. I have a great rapport with the difficult student, who often comes up to hug me and say hello, but then often disobeys in class. I don’t expect you to figure out the root cause for me; I’m just hoping for inspiration from what you would do in such a case. The only thing that partially works so far is a consequence all students are used to from gym class: timeout for a few minutes, standing against a wall. But I’m not convinced this is the ideal consequence, because I prefer that it be logically related to the offense so that students learn from it rather than, as you said, simply being punished.

    Thanks for your time and for sharing all this with us!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!