A contract is a written agreement between a student and a teacher that is directed toward changing the youngster's behavior.  It is a motivational device in which you agree to provide a reward to the student if s/he completes a designated task or displays a certain behavior. The selected behavior is usually one that is exhibited less frequently than you would desire.  Therefore, you offer an incentive to the student to increase the occurrence of that behavior. The contract outlines time or amount constraints, the reinforcer to be administered, and any other necessary conditions.  Most contracts are positively oriented.  That is, they reward success, but offer no consequences for failure.  However, some do include penalty clauses to punish the student if s/he fails to meet stated expectations. Here are some examples of contracts:

Room 226 Contract

During the week of: ________________________________________
I will: _____________________________________________________
If I do this, I will receive: ___________________________________

We agree to the above terms.
Teacher ____________________________________
Student  ____________________________________
Witness ____________________________________


The following is an agreement between ___________________________________  and ________________________.

The terms of the agreement are as follows:

The student will _________________________________________________________________________.

In return, the teacher will _________________________________________________________________.

The following conditions apply:




This contract is rendered null and void if the student fails to achieve the designated goal. The contract will be reviewed on: (date)

Student signature_________________________________
Teacher signature________________________________

Witness signature________________________________


Select only one of the example behaviors

Is it smart to mention the undesireable behavior (dawdling)?

This contract ^contains a "penalty clause" to increase the pressure to demonstrate the behavior.

This example combines contracting with differential reinforcement of lower rates of behavior (DRL)

(see the home page link on "differential reinforcement" for more information on this procedure)


How to Use Contracting

1. Arrange a meeting with the selected student.

2. Discuss your concern about academic or behavioral performance and make it known that you are willing to make a deal in order to help him/her improve.

3. Explain contracting and give a few examples. Tell how movie stars, sports heroes, and persons in other professions of interest to the student are involved with contracts.

4. Be sure that the student understands the concept of contracts by asking him/her to give an example of a contract.

5. Inform the student of which behaviors you would be willing to reward.  You might also wish to ask the student which behaviors s/he feels need to be improved.

6. Have the student tell you for which activities or items s/he is willing to work.

7. Negotiate the ratio of task to reinforcement and agree upon the amounts.  Decide what must be done to receive the reinforcement.

8. Decide on the achievement level to be met by the student (e.g., 80 percent correct, less than three talk-outs per day). In order to ensure motivation and success, you may initially wish to start with the student's criteria at an easily achievable level and renegotiate later for a higher level of performance.

9. Determine the amount of time allotted to complete the task.

10.  Determine who will monitor and evaluate the student's performance. (The teacher usually does this.)

11.  Determine how and when the reinforcement will be awarded.

12. Set a date for renegotiation of the contract. This future discussion allows dissatisfied parties to state grievances and close loopholes.

13. Read the contract with the student and sign your names if both are in agreement.

14. Have a witness read and  sign the contract. Obtaining a witness who is perceived positively by the student may be a good motivational tool.

15. Have all parties shake hands and congratulate each other.

Click here for a description of how one teacher used contracts with his students

Activities and Discussion Questions

1. Find a partner and assign her or him the role of the student.  You, as the teacher, lead the contract development meeting by following the steps outlined above.  If you do not have a specific task or behavior in mind, use the following situations:
a. Sarup is regularly truant. When she does attend your class she refuses to do any work.
b. Brian rarely does his homework.
c. Robin dislikes remedial reading instruction.  He will not bring a book to the tutoring sessions as requested and complains if you ask him to go to the library and choose one. When asked to read orally in a small group, he places his head on the table and rests quietly.

2. Write three different contract forms, one for primary grades, one for intermediate grades, and one for high school level.

Fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page

We used contracts to paper train our little pup (Yes, I intended for this statement to have a double meaning).


Tom McIntyre at www.BehaviorAdvisor.com