All About Behavior Contracts

The biggest reason that kids struggle in their general education class is their behaviors. So here are some ideas to make behavior management a little easier.........

5 Steps to Creating a Strong Behavior Contract

Choose the behaviors to target

What behaviors will you focus on?

While we would love to wave a magic wand and instantly get rid of every single one of our student’s annoying behaviors that is, sadly, not how real life works. It takes time, consistency, and patience to modify behaviors. Even with those, you can’t modify every behavior at once. You have to triage. What are the behaviors that most impact that student at school? Once you have figured out what those behaviors are, you have to figure out what the kid SHOULD be doing instead. Behavior contracts are worded in the positive—what we want—not in the negative. Then, finally, you have to pre-teach and re-teach what behaviors you are looking for. So let’s get started!

  • Sometimes this is super obvious. If a kid is punching other students in line, target safety. In fact, if the student has any unsafe behaviors (running out of the classroom, hitting/kicking, climbing things) target those first. If the unsafe behaviors are pretty rare, you can include one or two other behaviors on the contract as well.

  • For non-safety behaviors, think through what is most impacting the student’s success at school. Is it academic behaviors like not turning in homework or classwork? Is it social behaviors like insulting other kids or getting in their space? Is it disrespectful behaviors like swearing or arguing with teachers?

  • To figure out what behaviors to target, talk to people. When teachers are frustrated with a student they will complain. What behaviors do they complain the most about? What do other students tattle tale the most about? What does the student themselves say is their most challenging behavior?

  • Come up with a list and then pick two or three that seem the most important.

  • Now that you know what it is you DON’T want them to do, figure out what you DO want them to do. This is not scientific—use any wording that makes sense to you and the kid.

Here are some examples:

Negative Behavior                                        Positive Behavior

Hitting other students                                  Keep hands to self

Leaving the classroom                                  Stay with the group/ Be where you are supposed to be

Swearing                                                                Use respectful language

Staring at space in class                                Try your best in class

Not doing any work                                        Complete classwork

Not turning in homework                             Turn in homework

Late to everything                                            Be on time


Choose the timeframe for the contract

Start by choosing how often your student needs their behaviors reinforced– is it immediately? Daily? Weekly? When a sheet is filled up? Once you know that, you are ready to pick a time frame for your behavior contract!


  • Students who are very young or have significant challenges with behavior might need rewards right away. They can’t wait until the end of a day or a week. They do best with 5 stars and a reward contracts.
  • I print out a copy of my contract and put it in a plastic sheet protector. Depending on where the student is academically and in their communication skills, I either put a picture of what they can earn or the actual item on the top of the contract.
  • As we work together, I give them a star for every good behavior. The instant they hit five stars, I give them a treat/high five/break/whatever their reward is.
  • These are VERY teacher time intensive. As soon as kids can handle it, move them on.


  • Give a child a chart. When they fill up the whole chart, give them a prize from a prize bin or other reward.
  • These are often the easiest to use. I have seen teachers use them for independent reading (you get a sticker every day for independent reading if you read), speech pathologists use them to reward good behavior in speech groups, and counselors use them to reward good attendance.
  • While you can spend money buying the charts at Lakeshore, you can also print some from Stickers and Charts that are super cute.

  • These are the most commonly used contracts for behavior at an elementary school level.
  • Basically, you keep track of the kid’s behavior during the day and they get a daily reward based on their behavior that day.
  • Daily contracts are ideal for kids who can handle waiting to the end of a day for a reward but can’t handle waiting until a chart is full or until Friday.
  • Choose how often during the day you want to check on their behavior– after every activity? Before lunch, before recess, and at the end of school? Just once a day? For these to work you actually have to check in with the child about their behavior at each time written on the contract.
  • With follow through (multiple check ins per day, consistent rewards), daily contracts work wonders but without it, they are a waste of your and the student’s time.

  • Some students, either because of age or because of the type of challenge they are working on (often ones that are more mild) might only need a reward once a week.
  • There are a few ways to do this. In my groups, I keep track of stars for good behavior over the course of a week. On Fridays, we count their stars and they get classroom money to spend. Other teachers have a weekly behavior contract for individual students. They keep the contract in the student’s homework folder or on their desk for the week. On Friday, the student adds up their positive behavior points and gets a reward.
  • Some students need to have their contract right in front of them at all times and others are cool just seeing it once a day.

Decide on the reward for the contract

Choose the reinforcements

Behavior contracts are part of a positive approach to behaviors. Instead of focusing on what we can take away from kids when they make bad choices we focus on how we can reinforce their good choices. The fact is that we can only take away so much—there aren’t that many recesses in a day, field trips to miss, or times a parent will answer the phone when we call raving. Rewarding kids is a lot easier because there is almost an infinite list of ways we can reinforce them. Talk with a kid about what they want to earn—but make sure you have some ideas of what you CAN give a kid. All kids probably want $100 to spend at Target or a new gaming system but you probably aren’t actually going to give them that….

  • Students LOVE to earn time. A lot of my students work for free time on the computer. They get one minute of free time for every yes on their contract which they can cash in at the end of school every day. Some of my friends let kids earn double recess— the kids who get it are normally on a weekly contract. If their contract has been good all week, they can get double recess on Fridays.
  • I run a classroom store. My students can earn fake money for positive behaviors (yes I do print my own money. Hopefully Treasury doesn’t care too much) which they spend at my store once a week. I like using the money because I can also teach they about saving, financial responsibility, and how to count money. My friends mostly use a prize box.
  • With a store a student would earn money for positive behaviors on their contract. Each week they would have the choice to spend or save that money. With a prize box a student gets to pick out a prize every time they fill up their contract.
  • While you can spend money buying the charts at Lakeshore, you can also print some from Stickers and Charts that are super cute.
  • You need to keep your prizes/rewards fresh and you don’t make enough to keep buying stuff. New teachers are awesome and spend about half their paycheck on cool stuff for their classroom but I promise—sooner or later you are going to want to keep your money for selfish things like vacations.
  • Here is an important thing to keep in mind. Kids are not picky. Really. We think they just want the cool new toys but they like weird gifts they can give their parents, stickers, time with you, sitting on a bean bag…. After about a decade of running a store my take away is that kids like EVERYTHING. I have sold picture frames, stickers, scary mangy cat dolls, glass statues, pieces of paper, song lyrics, seaweed, and belts. So be open minded when you are stocking your store or prize box!
  • If you do decide to do a store you need to print your own money. Just as an FYI it is REALLY hard to get the money to copy correctly two sided. Run demo sets through the copier and try cutting them out before you copy. I made each of my students a “bank” out of an envelope that they keep in a hanging file folder with their teacher’s name on it.

Here are some places to print money:

Hit up co-workers

  • I like to blindly email my co-workers to get donations for my store. I get the most incredible donations from Barbie dolls to picture frames. Co-workers who are moving or having growing children are the best. They love getting rid of stuff and will bring bags and bags of things in for you! I once got an entire bag of sparkly purses.

Sell copied/printed coloring pages

Print off a bunch of popular singers/superheroes/cute animal coloring pages. Make a few copies and sell them. We also make copies of the pretty mancala style pages that older students like.

Places to get printable coloring pages:

Sell song lyrics

This sounds weird but kids really like to buy song lyrics. For a price, they can tell you what lyrics they want you to print. We sell each song’s lyrics for $10.

Places to get printable song lyrics:

Sell coupons

Students LOVE coupons. You can sell coupons for writing in pen, sitting in a teacher’s chair, getting a phone call home—pretty much anything! I keep mine in a binder. There are lots of pictures on the internet of fancy, color printed and laminated coupons in cute bins. If you have that much time, more power to you. Mine are black and white copies in sheet protectors in a binder. It took me about ten minutes to set up—including the copying and cutting.

Places to get free, printable coupons:


Choose how often to check in about the contract

How often will you check in with the student?

When you write a behavior contract, you need to choose how many times a day you want to check in with a student and monitor their behavior. Behavior contracts only work when you are consistent. If you know you can’t check in with a kid after every single lesson, don’t write a contract that says you are going to check in with them at the end of every lesson!

Generally, younger and lower students need you to check in more often while older and higher functioning students are cool with you checking in less often.

You need to check in more often when you are establishing a new behavior and less often when you are maintaining the behavior.

By check in, I mean actually talk to a kid. Contracts are learning and teaching tools. Ask them how they think they did—talk with them about it and what they could do differently or did well. You secretly filling in a contract doesn’t teach the kid anything. Talk to them about what went well and what went badly and make a plan for next time. Treat behaviors like you would any other skill—do exit slips and re-teaching as needed and remember to pre-teach the hard stuff.

As a student’s behavior begins to improve, increase the time frame of their contract and decrease the check in frequency.  Behavior contracts should never be fixed—they need to change as the child’s behaviors and the teacher’s available time/energy change!

  • There are students who struggle with behaviors like paying attention during every single activity of the school day. They might need a quick check in at the end of every activity—“How do you think math went today? How much work did you get done?”
  • These are pretty common for older students who change teachers. The student needs to bring the contract to each classroom to get the teacher to sign. The goal is to increase communication within a team about a student and to reinforce the positive behaviors across teachers. However, if you get one teacher who won’t fill it in or who always forgets the whole contract can fall apart. In that case, you will have to choose either letting a student self-report how they did, leaving that teacher off the contract, or switching to a daily check in instead.
  • When most people think contracts, this is what they are thinking about. It is incredibly powerful for a student to get feedback (positive and negative) on their behavior constantly during a day. However, it is really hard on teachers to check in that often with a kid. What tends to happen is that a teacher starts out checking in with a kid at every time period on the contract and then, after a week or two, starts to forget. Instead of filling it in at the end of every activity the teacher will go back at the end of the day and try to back fill.
  • Consistency is what makes contracts work. If you notice that you aren’t checking in with the kid as often as the contract says, change how often you are supposed to check in.
  • This is the next step down. Instead of checking in with the kid at the end of every activity, check in with them a few times a day. Maybe check in with them on the way to lunch, right before recess, and at the end of school.
  • If you have a student who needs frequent check ins (they call out during every activity) but checking in after every lesson isn’t working for you, try this. You get to choose how often you want to check in. A student of mine struggled in line on the way to class, right before lunch, coming in from recess, and kind of overall. So we checked in with her when she got into the class in the morning, as she was about to walk to lunch, after recess, and right before she went home. It wasn’t often enough to drive us crazy and was frequent enough to change her behaviors.
  • As student’s behaviors start to improve, decrease how often you are checking in with them. Students aren’t always going to need you hovering. Once they start to get what you want them to do, you can start checking in with them only once a day.
  • If you are only checking in once a day, make sure that you have a real conversation about the day. “I noticed that this morning seemed kind of rough but then you really turned it around after lunch. What changed? How could I support you in making your mornings look as awesome as your afternoons?” Don’t just focus on the negatives of the day. Call out a few good things that the student did during the day. If these conversations are just another lecture, a kid is going to shut down and the contract won’t work.
  • Use the daily check ins as a chance to make a plan for the following days and weeks. “I noticed that you had some trouble being focused in math today. There is going to be a test tomorrow in math. What can you do to stay focused during the test? How can we help you?”
  • I get kids every year who are great in the classroom and hit kids out at recess. If that is your kid, make a recess contract. Check in with them after recess every day and make a contract just for recess. If you kid is great at math but shuts down in writing every day, make the contract just for writing and remember to check in with them at the end of each writing class. Talk to them about how they did during the writing lesson and how their work was compared to other days.
  • This works really well for kids who consistently struggle with only one or two activities in a given day like recess or writing.


  • This is the least work for you!
  • Don’t promise to check in with a student at the end of every activity. Instead, create a reward chart where you will give them a star whenever you happen to notice them doing the good behavior.
  • Let them know that sometimes they might do the behavior without you seeing it—you will give the stars when you happen to see the behavior NOT every time they do the behavior.
  • This is also the best training for the real world—no one actually notices every time we do something good.
  • This time frame works to generally increase positive behaviors but isn’t as good at teaching specific behaviors like raising your hand.
  • Normally, random check ins are used for students who have already learned a positive behavior and just need some reinforcement to maintain the behavior.


Teach the desired behaviors

No one actually knows what safe hands, nice hands, or keep hands to self really means. Keep hands to self? Can I hug my friends? Touch my markers? It is up to you and the student to negotiate a definition.

Talk though what the expected behaviors are. Use examples. Be prepared to re-teach. They will forget what you meant and forget what they are supposed to do and just generally forget stuff. The biggest aha moment for me in teaching was when I realized that it really WAS my job to repeat myself. Kids are human and need to hear things—and learn things—more than one time.

Make the contract

Now you are ready to start writing the contract! To get you started, download the bundle of free contracts from the store. With 15 easy to customize contracts, it should get you started!

IEP Success Kit for PreK-5th Grade

This mega bundle has assessments and resources from PreK-5th grade!

15 Free Behavior Contracts

Use this starter kit to help you start creating strong contracts today!

IEP Success Kit for Upper Elementary

Assessments and resources for just 2-5th grades!

Have more IEP questions? Check out:

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