How to Use a Token System

A token economy system is a systematic method of providing positive reinforcement and can be used by parents, teachers, tutors, supervisors, coaches, and essentially any other adult providing instruction. A “token” is essentially a form of positive reinforcement that is given to alert the learner that he/she has done something well. There are endless possibilities of what a token can be, such as a gold star sticker, coin, button, stamp, mark, piece of paper, or even a sound. Regardless of what type of token is given, one thing remains the same: a token economy is a system designed to motivate learners to strive towards making positive achievements. The best way to explain how to use a token system is by citing a common, though often effective, example:


Third-grade teacher Mrs. Smith keeps a chart of stars on a board for her students. Every time a student gets an A on a test, he or she receives a star sticker on the chart. When students get five stars, they then are allowed to choose from a variety of prizes in the class “treasure chest.” It would not be possible for Mrs. Smith to constantly dole out large prizes every time her students do well on a test, but by using a token system, she is able to effectively motivate and reinforce their studying efforts more frequently and easily.


Keeping track of physical tokens, such as coins in a jar, can be a visual reminder to the learner of the progress he/she has made. This can also serve as a lesson in saving and budgeting if the student has the option to save his/her tokens or spend them on various prizes. Allowing the learners to help choose the rewards and even the tokens can increase their motivation to accomplish the tasks necessary to earn the reinforcement.


Positive reinforcement has been clinically shown to be much more effective in promoting behavior change than punishment. So, a token economy system is typically more successful when a learner works towards earning something, rather than working against having a token taken away for not achieving a goal. As with every behavioral strategy, all learners’ needs are different and parents, teachers, tutors, and other practitioners should use their best discretion when implementing new programs.


Written by Catherine F., Novastar Prep Coach


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