TOKEN ECONOMY GUIDE
                                      by Michael Benhar

Speigler & Guevremont (1998) define a token economy as a way to motivate clients to
perform desirable behaviors and refrain from performing undesirable behaviors. Clients
earn tokens (e.g. poker chips) for adaptive behaviors and lose tokens for maladaptive
behaviors. The tokens are then exchanged for actual reinforcers called "backup
reinforcers". Token economies are usually used for groups more often than for

In the assessment period, you can have trained observers count the number of times
maladaptive behaviors occur during a set 50 minute time period (perhaps the time period
that the teacher reports is most difficult to manage the class) over the course of a week:
e.g. does the behavior occur (yes/no) during a 30 second intervals? Operational
descriptors of the behaviors that are to be modified must be provided and observers must
be trained to recognize what is and what is not one of these behaviors. Operational
descriptors might include: talking out of turn, being out of one's seat, disregarding
teacher instructions, throwing tantrums, destroying property, disturbing other students.

A detailed description of the various steps that comprise the intervention

(1) Select behaviors to change. Target behaviors are determined by the type of
individuals with whom you are working, by the short-range and long-range objectives
you wish to accomplish, and by specific behavioral problems you are encountering that
interfere with such objectives. If you are this 4th grade teacher, your objectives will
involve teaching content areas and constructive social interaction. Target behaviors for a
class that engages in a significant amount of misconduct might include sitting quietly
when teacher gives out instructions, raising one's hand and being called on before
speaking, and completing assignments. (These are the behaviors that the students in the
class are supposed to be engaging in when they are engaging in misconduct.) The
behaviors the teacher would like to replace are also defined.

(2) Establish a baseline. Observe the number of times the maladaptive behaviors occur.

(3) Select backup reinforcers. The same principles for selecting reinforcers are used for
selecting back-up reinforcers e.g. "different strokes for different folks". Positive
reinforcers are events that strengthen a response when they are introduced or added
following the response. Most reinforcers are classified as: consumable, activity,
manipulative, possessional, and social. One way to choose reinforcers is to have the
individuals in the class fill out a reinforcer survey. In a token economy, the individual
can choose among a number of available reinforcers. These can include tangible
reinforcers (toys, snacks, school supplies) or attractive activities (extended recess time,
field trips).
(Never deprive individuals of something that legally and morally belongs to a person!)
         Consider the general method of dispensing with the reinforcers: e.g., a store (a
box on a table in the room, for example), and a method of recording purchases.
(4) Selecting the type of token to use. Poker chips, entries in a "bankbook", marks on a
chart on the wall or in notebooks, stars pasted in booklets, etc. are all options. Tokens
should be attractive, lightweight, portable, durable, easy to handle, and not easily
counterfeited. Children may also need a way to store their tokens (boxes, bags, etc.)

(5) Identify available help. Who will help with the token economy? Teacher's aides,
behaviorally advanced individuals within the institution (6th graders, for example),
members of the token economy itself. Consider how the helping behavior will be

(6) Choose the location. It should be spacious, equipment should be easily movable, the
setting should be rearranged so that behaviors of the clients can be detected most easily
and reinforced immediately.

(7) Decide on specific implementation procedures.
   Design data sheets and determine who will take data and how and when it will be
   Decide who is going to administer reinforcement, how it will be administered, and for
    what behaviors
   Decide on the number of tokens that can be earned per behavior per client per day
   Establish "store" procedures and determine the token value of backup reinforcers
   Be wary of punishment contingencies. Use them sparingly, only for clearly defined
    behaviors, and only when it is ethically justifiable to do so.
   Ensure that staff duties are clearly defined and that a desirable schedule of staff
    supervision and reinforcement is implemented.
   Plan for potential problems.

(8) Prepare a token economy manual for clients and staff.

(9) Institute your token economy.

(10) Plan strategies for obtaining generality to the natural environment.

(11) Monitor and practice relevant ethical guidelines at each step.

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