First-Grade Classroom Prevention Program

Updated: Jan 25, 2018
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    A first-grade program that combines a classroom management strategy (the Good Behavior Game) with an enhanced academic curriculum in language arts and math.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 18 1st grade classrooms in nine high-poverty Baltimore schools.

  • Key Findings:

    At age 13, reduced initiation of smoking by 26% and of hard drugs by more than half. At age 19, increased the likelihood of high school graduation by 21% and of college attendance by 62%.

  • Other:

    A study limitation is its relatively small, geographically-concentrated sample – 18 classrooms in one school district. Thus, replication of these findings in a second trial, in another setting, would be desirable to confirm the program’s effectiveness across various settings where it might normally be implemented.

The First-Grade Classroom Prevention Program is a first-grade program that combines (i) the Good Behavior Game – a classroom management strategy for decreasing disruptive behavior; and (ii) an enhanced academic curriculum designed to improve students’ reading, writing, math, and critical thinking skills.

The Good Behavior Game rewards positive group, as opposed to individual, behavior. The teacher initially divides her class into three heterogeneous teams, and reads the Game’s rules to the class. Teams receive check marks on a posted chart when one of their members exhibits a disruptive behavior (e.g., talking out of turn, fighting). Any team with four or fewer check marks at the end of a specified time – ranging from 10 minutes at the start of the year to a full day later on – is rewarded. Tangible rewards are used early in the year (e.g., stickers, activity books). As the year progresses, intangible rewards (e.g., designing a bulletin board), delay in reward delivery, and fading of rewards are used to generalize behaviors. The Game is supplemented by weekly teacher-led class meetings designed to build children’s skills in social problem solving.

The enhanced academic curriculum supplements the existing curriculum with activities that include interactive read-aloud periods, journal writing, dramatic presentation of written work, critical analysis of issues from students’ daily life, and the Mimosa math program (which emphasizes use of manipulatives, such as clock faces and pattern blocks, to solve math problems).

Additional strategies are used for students who do not respond to the group intervention, such as providing tutoring to academically-struggling students, and forming single-member Good Behavior Game teams for students who remain disruptive, to provide individualized incentives for good behavior.

Teachers receive approximately 60 hours of training in the program prior to implementation, as well as supervision and feedback from program experts on a monthly basis during the year. The program’s training and content is standardized; its cost is approximately $561 per student in 2017 dollars.

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Bloom, Howard S., Carolyn Hill, Alison Rebeck Black, and Mark Lipsey, “Performance Trajectories and Performance Gaps as Achievement Effect-Size Benchmarks for Educational Interventions,” MDRC Working Paper on Research Methodology, October 2008.

Bradshaw, Catherine P., Jessika H. Zmuda, Sheppard G. Kellam, and Nicholas S. Ialongo. “Longitudinal Impact of Two Universal Preventive Interventions in First Grade on Educational Outcomes in High School.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009, vol. 101, no. 4, pp. 926–937.

Furr-Holden, C., Debra M., Nicholas S. Ialongo, James C. Anthony, Hanno Petras, and Sheppard G. Kellam. “Developmentally Inspired Drug Prevention: Middle School Outcomes in a School-Based Randomized Prevention Trial.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2004, vol. 73, no. 2, pp. 149-158.

Ialongo, Nick, Jeanne Poduska, Lisa Werthamer, and Sheppard G. Kellam. “The Distal Impact of Two First-Grade Preventive Interventions on Conduct Problems and Disorder in Early Adolescence.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 2001 vol.9, no. 2, pp. 146-160.

Ialongo, Nick, Lisa Werthamer, Sheppard G. Kellam, C. Hendricks Brown, Songbai Wang, and Yuhua Lin. “Proximal Impact of Two First-Grade Preventive Interventions on the Early Risk Behaviors for Later Substance Abuse, Depression, and Antisocial Behavior.” American Journal of Community Psychology, October 1999, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 599-638.

Storr, Carla L., Nicholas S. Ialongo, Sheppard G. Kellam, and James C. Anthony. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Primary School Intervention Strategies to Prevent Early Onset Tobacco Smoking.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2002, vol. 66, no. 1, pp 51-60.

Wang, Yan, Dorothy C. Browne, Hanno Petras, Elizabeth A. Stuart, Fernando A. Wagner, Sharon F. Lambert, Sheppard G. Kellam, and Nicholas S. Ialongo. “Depressed Mood and the Effect of Two Universal First Grade Preventive Interventions on Survival to the First Tobacco Cigarette Smoked Among Urban Youth.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2009, vol. 100, no. 3, pp. 194-203.

Werthamer, Lisa, Jean E. Cooper, and Judith Lombardi. The Classroom Prevention Program Manual, 1993 – linked here.