How a token board motivated my students who learn and think differently

Motivated kids are rewarded by their own accomplishments. When kids thrive at something, they’re more likely to enjoy it and have a positive attitude about learning. Success keeps them going.

But for some kids who learn and think differently, that sense of accomplishment can be tougher to come by. These kids face more challenges and setbacks. They get fewer chances to feel successful, which can leave them less motivated.

In an ideal world, we want kids to be “intrinsically” motivated to learn. That means something inside them drives them to learn.

But when kids are afraid to take risks or make errors, they may need outside support to get started. A little nudge can push them forward until they can start experiencing success on their own.

That’s where a token board comes in. It’s a simple tool I’ve used in my classroom to motivate kids. And it’s one that you can use at home.

A token board is a system that rewards desired behaviors with tokens, which kids can exchange for something they value. It serves as a visual reminder. The one I’ve used also provides tactile and auditory feedback — it lets kids feel and hear when they make progress.

Here’s how I make a token board. I start with:

  • A mini-clipboard

  • A pack of Velcro circles

  • 6 tokens — pennies or other coins work great

And here’s how I put it together:

  1. Attach six Velcro circles (hook side) to the upper part of the clipboard in a triangle shape.

  2. Attach six more Velcro circles (hook side again) horizontally across the lower part of the clipboard.

  3. Attach each one of six Velcro circles (loop side) to each one of the six pennies.

  4. Attach the token pennies to the Velcro circles that you’ve placed horizontally across the bottom of the clipboard. That’s their resting place. From there they can move up to their place on the triangle.

If you don't want to use a clipboard, you can print this one-page sample token board instead.

How can you use a token board in practice? Say your child has been having trouble starting their homework at night. Together you agree that homework will begin after dinner each night without any reminders.

Every time your child starts working on homework without a reminder from you, your child earns a token and moves it from the bottom line onto the triangle. (When your child pulls on a token, the Velcro makes a nice “Rrriippp!!” sound, which your child may start to associate with success.)

Say you and your child also agree that when the triangle is filled with all six tokens, your child gets to choose a tangible reward. (Try to limit rewards to two or three options.) Maybe it’s a small pack of Pokémon cards, or a trip to the ice cream shop, or having a friend sleep over on Saturday night.

You can use a token board to encourage almost any behavior. But be flexible based on the needs of your child. For example, if your child loses interest easily, you may want to start with fewer than six tokens for a reward.

You may also want to give tokens more frequently. For instance, you could give a token for every 10 minutes of homework rather than just once a night.

At the same time, it’s important to not overuse a token board. You don’t want to become too dependent on giving out rewards.

One way to do that is add your own positive reinforcement. Each time your child earns a token (Rrriippp!!!), offer praise for your child’s effort with eye contact and a smile. Soon, your praise may be enough to help keep your child going.

When used correctly, a token board can encourage kids to do their homework or behave in more appropriate ways. It could even encourage them to do their household chores!

And when kids feel a sense of accomplishment, they’re more likely to take on new challenges.

Give the token board a shot. It’s one of the many tools you can use to help motivate your child.


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