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The ABCs of Behavior

by Model Teaching | December 12, 2020.

Addressing behavior in the classroom using the ABCs of behavior can be an effective way to improve student behavior. In this approach, a teacher begins by examining behavior in relation to what happens right before and right after the behavior. The teacher continues to examine the behavior in more detail,. Once a teacher has reached that point, they can design and implement a plan to address the behavior. This process can be used to deal with all kinds of behavior and provides a proactive approach to behavior management. This article will discuss the first step of dealing with disruptive behavior, understanding behavior by examining the ABCs of behavior. Taking this step will help you to gain a better understanding of behavior and how to approach behavior management in the future. If you are interested in a more detailed plan to use the ABCs of Behavior in your classroom, you may want to consider our full course, Using the ABCs to Reduce Unwanted Behavior in Your Classroom.

ABCs of Behavior

What are the ABCs?

The “A” in the ABCs stands for antecedents. An antecedent is something that occurs right before the disruptive behavior occurs.

  • Some examples of antecedents are the teacher gives an assignment, the student is asked to perform a task like reading aloud, and it is time to transition to a new activity.

The “B” stands for the behavior itself, the one that you find yourself having to frequently correct. The behavior is what a student does or says.

  • Examples of behaviors that are disruptive are a student getting out of their seat, a student making loud noises during instruction, and a student talking while the teacher is talking.

The “C” stands for consequence. The consequence is something that happens right after a behavior. It may be naturally occurring or how adults and/or peers respond to the behavior.

  • Consequences are what happens immediately after the behavior. Examples of consequences include the teacher redirecting a student, the student being asked to leave the classroom, and peers confronting the student.

Let’s look at an antecedent, behavior, and consequence together in an example.

A: The teacher gives the class an independent assignment

B: The student Johnny sits at his desk and draws instead of working

C: The teacher engages in a back and forth conversation with Johnny until the bell rings

In many situations, the teacher would see the behavior, Johnny sitting at his desk and drawing instead of working and would correct that behavior each time it occurred. Addressing Johnny’s behavior each time it occurred could be cumbersome and it is likely that he will keep behaving in similar ways unless a comprehensive plan is put in place.

Collecting information about the ABCs

In order to develop a comprehensive plan to address Johnny’s behavior, the teacher would need to first collect information about what Johnny is doing, when he is doing it, and how the adults and peers around Johnny react to his behavior. In other words, they need to collect data on the ABCs. Collecting ABC data can be accomplished by using a teacher-developed data collection sheet (available for download below). Here is an example of a blank data collection table format that can be used to track ABC data:

Student Name
Overview of Situation
Date Antecedent Behavior Consequence

Here is an example of a data collection table format that has been completed:

Student Name Johnny
Overview of Situation Johnny has become continually disruptive and nothing I seem to do is working.


Date Antecedent Behavior Consequence
10/12 I give instructions for students to begin an assignment Johnny sits at his desk and starts to draw I engage in a conversation/argument about why he needs to be working
10/14 I give instructions for students to begin an assignment. He begins talking to his peers I repeat instructions one on one to Johnny but he still does not start his work
10/15 I ask students to get out their math book Johnny puts his head down on the desk I ask him to sit up but he ignores me

Collecting data using this method can help you to see what is happening before and after a disruptive behavior occurs.  In this example, Johnny does not comply with the teacher’s requests or the antecedents to the disruptive behavior at any point. Instead, he draws, talks to peers, and puts his head down. The consequences, as shown by the teacher’s responses to his behavior, include arguing, Johnny getting individual instructions, and Johnny ignoring the teacher.


Examining the data to this extent shows that The teacher has tried to correct this behavior. But, according to data from three separate days, Johnny’s behavior is not improving even though the teacher has tried three different methods to get him to participate in class. At this point, it is time for the teacher to determine what to do next.


What’s Next

Gathering information on the data collection sheet can help you examine behavior in more depth. Seeing the behavior in more depth leads to asking more questions about it, like “Why is Johnny behaving this way?” and “What can I do to address this behavior more effectively?“ Answering those two questions are part of the next steps in creating a plan to address Johnny’s behavior.

If you have recognized the need to be more proactive with a student’s behavior, you are on the right track by choosing to learn about the ABCs of behavior. Learning about the ABCs of behavior helps you to see more than just an isolated behavior. It helps you to look at behavior in more depth and start asking questions about why the behavior is occurring and what you can do about it. If you are interested in learning the next steps to using the ABCs of Behavior in your classroom, you may want to consider our full course: Using the ABCs to Reduce Unwanted Behavior in Your Classroom.

Implementation Goal

Now it’s time to start collecting ABC data in your classroom. You can start by identifying a student who is being disruptive in your classroom.  Next, create your own data collection sheet and determine when you are going to observe and record the student’s behavior. You can prepare by using the Guide to Collecting ABC data to help you design a thorough plan for collecting your data. Collect data on one student over a two-week period with a minimum of 3 sessions per week and review the data you have collected with another teacher. You are on your way to improved behavior in your classroom.

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