Dependent Group Contingencies

EBIP_classwide reward system_interdependent group contingency_6Dependent group contingencies are reward systems in which a few select children earn tokens that go toward a group goal. When the few select children have earned enough tokens to reach the group goal, they then trade their tokens in for a group-wide terminal reinforcer. For tips on how to get started with your dependent group contingency, see Class-Wide Reward Systems. If a child does not seem to understand or care about the group contingencies, an independent individual contingency (in addition to the class-wide contingency) may be needed.

What kinds of reinforcers should I offer?

Reinforcers don’t need to be “big” or last a long time, as long as they are meaningful to children and reinforce the target behaviors. You can learn about what kinds of reinforcers might be meaningful by conducting Preference Assessments, observing your children, or simply asking children what they would like to work for. Because there is one terminal reinforcer that children work toward as a group, this is a great opportunity to practice collaborative decision-making (e.g., voting on the day’s terminal reinforcer). Once your class has decided on a terminal reinforcer, provide a visual (e.g., an icon posted at eye level in the classroom) to remind children what they are working toward.

Remember to make reinforcers available only when the class meets their goal, and be sure to tailor your reinforcer options to the interests of your students. Here are some sample group reinforcers to help you get started:

  • Popcorn partyEBIP_reinforcement_interdependent group contingency_1
  • Dance party to favorite song at afternoon circle time
  • Favorite song sing-a-long (e.g., “Let it go” from Frozen)
  • Extra time at recess
  • Special materials (e.g., bubbles) at recess
  • Walk in the community
  • Mini field trip to a special location (e.g., library, older students’ classroom)
  • Picnic lunch outside
  • Special center only open for completing group goal (e.g., water play)
  • Special class game (e.g., classroom-wide obstacle course)
  • Special costume box available during dramatic play
  • Short, educational YouTube video at afternoon circle time (e.g., Dora the Explorer clip)
  • Using fun or special materials during art time (e.g., glitter, glow-in-the-dark pens)
  • Pajama day the next school day
  • Ice cream or Popsicle party
  • Popcorn party

Here’s a real classroom example of an dependent group contingency in action:

EBIP_classwide reward system_interdependent group contingency_1Katie used a dependent group contingency called the Mystery Motivator Reward System in a wide variety of classrooms, including a K-2 self-contained classroom for children with emotional and behavioral disorders. She also used this system an inclusive first grade classroom containing children who were gifted, at-risk, English language learners, and/or diagnosed with disabilities.

Preparation: To prepare the Mystery Motivator Reward System, Katie used was an old can and a package of popsicle sticks. She wrapped the can in construction paper and titled it “Mystery Motivator,” and then she wrote each child’s name on a Popsicle stick and put the sticks in the can.

Morning review: During morning circle time, Katie and her team reviewed the target behaviors for the day and reminded them of what they were working toward—a dance party at afternoon circle to a favorite song. Her team selected three target behaviors, one behavior for each of three distinct activities. For example, a target behavior might be washing hands directly after going to the bathroom, or staying with the group during the transition from classroom to playground. She then drew three Popsicle sticks at random, but did not reveal to the children which names she drew.

Token reinforcement: During a target EBIP_classwide reward system_interdependent group contingency_4activity, if she saw a “Popsicle kid” engaging in the target behavior, she waited until the end of the activity, then announced to the class that the child had earned a minute of dance time for the class by engaging in the target behavior. The child’s Popsicle stick was then posted next to a picture of the terminal reinforcer. If the child did not engage in the target behavior, she let the class know at the end of the activity that they did not earn an extra minute of dance time, but did not reveal the name of the “Popsicle kid” to anyone. In this way, she was able to reinforce target behaviors without shaming or punishing students.

Modifications for individual learners: To aid children who needed extra assistance, Katie and her assistant teachers provided prompting and verbal reminders as needed. For any learner in need of extra reinforcement, if Katie saw the child engage independently in a target behavior, she praised the child immediately in the moment, and then discretely swapped the Popsicle sticks so that the special learner could receive additional reinforcement.

Terminal reinforcement and afternoon review: At afternoon circle time at the end of each day, Katie and her team reviewed the target behaviors, and provided the terminal reinforcer (dance party). If the students did not earn their terminal reinforcer for the day, they engaged in an activity related to the target behaviors and reviewed them in preparation for the next day.

To cite this page (APA 6th edition):

  • Chazin, K.T. & Ledford, J.R. (2016). Dependent group contingencies. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from