My ‘HOW TO…’ series: First/Then boards and token economy system combined.

Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted on here and I aim to get back into the swing of posting more regularly. I popped a question box up on my Instagram page last week asking what you would like to see more of and I am going to use some of these suggestions to do a ‘HOW TO’ series talking through how I do deal with different topics in my own classroom. As I alsways say, I am no expert but happy to share my own thoughts and ideas and the things that have worked for me.

One of the recurring requests that came up was how to use token boards and why we should use them. So here is an outline of how and why I use my combined token economy first/then boards in my own class. I created these just over 4 years ago, having used separate systems for years and I have to say these were a game changer. So much more practical to have the two systems integrated, easier to manoeuvre and move around the classroom (and to all the other areas around school!) and overall more motivating for the children to choose to use for themselves.

Link below to my newest special offer bumper pack of combined token boards. Smaller bundles of themed token boards also available in my store.

1. Firstly, I would say to always use these in addition to your child’s individual visual schedule. The Now/Next or First/Then board will help to break this schedule up into more manageable bitesize pieces and over time you can extend to working using a Now/Next/Then board and again in time move to using the visual timetable on its own without the need for reinforcer or the breakdown of lessons. That said, do remember that some children may always need this type of visual encouragement and breakdown as well as reinforcement and that is fine too. Treat each child as an individual and give them what they need to succeed.

2. There are many ways to use these boards. You can simply use them as a now/next, first/then board for activities on the visual schedule to break up the schedule into more manageable bitesize pieces. Many children struggle to comprehend the full visual schedule and can find it very overwhelming which can lead to an increase in anxiety and unwanted refusals and behaviours. Breaking the day u pinto these manageable sections helps them to feel more in control and also know that there is an end in sight to a non-preferred activity. So simply place your first activity/task/lesson on the ‘now/first’ part and place the second activity/task/lesson on the ‘next/then’ part. Award tokens for compliance, completion of task, good behaviour, etc throughout the lesson. The visual aid of the tokens being filled up can lessen anxiety as children will be aware of the lesson coming to an end as they earn the tokens. For some children this is enough of a breakdown and no physical or tangible reinforcer is needed.

3. For others, they may need more motivation to attend, focus and engage in lessons so you can also use these boards as a motivating support system. The themed token in itself can act as a motivator alone as long as the child has the interest in the theme of the token. For this reason I display a variety of these boards in class and give the choice of which board to use to the child. This also gives them a sense of control over a task that they may not want to do at all, therefore making them more willing to attempt the work. For a child like this who needs a more instant feeling of success/reward, you can use the boards as ‘now/first’ activity/task/lesson and the ‘next/then’ as the highly motivating reinforcer (again specific to the individual child). In my class I create individual choice boards for each child’s desk relating to their individual and preferred activities. (See link to these below.) Do remember that it has to be highly motivating for the child, not just what you believe the child is motivated by. These two things can differ significantly. Once the tokens have been earned, the child is rewarded with this choice time (again you set the timeframe for this and I tend to state this before the lesson begins so the child knows exactly what they are working for).

4. In my class I tend to use these boards as a 5 or 10 token board (but you can set the expectation of any set number of tokens as you wish but be consistent in your expectations as you set the boundaries and quantity of tokens to be earned. Explain this at the offset so children know what is expected of them and don’t be tempted to extend the work or add on the earning of tokens, even if they are doing great work. This is unfair to the child and is breaking that promise you have made with the child and therefore breaking trust and the relationship you are forming.) Most children in my class earn either 5 or 10 tokens and we can be flexible on this depending on setting events for that child so for eg. If the child is tired we may set the target as earning 5 instead of 10 tokens for that day. I would recommend using the 10 tokens with a child who has most difficulty attending and engaging in lessons as the frequency of earning tokens is greater and as such you are giving them more chances of success in a shorter time frame and in quick succession, therefore engaging them for a longer period of time. As they increase their ability to attend and focus, you can reduce the number of tokens they are earning and give them either less frequently or expect more work for each token as it is earned.

5. The pause token (the X token) is used as I believe in positive reinforcement and I would urge fellow educators and parents to refrain from taking away tokens. Tokens are ALWAYS earned, NEVER taken, regardless of any exhibited unwanted or inappropriate behaviours. The pause on the earning can be used if there is a refusal, non-compliance, aggression, lack of focus/engagement etc but should be  given and removed in quick succession to keep the momentum of the lesson and the positive feelings of success, even if this means you are contriving or making up a reason for taking it away (eg “super sitting, I love your quiet hands, you look like your ready to work again…let’s take away the pause and earn another token”. Keep it positive! You want to reinforce the positive behaviour not the refusals, non-compliance and negative behaviours. You also want to give them “an out” so they don’t feel like they have lost something and there’s no point in continuing their work. Taking away the tokens will only lead to an increase in refusals, a lack of trust and the whole system will cease to be effective or even work.

So that is pretty much how I use my combined token boards in my class. How you use them in your class will completely depend on the individual children in your class. Some of my children no longer use or need to use them as they are now more intrinsically motivated and verbal praise and stickers will suffice in motivating and encouraging them to complete their work/tasks. Others use them to simply break down the larger full day visual schedule into more manageable tasks and the tokens act almost as a visual timeframe to note the beginning to the end. For others, they still need the tangible highly motivating reinforcer at task completion to complete or even engage in an activity or task. They are a great visual support system that can be used to engage, focus and motivate children in the development of their behavioural and academic skills and I for one would not be without them in my class.

For further information or a more visual insight into how I use these boards, check out my Instagram highlight ’token boards’.

Feel free to leave any questions, comments or requests for this ‘HOW TO’ series or as usual you can find me on my Instagram page @ASDCreationStation.

Lisa xx


  1. I completely agree with your comment about not taking away earned rewards. It must be so demoralising for a child to work hard to meet a target and then lose it . Much better to focus on the positive behaviours to raise self-esteem and support self-regulation.

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