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Using Token Boards in the Classroom

Let’s explore a practical topic that can make a real difference in your classroom – token boards. These unassuming tools, when paired with thoughtful customization, collaboration, and research-based strategies, can truly transform your teaching experience. In this blog post, we’ll look at how to make token boards work seamlessly in your special education or inclusive classroom.

Making it Personal: Tokens & Motivators

Let’s start by acknowledging that every student is unique, and what motivates one learner might not do the same for another. When setting up token boards, take a moment to consider what makes each student tick. Then, base your rewards and tokens on those interests. A gamer might aim for extra screen time, while an artist might collect tokens for a special art project. This personal touch can go a long way in sparking enthusiasm! If the “reward” is not exciting for the student, then earning tokens (which ultimately are signaling that this reward is delayed) certainly are not going to help increase motivation. Click here to browse a bundle of non-traditional sports themed token boards!

Power of Partnership: Involving Students

You know what’s awesome? Letting students have a say in their own learning journey. Collaboration is a key ingredient here. When possible, try to involved the student in the actual creation of their token board. If they like sports, perhaps each token could resemble their favorite sports ball and you can put the logo of their favorite team on the board. If they are into video games, maybe each token is a small picture of a character from their favorite game. I have made personalized token boards for students with everything from soccer balls to unicorns and everything in between, depending on student interests. Adding this personal connection to the the token board can increase its positive value to your learner.

Finding the Right Starting Point

Introducing token boards is a dynamic process that evolves over time. Think of it like adjusting the volume on a radio – starting too high can be overwhelming. Begin by setting achievable targets. For instance, you might begin with a learner earning one token for a correct response (or completed task, depending on their ability) and 2 earned tokens equals their reward. If successful, you could then fade to 2 correct responses (or completed tasks) per token and/ or 3 earned tokens equals reward.

Be sure to change only one component of the reinforcement system at a time so that you can evaluate if and what changes are effective! If a student earns tokens for completing tasks, make sure the goals match their abilities and you are providing tasks at their instructional level. After all, all the motivation in the world is not going to teach them skills they don’t know!

Thinning Reinforcement over Time

Once the student is successfully earning tokens and rewards consistently, you can evaluate how much you want to continue to thin reinforcement. Thinning reinforcement refers to either lengthening the task requirements per token or lengthen the token requirements for earning. You may be able to thin reinforcement until it is a very small component of their motivation (e.g. a token per class period or a token per day working toward a longer term goal), or do away with the physical token board altogether. I have, however, worked with students who have always utilized a token board in some way, shape, or form from year to year, as an effective tool for them to access learning.

Using Token Boards in Inclusion Settings

Inclusive classrooms are all about blending in, not sticking out. So, when it comes to token boards, think portable and discreet. Consider using token boards that can slide into a binder or folder (I am a big fan of these portable plastic envelopes, with the added bonus being you can keep extra tokens or timers inside!). This way, you (or the learner themselves) can carry their motivation toolkit with them without turning heads. Of course, if peers notice and comment on token boards, I think it makes sense to provide an explanation and normalize the fact that different learners need different things to succeed.


In conclusion, token boards have stood the test of time (and have research to support them) and can be an effective tool to motivate students with autism or other students with any educational or behavioral challenges. Collaborating with your student (when possible) and identifying an appropriate starting point are key ingredients to initial success. Knowing when to thin reinforcement over time and how to make the token board a seamless part of your learner’s classroom are essential for continued benefits.


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