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Good Behavior Game

Blueprints Program Rating: Promising

A classroom behavior management game providing a strategy to help elementary teachers reduce aggressive, disruptive behavior and other behavioral problems in children, particularly highly aggressive children, while creating a positive and effective learning environment.

Program Outcomes

  • Alcohol
  • Antisocial-aggressive Behavior
  • Illicit Drug Use
  • Internalizing
  • Mental Health - Other
  • Suicide/Suicidal Thoughts
  • Tobacco

Program Type

  • School - Individual Strategies

Program Setting

  • School

Continuum of Intervention

  • Universal Prevention (Entire Population)


  • Late Childhood (5-11) - K/Elementary


  • Male and Female


  • All Race/Ethnicity


  • Blueprints: Promising
  • Crime Solutions: Effective
  • OJJDP Model Programs: Effective
  • SAMHSA: 3.1-3.2

Program Information Contact

Jeanne Poduska, Sc.D.
American Institutes for Research
1000 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(410) 347-8553

Program Developer/Owner

  • Sheppard G. Kellam, M.D., Retired
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Brief Description of the Program

The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a classroom-based behavior management strategy for elementary school that teachers use along with a school's standard instructional curricula. GBG uses a classroom-wide game format with teams and rewards to socialize children to the role of student and reduce aggressive, disruptive classroom behavior, which is a risk factor for adolescent and adult illicit drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and violent and criminal behavior.

In GBG classrooms, the teacher assigns all children to teams, balanced with regard to gender; aggressive, disruptive behavior; and shy, socially isolated behavior. Basic classroom rules of student behavior are posted and reviewed. When GBG is played, each team is rewarded if team members commit a total of four or fewer infractions of the classroom rules during game periods. During the first weeks of the intervention, GBG is played three times a week for 10 minutes each time during periods of the day when the classroom environment is less structured and the students are working independently of the teacher. Game periods are increased in length and frequency at regular intervals; by mid-year the game may be played every day. Initially, the teacher announces the start of a game period and gives rewards at the conclusion of the game. Later, the teacher defers rewards until the end of the school day or week. Over time, GBG is played at different times of the day, during different activities, and in different locations, so the game evolves from being highly predictable in timing and occurrence with immediate reinforcement to being unpredictable, with delayed reinforcement so that children learn that good behavior is expected at all times and in all places.

See: Full Description


GBG tested alone: Baltimore Longitudinal Study-1st Generation Trial in Baltimore

  • At posttest (end of first grade), the GBG had a significant impact on aggressive and shy behavior for both males and females as rated by teachers (Dolan et al., 1993).
  • Peer nominations of aggressive behavior by their classmates were significantly reduced at posttest for males (Dolan et al., 1993).
  • At posttest, for peer and teacher ratings, the more severely aggressive children responded the most to GBG (Dolan et al., 1993).
  • At the six-year follow-up, there were no main program effects for the total population of males or females, but GBG had an increasing effect on aggression among males at or above the median on aggression in first grade (Kellam et al., 1994).
  • At 14-year follow-up, GBG, compared to internal controls and all controls, had significant impact on lifetime alcohol abuse/dependence and antisocial behavior among all youth, and on smoking and lifetime illicit drug use among males (Kellam et al., 2008).
  • In young adulthood, Cohort 2 GBG males were less likely to have used any services or mental and medical health services (Poduska et al., 2008).
  • GBG students in Cohort 1 at ages 19-21 were significantly less likely to have experienced suicide ideation as compared to those in the control group, and mixed effects, depending upon the model used, were found for suicide attempts (Wilcox et al., 2008).
  • Cohort 1 and 2 GBG males in the high aggression trajectory showed significantly lower slopes of aggressive, disruptive behavior sustained through 7th grade; sustained for females in the aggression trajectory through grade 4 (Petras et al., 2008).
  • Cohort 1 GBG males in the high aggression trajectory showed lower rates of antisocial personality disorder and violent and criminal behavior by young adulthood compared to controls (Petras et al., 2008).
  • Cohort 1 GBG males in the high aggression trajectory, as compared to controls, had a higher prevalence of lifetime condom use, later initiation of vaginal sex, and lower prevalence of a lifetime high risk sexual behavior composite score by ages 19-21 (Kellam et al., 2014).

GBG tested alone: Independent Replication (Mihalic et al., 2011)

  • Although there were a few significant positive effects at posttest, these disappeared at one-year follow-up; additionally, some significant one-year outcomes were in the wrong direction.

GBG tested in combination with an Enhanced Academic Curriculum: Classroom-Centered Intervention-2nd GenerationTrial in Baltimore (Ialongo et al.,1999; Storr et al., 2002; Furr-Holden et al., 2004)

Compared to children in control classrooms:

  • GBG boys and girls demonstrated significantly fewer teacher-rated total problems in first and second grade.
  • GBG boys had significantly fewer peer nominations for aggression in first grade than control boys.
  • By the spring of sixth grade, GBG children were significantly less likely to have a lifetime diagnosis of conduct disorder, to have been suspended from school, and to have received or been judged in need of mental health services.
  • At grade 7, GBG students had a modest attenuation in the risk of smoking (26% vs. 33%).
  • At grade 8, GBG students were significantly less likely to report the onset of tobacco use.
  • At grade 8, GBG students were significantly less likely to have started use of cocaine powder, crack, or heroin (i.e., Other Illegal Drug Use Scale).
  • At age 19, GBG prolonged survival time to the first cigarette smoked.
  • At age 19, GBG students had higher reading and math scores, higher odds of high school graduation and college attendance, and lower odds of special education services.

GBG tested alone in Belgium (Leflot et al., 2010)

Interim assessments found that relative to controls, after one academic year of program implementation:

  • teachers in the intervention group used less negative remarks;
  • children in the intervention group showed more on-task behavior;
  • children in the intervention group showed less talking-out behavior.

At posttest, relative to controls:

  • teachers in the intervention group used more praise;
  • children in the intervention group showed more on-task behavior;
  • children in the intervention group showed less talking-out behavior.
  • children in the intervention group showed a decreased rate of growth in oppositional behavior.

GBG tested alone in England (Humphrey et al., 2018)

The program failed to significantly improve reading, classroom behavior, and teacher skills.

Race/Ethnicity/Gender Details

The Good Behavior Game has been implemented in settings which included a significant population of ethnic/racial minorities as well as populations from urban areas in the U.S. and abroad. In the Baltimore trial, 65% of the sample was African American and 31% Caucasian. GBG has been most effective for males with higher levels of aggressive, disruptive behavior.

Risk and Protective Factors

Risk Factors
  • Individual: Antisocial/aggressive behavior*, Early initiation of antisocial behavior
Protective Factors
  • Individual: Clear standards for behavior
  • Peer: Interaction with prosocial peers
  • School: Opportunities for prosocial involvement in education, Rewards for prosocial involvement in school

*Risk/Protective Factor was significantly impacted by the program.

Training and Technical Assistance

There are two strands of professional development for GBG: one for teachers and one for local coaches and trainers.

Professional Development for Teachers
Teacher training and support focuses on understanding the practices and procedures for effectively implementing GBG and integrating GBG core elements into daily classroom life at high levels of quality over time. Teachers are trained in GBG practices through several activities.

  • Initial Two-Day Group Based GBG Training: Teachers participate in two days of initial training on GBG. The training includes formal sessions on GBG core elements, demonstrations of strategies and procedures, guided practice in delivery of GBG, and how to generalize practices.
  • Booster Session: The initial training is supported by a six-hour group-based booster session that is held in the middle of the school year.
  • Support of the Coach: In addition to group-based trainings, coaching is provided directly to teachers in their classrooms. GBG coaches provide ongoing support throughout the school year. In the first semester, the coach visits each teacher in the classroom every other week for 90 minutes. In the second semester, the amount of coaching is individualized based on the needs of each teacher. GBG coaches work with teachers to set up optimal conditions for playing GBG, determine appropriate times to play the game, establish GBG teams, and choose appropriate rewards and incentives for students. GBG coaches spend their time working directly with teachers in classrooms by observing, planning, modeling and mentoring, and providing feedback.

Professional Development for GBG Coaches
Local GBG coaches are trained in situ over one year as they work with teachers.

  • Group-Based Training: GBG coaches participate in the two-day initial GBG training and the booster session as described above.
  • Initial Coach Training: There is an additional day for coaches which focuses on (1) using data and records to support effective GBG implementation and inform professional development; (2) designing individual professional development plans and providing ongoing support to teachers; (3) working with adult learners; and (4) providing group professional development to teams of teachers, other school-level staff, and principals.
  • Implementation Audits: As part of the certification process for a GBG coach, AIR trainers (American Institutes for Research, the program purveyors) conduct at least two implementation audits over the course of the school year. During each audit, an AIR trainer observes the GBG coach working with teachers.
  • Regular Support: Until certified, GBG coaches participate in supervision and support with AIR via e-mail and telephone. Thereafter, AIR provides support as needed. GBG coaches must work with at least five teachers during the course of a school year to become certified.

Training Certification Process

GBG Trainers
GBG coaches can become GBG trainers through additional training. Once certified as a GBG coach, an individual can participate in an additional year of training to become a GBG trainer. GBG trainers can lead all activities to train teachers. AIR conducts group-based trainings in a school district until a local GBG trainer is certified to conduct these trainings.

  • Co-led Group-Based Trainings: The GBG trainer co-leads the group-based trainings for teachers alongside an AIR trainer.
  • Implementation Audits: AIR conducts two on-site audits to observe the GBG trainer.
  • Regular Support: Until certified, GBG trainers participate in regular supervision and support with AIR via telephone and e-mail. Thereafter, AIR provides support as needed.

Brief Evaluation Methodology

In the initial randomized trial of GBG, nineteen schools in five different urban areas of Baltimore City, Maryland were selected for the program. The areas varied in ethnicity, SES, type of housing, family structure, and stability. Three or four similar schools (matched on students' achievement levels, family SES and ethnicity) within each of the urban areas were assigned to one of three conditions: the Good Behavior Game (GBG) intervention, the Mastery Learning (ML) intervention (a strengthened reading curriculum), and the remaining school(s) to an external control condition with no intervention. Each intervention school's classrooms and first grade classroom teachers were randomly assigned to either an intervention or to serve as an internal control class (receiving no intervention). Children entering first grade were assigned in balanced fashion to equilibrate classrooms within schools. To minimize potential spillover effects, control teachers across schools were brought together and provided training in different areas. The full trial involved 42 classrooms in 19 schools. A cohort of 1,084 first grade children was assessed at baseline from among 1,197 children available for participation. The short-term impact of the GBG on aggression and shyness was assessed at posttest, then annually through middle school, and the long-term impact of the GBG was examined in a 14-year follow-up study. While the first cohort of students continued implementation in Grade 2, a new cohort of students entered the first grade and was also assigned to conditions for evaluation purposes. Cohort 2 consisted of 1,117 first grade children.

Humphrey et al. (2018) evaluated a large-scale implementation of the program in England, with 38 schools in the intervention group and 39 schools in the usual provision group. Measures of student reading and classroom behavior were obtained at baseline, interim, and 2-year posttest.


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