Monday, June 25, 2012

Toolbox Tuesday: Token Economy Boxes

I wish I could say that I have been using a Token Economy System with my students for years, but in all honesty, it wasn't until this past school year that I began to understand them and therefore could use them with the students. I always thought, "token economy's are hard to enforce" or "my students can't even sit down for 2 minutes long enough to earn a token, never mind 4 of them", or even, "my students need immediate reinforcement, they can't wait for tokens". Is it any wonder why one of my favorite slogans is, 

"If I only knew then what I know now..."

And here is what I know now: Token Economy Systems work for ALL types of students, no matter what their academic or communication  level! Here is how I utilize them in my classroom:

First thing you should know is that my students work in  small groups and also have individual work stations and the Token Economy Systems work in both settings.  Each of my Para-professionals have one of these:

This is the Token Economy Box. It's a simple clear container with Velcro on the top and bottom of the lid.  The tokens are stored on top while on the inside of the lid are the picture icons for the items inside the box. And of course inside the box are a variety of reinforcing items based on my students preferences. I try to have both edible and tangible items in the box. 

Question: What kind of tokens should I use? I recommend anything sturdy and durable. I choose to use plastic quarters because they are readily available to me AND whether you know it or not you are actually teaching money skills while using the Token Economy System with quarters (4 quarters = a dollar, you need money to buy items etc.). I prefer NOT to use smiley faces or check marks since they have little meaning or value. 

Also housed inside the box are the students Token Economy Boards. At the beginning of each work session each student get's to chose what they want to work for, they simply choose the picture that corresponds to the item they want. 

Question: My student can't discriminate picture icons, how do I know what they want? That is perfectly fine, here's what you do: let the student reach into the box and pick out the actual item that he/she wants. Then you give them the corresponding picture icon to put on their Token Board. 

If you want to make it a little more challenging and encourage more communication skills here's what you can do: Give them a "CHOICE" icon (see picture below) and when they have earned all their tokens have them request with their current communication level and method, for which item they want. 

Students can earn tokens in many ways but here are the 2 primary ways to earn them

Option #1- one token for each task completed. When first introducing the Token Economy I started by having each student complete the easiest, shortest task that they could so they would earn tokens quickly and gain an understanding of how the system works. As they got better at it, the task length and difficulty increased. In a typical 30-minute work session each student usually goes through their Token Board 2x's giving them the opportunity to earn 2 reinforcers. (When it was first introduced to them they averaged 5-6 cycles through their boards in a 30-minute session). 

Option #2- the timer method. This method works best for students who have a harder time staying seated. Start at intervals of 10-20 seconds and gradually increase the time. Each time the timer goes off if they are in their seat they get a token with the praise phase "Good Sitting" (or other specific phrase, just avoid saying the generic "good job") so that they know they are getting the  token for sitting. 

Here are a few more tips, tricks, and random Token Economy Information: 
  • Give the token to the student to put on their boards, avoid doing it for them. 
  • When students have earned all 4 tokens have them count them back to you one at a time, this helps teach one-to-one correspondence. If your students are non-verbal, you say the numbers as they  give you each token one at a time. 
  • When using food reinforcers, use discretion in portion control- if you know they are going to cycle through their token boards 4-5 times in 30 minutes and they are working for skittles, then give them 1-5 skittles each time they complete their board. If they only complete their board one time in 30 minutes because the tasks were longer and more difficult, give them a "snack pack" size bag of skittles. 
  • Students do NOT earn tokens while engaging in negative behaviors OR immediately after  negative behaviors. If the student is displaying a negative behavior to avoid work or because the work is too hard then try doing 3 easy fast tasks followed by 1 slightly harder task. The hardest task should always go last since it will be closest to earning  the reinforcer. 
  • If you need to travel around campus but need to use the Token Economy System and feel like the box is too bulky to carry or you need to have your hands free then wear a waitress/ waiter apron and transfer everything into the apron pockets. If you think the kids will try to reach into your apron pockets then wear the apron pocket side in, closest to your  body. 
I hope this has been a helpful Toolbox trick that you can use in your classroom. Since this is the  first edition of Toolbox Tuesday, I would love your feedback on the layout and format. Do you like the Question sections through out? Was it easy to read and understand? Would you like more pictures or examples? Is there anything you would like to see in next week's Toolbox?



  1. I like your idea of the timer to reinforce every 10-20 seconds to start with for students who have a more severe behavior habit. Last year my school had a sports theme so I used a baseball themed token economy. I also used it to teach my students about sports (something not many of them knew about). I LOVE using it in my classroom, but for my students who are out of the room for portions of the day, it is difficult. Check out my baseball board at my blog...

    We are ALL Special!

    Thanks for sharing:)

  2. Thank you for posting this! I have not been using a token system with my students for the same reasons you listed in your post. I am definitely going to try this in the fall!

  3. I love it!! As an ABA therapist we use token boards for alot of our students. Thanks for sharing, I am sharing the lovely blog award with you Click Here to pick it up!!!

    Challenges Make Life interesting

  4. I enjoy your blog so much, I'm also sharing an award with you!

    I'm in the process of writing a post awarding you with The Versatile Blogger award, stop on by and see it on's taking me awhile to write the post, and I'm timing it to post tomorrow cause I don't want to double post today:-D

    We are ALL Special!

  5. Hi Cortney,

    I just wanted to let you know that we featured your blog on our list of Top 25 Special Education Blogs at

    Charles Sipe

  6. Just came across your blog and LOVE the token economy box idea! I've used a token economy in the past, but haven't really needed one for the past few years. This year, though, I'm definitely seeing the need for it, and your system has the organization that I'm looking for. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. I have nominated you for a Liebster Award (an award for new bloggers)! Stop by my blog to check out what it is all about!

    Miss Allison's Class

  8. Great to meet you! My "corner" is Room 10, and I love some of the post you just did on token economy - we've been struggling about how to set ours up and this looks great!