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Good Behavior Game

Ages 6-10

Rating: Level 1


The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a classroom management strategy designed to improve aggressive/disruptive classroom behavior and prevent later criminality. The program is universal and can be applied to general populations of early elementary school children, although the most significant results have been found for children demonstrating early high-risk behavior. It is implemented when children are in early elementary grades to provide them with the skills they need to respond to later, possibly negative, life experiences and societal influences.

GBG improves teachers’ ability to define tasks, set rules, and discipline students and allows students to work in teams in which each individual is responsible to the rest of the group. Before the game begins, teachers clearly specify those disruptive behaviors (e.g., verbal and physical disruptions, noncompliance) that, if displayed, will result in a team’s receiving a checkmark on the board. By the end of the game, teams that have not exceeded the maximum number of marks are rewarded, while teams that exceed this standard receive no rewards. Eventually, the teacher begins the game with no warning and at different periods during the day, so students are always monitoring their behavior and conforming to expectations.


The GBG was originally evaluated in five diverse urban areas in Baltimore City. From 19 public schools, the 3 or 4 most similar were identified within each area and then randomly assigned to one of three conditions: 1) GBG, 2) ML, or 3) external control condition with no experimental intervention. Individual first grade classrooms and individual students entering 1st grade were also randomly assigned to intervention or internal control within intervention schools. The sample included 864 students entering first grade in 1985–86. The sample was 49 percent male, 64 percent African-American and 29 percent white. The GBG sample consisted of 182 students from eight classrooms, with the GBG internal control composed of 107 students from six classrooms. The ML sample consisted of 207 students from nine classrooms, with the internal control totaling 156 students from seven classrooms. The external control group consisted of 212 students from 12 classrooms. Measures used to examine intervention impact included the Teacher Observation of Classroom Adaptation—Revised (TOCA—R), the Peer Assessment Inventory, and the Pupil Evaluation Inventory. In the 6-year follow-up analysis, 693 students received the intervention for 2 consecutive years, but only 590 were assessed 6 years later. No information is provided on the comparability of the follow-up sample to the larger group. The follow-up used the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC 2.25C) to identify conduct disorder. The DISC 2.25C was administered to 184 children, comprising a randomly selected sample of 27 children and 157 others who had screened positive on a conduct problems checklist based on the DSM–III–R.

A subsequent evaluation of the GBG was conducted with 678 children entering first grade in nine Baltimore City public elementary schools. The study used a randomized block design in which three first grade classrooms in each of the nine schools were randomly assigned to one of two intervention conditions (a classroom-centered [CC] intervention with GBG or a family–school partnership [FSP] intervention) or to a control condition. Teachers and children were then randomly assigned to one of the conditions. Of the total sample, 53 percent were boys, 87 percent were African-American, and 13 percent were of European-American heritage. At entrance to the first grade, the children ranged in age from 5.3 years to 7.7 years, with a mean age of 6.2. Measures used at baseline included the TOCA—R, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills—Version IV, and the Structured Interview of Parent Management Skills and Practices—Parent Version (SIPMSP). Measures used during the spring of sixth grade to measure intervention impact included the Teacher Report of Classroom Behavior—Checklist Form, the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children–IV, the Service Assessment for Children and Adolescents—Parent Form, the School Mental Health Professional Report, and the SIPMSP.


The original evaluation showed that GBG had a significant impact on aggressive behavior rated by teachers for boys and girls. For boys the GBG subjects were rated less aggressive than the external control group. For girls the GBG subjects were rated less aggressive than the internal control group. The GBG had an impact for boys on aggressive behavior as nominated by peers, but it had no effect on peer nominations of aggressive behavior among girls. For both boys and girls in GBG, teacher ratings of shy behavior were significantly less than internal controls after the intervention and significantly less than external controls for girls. The 6-year follow-up produced no main effect reduction in aggression as a result of the GBG. For males with higher levels of aggression at first grade, however, there were increasing and significant effects of the GBG at sixth grade. Thus the effect of the GBG varied as a function of aggression severity.

The more recent evaluation of GBG found that at sixth grade (5 years after the intervention) the CC (GBG) intervention children were significantly less likely than control children to meet the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder, less likely to have been suspended from school in the last year, and less likely to have received or been judged to need mental health services. Both the CC and FSP intervention children received significantly better ratings from their teachers for conduct problems than the control children. Moreover, research found evidence to suggest that the impact of the interventions was in part mediated by improvement in early risk behaviors of attention/concentration problems and shy and aggressive behavior.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Life stressors
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Family transitions


  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Community instability
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • HHS: Surgeon General


Dolan, L.J.; S.G. Kellam; C.H. Brown; L. Werthamer–Larson; G.W. Rebok; L.S. Mayer; J. Laudoff; J. Turkkan; C. Ford; and L. Wheeler. 1993. “The Short-Term Impact of Two Classroom-Based Preventive Interventions on Aggressive and Shy Behaviors and Poor Achievement.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 14:317–45.

Ialongo, N.; J. Poduska; L. Werthamer; and S.G. Kellam. 2001. “The Distal Impact of Two First Grade Preventive Interventions on Conduct Problems and Disorder in Early Adolescence.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 9(3):146–60.

Kellam, S.G.; X. Ling; R. Merisca; C.H. Brown; and N. Ialongo. 1998. “The Effect of the Level of Aggression in the First Grade Classroom on the Course and Malleability of Aggressive Behavior Into Middle School.” Development and Psychopathology 10:165–85.

Kellam, S.G.; G.W. Rebok; N. Ialongo; and L.S. Mayer. 1994. “The Course and Malleability of Aggressive Behavior From Early First Grade Into Middle School: Results of a Developmental Epidemiologically Based Preventive Trial.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 35:259–81.


Sheppard G. Kellam, M.D.
AIR Center for Integrating Education and Prevention Research in Schools
921 East Fort Avenue, Suite 225
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: (410) 347-8551
Fax: (410) 347-8559
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Sheppard G. Kellam, M.D.
AIR Center for Integrating Education and Prevention Research in Schools
921 East Fort Avenue, Suite 225
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: (410) 347-8551
Fax: (410) 347-8559
Web site: