One of my Favorite Behavior Tools!

Toni’s Contingency Map

The image above is called a contingency map. This is a method for helping students understand the consequence of choosing an action. To create the contingency map, first identify a behavior to support. Decide what the consequence will be if the student chooses to display the negative behavior. In the image above, I first define the situation. I then specify what the preferred choice is in green and the consequence for the preferred choice. In red, I specify the non-preferred choice and the consequence for the non-preferred choice.

For students who are not yet readers, or those who have difficulty processing words when they are escalated, pictures with words or pictures without words, may be used in each box.

I created the contingency map above for one of my students who ran away when the timer sounded to go inside for recess. The first box states the situation. The green box describes what the green (preferred choice) is: “I line up with my class.” The next green box displays the consequence for the preferred choice, “I can play outside again.” The first red box describes the non-preferred choice: “I run away” and the consequence for making the non-preferred choice: “I have to play inside for my next recess.”

How many teachers have students who love to work for the iPad as a reinforcer but the student has a huge behavior when it is time to put the iPad away? Instead of completely removing the iPad as a choice, teach the student that his actions will determine if he receives the iPad as a reinforcer. The contingency map above uses only pictures to describe what will happen. When using this, a teacher should define how long the student will lose the iPad (one hour, one day, one week?). It is important to remember that students may not have strong executive functioning skills. Because of this, losing the iPad for more than the rest of that day, may be too long of a time period for the student to remember and understand why the iPad was taken.

When I use a contingency map, I go over it with the student promptly before the student may display a behavior. If the student chooses to work for the iPad, I would go over the contingency map after it is earned. Say, “you earned the iPad. Remember, when the timer goes off, you need to put the iPad in the crate. When you do, you will get to work for the iPad again. If you choose to pinch when the timer goes off, you will lose the iPad for the rest of the day.” When the timer goes off and the student chooses to put the iPad in the crate, pull the map out again and point out that he made a green choice and now he can work for the iPad again.

If the student chooses to pinch, bring the map out and point to the red box that indicates he will not earn the iPad again for the rest of the day. This is not typically a good time to use any words. If the student moves on and asks to work for the iPad again, pull the map out and point to the red box indicating no iPad. The fewer words used, the less likely more behaviors will arise. I have also found that using the word “no” may cause the behavior to intensify. By pointing to the picture with the red on it, you are telling the student “no” without saying the word out loud.

Remind the student that whatever behavior he chooses, it is HIS CHOICE; this is very important. The more cavileer you act about the student making a non-preferred choice, the better this will work. You should provide no emotional reaction to a red choice. I have had students who would reach towards me, as if to pinch me and I would only respond with, “your choice” and point to the map. This takes your personal feelings about the student’s actions out of the equation. The student should believe that it doesn’t matter to you which choice he makes because the consequence for the action is already on paper.

A side note… any time you ask a student to end time with a preferred item, designate a specific place in the room where it belongs. When I first started this behavior tool, I would indicate that the student put the ipad/toy/fan/ect. in my hand when the timer sounded and once it was in my hand, I would turn the timer off. One Thomas the Train to the face made me change this practice! Designating a space in the classroom not only protects you from physical harm, it also detaches you from being the person taking something fun away from the student!

When I was teaching I also carried around a blank map that was laminated. When I anticipated a behavior brewing, I would either write in words using a dry erase marker or I would draw pictures in the boxes. Most students don’t care if your contingency map is publishable material. Use whatever you have to create this type of visual to distinguish choices and consequences.


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