Classroom Management Systems (CMS)

A practical guide to classroom management and positive reinforcement in the classroom


‘Classroom Management’ is an umbrella term which encompasses many different aspects of teaching. Positive reinforcement reward systems are often simply referred to as classroom management systems (or ‘CMSs’).

FREE materials are available on our Downloads page! I recommend these magnets or the classic blu-tack to stick them to the board.

First things first, how can I get their attention?

An incredibly powerful teaching tool, the almighty attention getting routine. It can help teachers to regularly get large groups of energetic children to be silent and listening within seconds of a simple gesture. It works because it is used in conjunction with the CMS as described below.

This is what it looks like in class once it has been set up:

Once the students are used to the routine you can actually stop counting down verbally. This is because when a student sees you gesturing the routine, then they will quickly tell their partners to be quiet.

What is a CMS?

A CMS is a teaching tool used to promote desirable and productive behaviours through positive reinforcement. Many formats exist, but simply put, students work toward a goal by demonstrating certain behaviours in order to receive some kind of reward.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

The introduction of a desirable stimulus following a certain behaviour so as to reinforce that behaviour and make it more likely to reoccur. It is a training method widely used as it capitalises on good behaviours already being displayed.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Negative Reinforcement

Both methods aim to encourage certain behaviours, but they do so in different ways. Positive reinforcement adds a desirable stimulus while negative reinforcement removes an undesirable stimulus. Here are two examples:

Why not use punishment?

Behaviours are far easier to encourage than discourage and, learning accompanied by positive feelings and associations is more likely to be remembered. Reinforcement is simply more powerful and effective than punishment.

Why use a CMS?

We use CMSs because they work! When used correctly, they can dramatically change students’ behaviour over time. Benefits of CMS use include;

Who do CMSs work with?

A CMS can be used effectively with any age and level in almost any teaching context.

How do CMSs work?

We use CMSs to provide opportunities to reward students for exhibiting behaviours that we want to promote in the classroom.

There are 3 key elements which are essential in enabling any CMS to work:

How do I set up a CMS with a class?

First you need to decide which behaviours you want to promote or change in a given class - these are represented by 'rules' which can be seen as instructions for how students can win the game. Then choose an age-appropriate theme for the CMS which includes a ‘team badge’ and a ‘target’, and finally you need to establish what reward will be appealing to your specific group of students. 

Here is an example:

Each race car represents a different team (up to 4 teams) and the finish line is the target. The picture cards represent the rules (the behaviours you want to promote in class).

The aim for the class is to have all the badges reach the target by the end of the lesson. The aim for individual teams is to have their badge reach the finish line first. The teacher moves the badges toward the target when teams follow the rules. Whenever the CMS is referred to, the teacher ensures that all the students are aware of what is happening and why.

How do I use a CMS during class?

What do I do about undesirable (“bad”) behaviour?

If the behaviour is serious, then you will of course need to respond to is appropriately according to your school’s discipline, student behaviour, and student welfare policies, as well as the local culture’s customs. Otherwise, you just include steps 4 and 5 in the outline above and continue with the lesson. If after some time there is no improvement, see ‘What if it’s not working?” below.

Don't we need to tough on kids sometimes?

In most cases within our teaching context, not really.

There’s an excellent, brief description here with lots of references to supporting research about the effects of positive reinforcement as discussed above. See also 'Further reading' at the bottom of this page to learn more.

How often should it be referred to?

At least between every stage in the lesson, and additionally whenever there’s a good opportunity to reward desirable behaviours. Roughly speaking, this works out at around 4-5 times per hour of teaching. The aim is to refer to it regularly, but not to have it take up some class-time, but this will reduce over time as you and your learners get used to the routines, and the payoff is well worth it!

Is it easy?

It is easy! But we do tend to instinctively respond to undesirable behaviour negatively and with punishment, and so the challenge for teachers is to catch kids being good rather than catching them being 'bad'. This takes time and practice to get used to.

What can I do about large, noisy classes?

Use the Needle-Meter’ CMS to respond to energy or noise levels in the classroom, and tie it in with the final reward. For example, if the students are being noisy, then move the needle progressively closer to the red area, but if they aren’t, then move it progressively closer to the green area. If at the end of the lesson the needle is in the green area, then you'll play a fun game which the students can choose. If in the orange, then you'll play a game of your choosing. Finally, if in the red,  you'll do a spelling test (or something similar). This makes use of both positive and negative reinforcement in a very clear and effective way. This CMS works well for a range of ages.


Keep instructions relevant to each specific class, don’t have a ‘be nice’ rule if they’re all angels. Instead, have something to push them academically, like ‘ask questions’ and reward them for doing so. Remember they must understand what the rules mean, for example ‘be nice’ can be vague to a young child, so give examples - teach them what the instructions really mean. 

There are some printable rules available on our ‘downloads’ page - they're also available on Google Slides and on this site for easy viewing during class.

Here are some examples:


You can get the students to make their own badges if they stay in the same teams for several lessons, but using something generic means you can reuse them with different groups. Try involving the students in the choosing process, see what they like and go with that. Remember to make them colourful and laminate them because increased quality = increased value = increased effectiveness!

Online Classes


There are 4 types of positive reinforcement rewards (also known as ‘reinforcers’). They are;

Rewards are given only for behaviour that reflects the rules. They should NOT be given when students ask for them, when students win games, when the teacher feels sorry for them, or to 'bribe' students - doing so will only teach students that rewards are not contingent on their behaviour and will damage the effectiveness of the CMS.

It’s important to provide the stimulus as soon as possible following the behaviour as this creates a stronger connection between them. So consider the time-frame carefully when choosing rewards. Younger kids need something each day, but older kids can work toward something over longer periods of time; weeks, months or even entire semesters! Where possible, give the students some options and let them choose what they’d like to work towards. This will only make the CMS more appealing and ultimately, more effective. Here are some suggestions for rewards which can work with groups or individuals, or sometimes both:

Interaction patterns

Though individual-based CMSs are possible (e.g. giving stars), they can be quite time consuming to administer and aren’t always as appealing or effective as group CMSs:

How can the CMS be more exciting or engaging?

Adding new elements to the CMS can inject something more fun for older students, or for classes which have used CMSs for a long time and need something fresh.

Here are some additional elements which come with the Race Car CMS with suggestions for their use:

You can get as creative as you want with the CMS, as long as the students understand what's happening with it, and at all times!

How do I keep it engaging when it gets old?

Common errors to watch out for

What if it isn't working?

If an individual student isn’t responding to the CMS, then try the following;

If the CMS isn’t working with the whole class, consider the following (S.E.C.U.R.E.) checklist. Is the CMS...

…must be realistic/achievable

...students must want the rewards, and it must be visually appealing

...refer to it often and fairly so students can trust the system

…must be the same for all students, even the challenging kids

...reward or don’t reward - don’t punish with it or they’ll resent it

...everyone must understand what’s happening and why at all times

Further reading

Self-study task (for teachers)

To guide you through the process of setting up and implementing an effective CMS, I have put together this simple self-study task. When you're finished, remember to let your school or manager know you've done it!

Teacher workshop (for managers)

By the end of the session, participants will have had the opportunity to decide how best to respond to undesirable behaviours from young learners following input in the form of a webquest through focusing on how to use classroom management systems and positive reinforcement to promote desirable behaviours. Download the lesson plan here.

Download Materials

Visit our downloads page for everything you need to implement an effective CMS immediately!