IRIS | Page 6: Positive Consequences (2022)

Page 6: Positive Consequences

IRIS | Page 6: Positive Consequences (1)Once they’ve developed their rules and procedures, teachers must either acknowledge appropriate behavior or correct inappropriate behavior. Such an action is referred to as a consequence—any response to a behavior that ultimately increases the likelihood that the student will behave appropriately. Like rules, consequences should be age-appropriate and considerate of student cultures and backgrounds. More, consequences work best when they are:

  • Clear and specific
  • Directly related to rules and procedures
  • Arranged in levels of intensity or as a hierarchy of alternatives
  • Natural and logical to the school environment

There are two major types of consequences:

Positive consequence — A means by which teachers increase the probability that a desired behavior will occur in the future; often referred to as reinforcer.

Negative consequence — A means by which the teacher decreases the probability that an undesired behavior will occur in the future.

Note: Positive consequences will be discussed in greater detail on this page, negative consequences on the following page.

Developing Positive Consequences

For Your Information

Teachers often believe that providing positive consequences means buying something special for their students. On the contrary, teacher attention, public recognition, certificates, and special activities are often favorites of elementary students.

Effective teachers use positive consequences to recognize students who follow classroom rules and procedures. By doing so, they encourage desired behaviors and, in turn, decrease or eliminate unwanted behaviors. Although the goal is for students to regulate their own behavior by responding to internal rewards such as feeling proud or earning good grades—these are called intrinsic motivators—at first teachers may need to consider more concrete positive consequences to encourage appropriate behavior.

Because each individual is different, what positive consequence will prove effective may likewise differ from student to student. They might also change over time. For these reasons, elementary teachers should think about using the three types of positive consequences: tangible, social, and activity related. Additionally, teachers should be aware that there are three levels of positive consequences that vary in terms of intensity and in the levels of effort required: free and frequent, intermittent, and strong and long term. The table below includes some examples of the three types of consequences and how they might vary by intensity level.



Any of a wide variety of tangible or intangible vouchers, emblems, or coupons given by teachers to their students to reinforce appropriate behaviors; students who receive tokens can exchange them for rewards; see also token economy.


Reinforcers that the student can see, touch, or hold


Reinforcers that involve interpersonal interactions


Reinforcers that involve the student engaging in a desired activity

Free and Frequent

Generally effective and delivered easily during most classroom activities

  • Stickers
  • Tokens
  • Post-it notes on student’s desk (“Good job lining up for lunch today!”)
  • A smile
  • Verbal recognition and praise
  • A thumbs-up
  • Clapping or cheering from others
  • Choosing a partner for an activity
  • Reading a story
  • Drawing
  • Distributing materials


More powerful but requiring greater teacher effort

  • School supplies
  • Art supplies
  • Illustrated books
  • Educational games
  • Having lunch with a significant adult
  • Notes home
  • Phone calls
  • Emails home
  • Special privileges (e.g., teacher’s helper for the day, line leader)
  • Peer tutor
  • Extra computer time
  • Explore a topic of interest
  • Extra recess

Strong and Long Term

Requires monitoring of students on a longer-term basis and often substantial planning

  • Awards (e.g., student-of-the-week, student-of-the-month)
  • Class celebration (e.g., end-of-quarter party)
  • Special activities (e.g., movie day at the end of the month, special project)

Because some positive consequences will work better for some classrooms or students than others, it is important that teachers talk to their students to learn more about their interests and preferences. Depending on the type of consequence and level of effort required, positive consequences can be incorporated into daily or weekly lessons and activities or can occur every month or quarter to increase a students’ motivation to behave appropriately.

Listen as Melissa Patterson gives examples of positive consequences she uses in her classroom. Next, KaMalcris Cottrell discusses some considerations for delivering positive consequences to students. Finally, Angela Mangum explains how even the smallest positive consequences sometimes yield the best results.

IRIS | Page 6: Positive Consequences (2)

Melissa Patterson

(time: 1:46)

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IRIS | Page 6: Positive Consequences (3)

KaMalcris Cottrell
School Behavior Support

(time: 1:30)

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IRIS | Page 6: Positive Consequences (4)

Angela Mangum

(time: 1:40)

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Transcript: Melissa Patterson

One of the big ones we found to be very successful is calling home to tell parents that their students are doing well. It’s one of the strongest positive consequences, especially for students who do have trouble regulating their behavior, is having their parents hear that they’re doing well, because their parents hear that they’re doing badly all the time, and they don’t often hear that. Even just praising out loud in the classroom: “Thank you so much for raising your hand and letting us know that you understand what you’re learning. That’s really great. I hope at some point everyone has that opportunity.” And so not just praising the person who did the positive thing but then encouraging others to do the same, because hearing that Sally did really good every single day is not necessarily going to in turn make me want to behave well. So reminding the rest of the class that they can do that, too, works really well.

I keep special snacks that I just toss out, even for small positive behaviors, so that it encourages students to do the right things. Like, “Oh, you raised your hand instead of shouting out the answer. Here are some fruit snacks for you.” “You entered the classroom without announcing your presence. Thank you so much. Here’s your fruit snacks.” And it seems silly, but some kids don’t get fruit snacks every day. I mix up the snacks, and they’re really small, and I try to avoid candy as much as possible. Sometimes it’s extra pencils. Sometimes I have them at the beginning of the year make a list of three things that are meaningful for them, that would encourage them to follow the everyday expectations. Giving them that power as to what their positive consequences could be really helps them to want to reach those high-level expectations.

Transcript: KaMalcris Cottrell

I’ve noticed that positive consequences are well received when it’s in front of peers. They love to be praised or rewarded in front of their peers. And I think it definitely helps them to build a sense of trust within the adult because they’re being rewarded. They must have followed through on one of our rules. So I think it builds trust within that adult that you’re going to do what you said you’re going to do. If I’m following the rules, here’s what I receive. I think it also accomplishes a scenario where other students can see this student and say, “Oh, Johnny raised his hand. I’m going to raise my hand instead of calling out next time.” And not to say that every positive thing is rewarded every single time, but it helps build and boost the morale of your classroom if these positive things are happening. I also love to find out what the students are interested in. If your favorite football team is the Ravens, maybe I can find some Raven football erasers. If you love unicorns, maybe I can find unicorn pencils. So little things like that, and put them in a grab box that they can go and choose what they would like. I think that also says a lot from the student’s point of view that the teacher cares about things that I care about. And I think that’s another important piece to build trust towards the adults.

Transcript: Angela Mangum

Students love stickers. They will go crazy for them. I’ll hand them out like candy, and I’ll be silly and put them on their forehead, and they think it’s hilarious. So if you’re feeling like I have to pay for things–I have to get candy, I have to get food because they want more stuff–they love stickers. Other positive consequences that I have found to be really helpful are letting them pick their partner or letting them pick their seats for the day. And these are all free. I think there’s a lot of struggle sometimes to find ways to motivate kids or to give them prizes that are free, but they really like silly videos on YouTube. So if it’s appropriate, and they say we can do all this, you get to be the person that picks our two-minute video that we can all watch today. Things like picking partners or having a moment where they can showcase something they’re really interested in. A lot of them love to draw, so they want to put the drawing on the board today. That’s a really big deal because then they can show off their artwork to their classmates. And it’s little things like that that help them to feel like their talent or their skill is seen and appreciated. Those little motivators are a really big thing or a fun thing for them to share with you. I noticed that my students respond in a really joyful way when they earn a positive consequence. They’ll smile or they’ll say, “Thank you, Mrs. Mangum.” They feel like they matter, and I think they love to feel like you respect them, and they love to feel important to you.

Delivering Positive Consequences

Did You Know?

Behavior-specific praise is a highly effective strategy that teachers can use both to increase positive behavior and decrease problem behavior. To learn more about this strategy, view the following IRIS Fundamental Skill Sheet:

  • Behavior-Specific Praise

In addition to developing positive consequences, the way a teacher delivers a consequence is also important. For example, a positive consequence provided by a frowning, indifferent teacher will not have the same effect as one delivered by a smiling teacher who takes the time to explain to the student what he did correctly. Generally, when delivering consequences, the teacher should:

  • Be in close proximity to the student
  • Make direct eye contact
  • Link the consequence to the expected behavior
  • Apply consequences consistently, across students and across time

With time and practice, effective teachers understand how to deliver positive consequences in discerning and sincere ways that also minimize interruptions to instruction.

Research Shows

Positive consequences are most effective when teachers use a variety of reinforcers to recognize appropriate behavior and when they link this recognition to specific rules, procedures, or behaviors.
(Gage & MacSuga-Gage, 2019; Howell, Caldarella, Korth, & Young, 2014; Simonsen, Fairbanks, Briesch, Myers, & Sugai, 2008; Stenger, 2014)


Now it is your turn to create positive consequences for the students in your class. You can develop positive consequences for your classroom (current teachers) or for the grade level you hope to teach someday (future teachers).

Click here to develop your own set of positive consequences.

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