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Program Profile: Good Behavior Game

Evidence Rating: Effective - More than one study Effective - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on June 15, 2011

Program Summary

A classroom management strategy for children ages 6 to 10 designed to improve aggressive and disruptive classroom behavior and prevent later criminality. The program is rated Effective. The analysis showed males with higher levels of aggression at first grade, but there were increasing and significant effects at sixth grade. Findings also include reduced rates of externalizing behavior and more peer acceptance.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals
Good Behavior Game (GBG) is designed to improve aggressive/disruptive classroom behavior and prevent later criminality. GBG attempts to reduce a child's externalizing behavior and to promote prosocial behavior by encouraging positive interactions with peers. GBG improves teachers’ ability to define tasks, set rules, and discipline students. 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.

Target Population
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.

Program Components
GBG is a classroom management strategy in which students are assigned to work in teams, and each individual is responsible to the rest of his or her team for its success. It is understood that the entire team will be rewarded if they are found to be in compliance with classroom rules.

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. Team members are encouraged to support each other's efforts at appropriate behavior. 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.

GBG is implemented in three phases. In the introduction phase, children and teachers are familiarized with the GBG intermittently and for short periods of time. In the expansion phase, the duration of the GBG, the settings in which the GBG is played, and the behaviors targeted by the GBG are expanded. In the generalization phase, compliance with classroom rules outside GBG periods is encouraged by explaining to children that the GBG rules are applicable even when the game is not played. 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.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1

Aggressive Behavior

Kellam and colleagues (1994) examined the impact of GBG separately by gender, first comparing the total male children and then the total female children who received GBG with the GBG and ML internal controls, external controls, and the ML children. No main effects of GBG were found for males compared with the combined control groups, including ML, for the total population of males. There also were no main effects of the GBG for all females.


The analysis did show that for males with higher levels of aggression at first grade 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. Regression analysis showed that GBG did not appear to protect the children who were not aggressive from the start of the study from becoming aggressive. The boys who improved had exhibited aggressive behavior to benefit from GBG.


Study 2

Externalizing Behavior

Witvliet and colleagues (2009) found reduced rates of externalizing behavior among GBG children, compared with control children. GBG children had a reduced growth in externalizing behavior, which resulted in a significant reduction of externalizing problems at the end of the second grade. The finding on reductions of externalizing behavior was specific for boys, a finding consistent with study 1 results.


Peer Acceptance

The study also found that GBG students were more accepted by peers, had more mutual friends, and showed more proximity to others than control group students did. These results partially mediated the reductions in externalizing behavior induced by the GBG intervention.

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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1

Kellam and colleagues (1994) evaluated the effects of the Good Behavior Game (GBG) on students at a 6-year follow-up period. The researchers began the initial evaluation of GBG in the 1985–86 school year by selecting five urban areas within Baltimore City, Md. From a total of 19 schools, the three or four most similar schools were identified within each of the five urban areas and randomly assigned to one of three conditions were 1) GBG, 2) the Mastery Learning (ML) program (designed to improve poor reading achievement), and 3) an external control condition with no experimental intervention. Both interventions were administered at the classroom level. In order to avoid confounding intervention status with school effects, classrooms in the intervention schools (GBG and ML schools) were divided into two types: intervention classes (GBG or ML) and internal control classes (classes in the same school which did not receive either intervention). Individual first-grade classrooms were randomly assigned to intervention or internal control groups within the intervention schools.


This multilevel design originally included 19 schools, 41 classrooms, and 1,196 students within five urban areas. The initial sample of students was 49 percent male, and 65 percent African American, 31 percent white, and 4 percent other ethnic groups. Children ranged in age from 5.0 to 9.7 years, with an average age of 6.6 years. There were no significant differences between the intervention groups on baseline characteristics of teacher ratings of aggressive, disruptive behavior, fall-of-first-grade achievement, or free/reduced-price lunch. However, there were significant differences between GBG students and internal control students on measures of depressive symptoms.


The final sample at the 6-year follow-up included 693 students who were in the same intervention condition for 2 years. There were 153 students from eight classrooms who received the GBG intervention and 86 students from six classrooms who were in the GBG internal control condition (students who were in the same school but did not receive the GBG intervention). The sample of the external control condition included 157 students from 11 classrooms. Finally, there were 163 students from nine classrooms who received the ML condition and 134 students from seven classrooms who were in the ML internal control condition (students from the same school who did not receive the ML intervention). No information was provided on the comparability of the intervention groups included in the follow-up sample. Most of the students lost to follow-up had moved out of the system. A small number of others refused to participate in the study.


The primary outcome measures were the Teacher Observation of Classroom Adaptation—Revised, which measured aggressive behavior, and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children, which identified conduct disorder. Latent growth modeling and hierarchical logistic regression models were used to adjust for variations at baseline.


Study 2

Witvliet and colleagues (2009) used a randomized control trial to evaluate the GBG on children’s externalizing behavior development. Study participants included 825 kindergarten children from 47 classrooms in 30 elementary schools in two urban areas and one rural area in the Netherlands. Intervention began in first grade for 425 children in the GBG group and 220 children in the comparison group. The average age of study participants was 6 years at the end of kindergarten. Of the children, 56 percent were from a Dutch/white background, 10 percent were Moroccan, 10 percent were Turkish, 6 percent were Surinamese, 5 percent were from the Netherlands Antilles, and 13 percent were from other ethnic backgrounds. Also, 36 percent were from low socioeconomic-status (SES) families. The groups were not significantly different on baseline characteristics, except that control students had lower SES scores. However, 113 students dropped out of the student cohort between first and second grade because of grade retention or because they moved to another school. These students were not significantly different from the students who remained in the study, except that they were significantly more likely to come from low–SES families.


The study coordinator randomly assigned participating classes to one of three conditions: a control condition, a GBG–only condition, or a GBG and parent intervention condition. Intervention began in first grade and continued for 2 years. Since the parenting component began after the 2 years of GBG, the effects are not analyzed in this study and data for the two intervention groups is analyzed together in this study.


Measures of teacher ratings included a) the Problem Behavior at School Interview used to measure externalizing behavior (the sum of the oppositional and conduct problems scales) and prosocial behavior in kindergarten (assessed by four items) and b) the 11-item Social Problems scale of Achenbach’s Teacher’s Report Form. Peer acceptance, the number of mutual friends, and proximity to others were measured through peer nominations. Descriptive statistics and latent growth modeling were used in the analysis of data.

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Information on cost is available by contacting the Training and Technical Assistance Provider (please see contact information).
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Implementation Information

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American Institutes for Research (AIR) works with schools and districts to implement, sustain, and expand Good Behavior Game (GBG). AIR’s multilevel model of training and support includes training for teachers and local GBG Coaches who work directly with teachers. GBG Coaches can receive additional training to become GBG Trainers.

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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Kellam, Sheppard G., George W. Rebok, Nicholas S. Ialongo, and Lawrence 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.

Study 2
Witvliet, Miranda, Pol A.C. van Lier, Pim Cuijpers, and Hans M. Koot. 2009. “Testing Links Between Childhood Positive Peer Relations and Externalizing Outcomes Through a Randomized Controlled Study.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 77(5):905–15.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Bradshaw, Catherine P., Jessika H. Zmuda, Sheppard G. Kellam, and Nicholas S. Ialongo. 2009. “Longitudinal Impact of Two Universal Preventive Interventions in First Grade on Educational Outcomes in High School.” Journal of Educational Psychology 101(4):926–37.

Brown, C. Hendricks, Sheppard G. Kellam, Nicholas S. Ialongo, Jeanne M. Poduska, and Carla Ford. 2007. “Prevention of Aggressive Behavior Through Middle School Using a First-Grade Classroom-Based Intervention.” In M. T. Tsuang, W.S. Stone, & M. J. Lyons (eds.), Recognition and Prevention of Major Mental and Substance Use Disorders. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc, 347–369.

Dolan, Lawrence J., Sheppard G. Kellam, C. Hendricks Brown, Lisa Werthamer, George W. Rebok, Lawrence S. Mayer, Jolene Laudoff, Jaylan Turkkan, Carla Ford, and Leonard 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, Nicholas S., Jeanne M. Poduska, Lisa Werthamer, and Sheppard 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, Sheppard G., and James C. Anthony. 1998. “Targeting Early Antecedents to Prevent Tobacco Smoking: Findings From an Epidemiologically Based Randomized Field Trial.” American Journal of Public Health 88(10):1491–95.

Kellam, Sheppard G., C. Hendricks Brown, Jeanne M. Poduska, Nicholas S. Ialongo, Wei Wang, Peter Toyinbo, Hanno Petras, Carla Ford, Amy M. Windham, and Holly C. Wilcox. 2008. “Effects of a Universal Classroom Behavior Management Program in First and Second Grades on Young Adult Behavioral, Psychiatric, and Social Outcomes.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 95(Suppl. 1):S5–S28.

Kellam, Sheppard G., Xiange Ling, Rolande Merisca, C. Hendricks Brown, and Nicholas S. 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, Sheppard G., John Reid, and Robert L. Balster (eds.). 2008. “Effects of a Universal Classroom Behavior Program in First and Second Graces on Young Adult Outcomes.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence: An International Journal on Biomedical and Psychosocial Approaches 95(Suppl. 1):S1–101.

Kellam, Sheppard G., Wei Wang, Amelia C.I. Mackenzie, C. Hendricks Brown, Danielle C. Ompad, Flora Or, Nicholas S. Ialongo, Jeanne M. Pduska, and Amy Windham. 2014. “The Impact of the Good Behavior Game, a Universal Classroom-Based Preventive Intervention in First and Second Grades, on High-Risk Sexual Behaviors and Drug Abuse and Dependence Disorders into Youth Adulthood.” Prevention Science 15(Supplement 1):S6–S18.

Petras, Hanno, Sheppard G. Kellam, C. Hendricks Brown, Bengt O. Muthen, Nicholas S. Ialongo, and Jeanne M. Poduska. 2008. “Developmental Epidemiological Courses Leading to Antisocial Personality Disorder and Violent and Criminal Behavior: Effects of Young Adulthood of a Universal Preventive Intervention in First and Second Grade Classrooms.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 95(Suppl. 1):S45–S59.

Poduska, Jeanne M., Sheppard G. Kellam, Wei Wang, C. Hendricks Brown, Nicholas S. Ialongo, and Peter Toyinbo. 2008. “Impact of the Good Behavior Game, a Universal Classroom-Based Behavior Intervention, on Young Adult Service Use for Problems with Emotions, Behavior, or Drugs or Alcohol.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 95(Suppl. 1):S29–S44.

Tingstrom, Daniel H., Heather E. Sterling–Turner, Susan M. Wilczynski. 2006. “The Good Behavior Game: 1969–2002.” Behavior Modification 30(2):225–53.

Wilcox, Holly C., Sheppard G. Kellam, Carla H. Brown, Jeanne M. Poduska, Nicholas S. Ialongo, Wei Wang, and James C. Anthony. 2008. “The Impact of Two Universal Randomized First- and Second-Grade Classroom Interventions on Young Adult Suicide Ideation and Attempts.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 95(Suppl. 1):S60–73.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Universal School-Based Prevention and Intervention Programs for Aggressive and Disruptive Behavior
Universal school-based prevention and intervention programs for aggressive and disruptive behavior target elementary, middle, and high school students in a universal setting, rather than focusing on only a selective group of students, with the intention of preventing or reducing violent, aggressive, or disruptive behaviors. The practice is rated Effective in reducing violent, aggressive, and/or disruptive behaviors in students.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors

Universal Teacher Classroom Management Practices
This practice includes classroom management techniques and programs for teaching prosocial behaviors and reducing or preventing inappropriate or aggressive behaviors of students in K–12th grades. This practice is rated Effective in reducing disruptive, inappropriate, and aggressive behavior in students.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Aggression

Early Self-Control Improvement Programs for Children
This practice consists of programs designed to increase self-control and reduce child behavior problems (e.g., conduct problems, antisocial behavior, and delinquency) with children up to age 10. Program types include social skills development, cognitive coping strategies, training/role playing, and relaxation training. This practice is rated Effective for improving self-control and reducing delinquency.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Self-Control
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 6 - 10

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, White, Other

Geography: Rural, Urban

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Classroom Curricula, School/Classroom Environment, Children Exposed to Violence

Targeted Population: Children Exposed to Violence

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Child Exposure to Violence Evidence Based Guide, Model Programs Guide, Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development (formerly Blueprints for Violence Prevention)

Program Developer:
Sheppard G. Kellam
Professor Emeritus
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
624 N. Broadway, Room 786
Baltimore MD 21205
Phone: 410.614.0680
Fax: 410.347.8559

Program Director:
Jeanne Poduska
Managing Researcher
American Institutes for Research
300 East Lombard Street, Suite 1020
Baltimore MD 21202
Phone: 410.347.8553

Training and TA Provider:
Judi Littman
Good Behavior Game Trainer/Research Analyst
American Institutes for Research
1000 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW
Washington DC 20007
Phone: 202.403.5869