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Preferred Activity Time (PAT)
Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers

Talk with any group of teachers, and you are likely to discover that at least one of them is using PAT ("preferred activity time"), a reward system described by Fred Jones in his book Positive Classroom Discipline. Because this system requires little effort and expense, teachers are taking it up -- and because it is fun, students are eating it up! Whether teachers view the time students earn as free time or educational game time, they all agree that PAT works! Included: Teachers share favorite educational games from their PAT repertoires!

"PAT [preferred activity time] is time you get by being good. During PAT, we [the students] get to get together as a group and play games or have parties," explained Jennifer S., a sixth grader at Orangewood Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona. "We earn PAT by having someone notice all the good things we are doing like walking quietly in line. ... If we do bad things -- bye-bye time!"

Jennifer's teacher, Linda Forsman, explained that in her classroom, PAT encourages the children to become responsible for their actions. The students work hard to keep one another in line in order to earn PAT. Defined by Fred Jones in his book Positive Classroom Discipline, PAT is a reward that students receive for the on-task time that they give to their teachers. The reward usually comes in the form of free or alternate-activity time. The students love playing games during PAT, Forsman told Education World. They feel that they are getting out of work -- yet PAT is really all about teaching.

"The underlying premise to PAT is this: If the children give me time to teach, then I have time to give them to play an educational game -- and I am still teaching," said Forsman. "I use PAT as a reward for the time the class earns for positive behavior, minus the negative behavior. They earn minutes/seconds for positive, appropriate behavior, and they lose minutes/seconds for negative, inappropriate behavior. These are minutes earned for the entire class."

PAT = Fun + Learning

At the beginning of each school year, Forsman chooses academic games and activities for her class's PAT rewards until she has introduced the students to all the selections in her repertoire. Then she has the students choose from those they have played, and the students take turns being the game leader while she plays the games with the class. The goal for Forsman is that the students play an organized game as an entire group. PAT is not just free time or extra recess. She feels her students get the free time they need at home.

A scheduled PAT period occurs in Forsman's classroom on every sixth day of school. This activity costs the students about 40 minutes of their PAT time, and any extra time that the students have earned is applied to a long-range goal. The class banks its additional minutes to watch a movie and enjoy a snack, have a read-a-thon, or walk to a fast-food establishment for lunch. The extra activity takes place about every ninth week.

Forsman enjoys many academic games with her students. Yahtzee, backgammon, Monopoly, and 20 questions are just a few of her favorites. She described some others for Education World.

  • Adjective Charades
    Hand out to each student a slip of paper that contains an adjective-noun phrase, such as raging river, hungry boy, or glowing fire. The student must act out the phrase for the class to guess. The child who is the first to guess correctly gets to act out the next phrase or, if that child has had a turn, choose a person to act it out.
  • Buzz
    Students sit in a circle and take turns counting in sequence from 1 to 100. Every time a number has a seven in it or a multiple of seven, the student says "Buzz." For example: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Buzz, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, Buzz, 15, 16, Buzz, 18, 19, 20, Buzz, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, Buzz, Buzz ..." If a student misses, the class starts over. This time, a different student starts the game. The class wins when the students finally reach 100. This game can be played with different numbers.
  • Charades
    Hand out to each student five slips of paper on which to write the name of a famous person, a book title, a cartoon character, a song, or a sports figure -- one per slip. Divide the class into two teams. One person acts out what is on a paper for his or her teammates to guess. If they guess the correct answer in the time allotted, the group gets a point.


Students Give PAT a Pat on the Back

Read More About It!

Have you read these other Education World articles on classroom mangement?

* Reward Systems That Work: What to Give and When to Give It!

* Classroom Rewards Reap Dividends for Teachers and Students

* The King of Classroom Management! (An Education World e-Interview With Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones)

* Can Adults Praise Children Too Much?

* Carrots or Sticks? Alfie Kohn on Rewards and Punishment (An Education World e-Interview)

* Classroom Management: Ten Teacher-Tested Tips!

* Creating a Climate for Learning: Effective Classroom Management Techniques

* TONS of Tips! -- Six Great 'Teacher Tips' Sites on the Web

* 'Speaking of Classroom Management' -- An Interview With Harry K. Wong

* The Secret's in the Little Things: Simple Tips for Successful Teachers

* Back-to-School Guide for Beginning Teachers (and Not-So-New Teachers Too)!

* Advice for First-Year Teachers -- from the 'Sophomores' Who Survived Last Year!

* An Education World e-Interview With Carol Dweck: How Can Teachers Develop Students' Motivation -- and Success?

Forsman's students shared their views on the use of PAT in their classroom.

Eric D. enjoys PAT. He explained, "PAT stands for preferred activity time. PAT is when the class is able to have preferred fun."

"PAT time is something we earn and we want to have. During PAT, we have time to play games," said Adrian F. "We earn PAT by getting compliments, being quiet in line, and stuff like that. I enjoy PAT because we get time to play instead of work."

Another student, Chelsey L., especially likes the group activities the class gains through bonus time. "During PAT, we play games, and if we earn extra bonus PAT time, we watch a movie and eat. We earn PAT by lining up well, not talking, and behaving. I would recommend PAT because it will get students to be well-behaved."

"During PAT, we usually get to play some really neat games," added Amber C. "You can earn PAT by being good and getting compliments from others. PAT is a great way to get to know yourself, [the teacher,] and the students a lot better. The best thing about PAT is we get to have fun for a long time with our friends."

One additional fan of PAT is Dr. Peggy J. George, principal of Orangewood Elementary School. Though the school does not use Fred Jones's philosophies exclusively as a discipline program, she said, those teachers who have chosen to use his techniques have found them to be highly effective and very complementary to the existing program and school-wide discipline plan.

"PAT is one of the techniques that many teachers choose to use because the kids love it and it works," said George. "In his books, Jones explains that PAT is all about teaching students time management and responsibility. He suggests that the teacher gains instructional time by having students be on task during teaching and then gains additional learning time by selecting PAT activities that are educational but fun, or preferred by students. Obviously if the PAT activities are not motivational, students will not be willing to work to earn them."

PAT Has Plenty of Pluses

Alayne Armstrong, an eighth-grade teacher at Montgomery Middle School, in Coquitlam, British Columbia (Canada), also believes in PAT. "The idea is that when students follow class routines or instructions for an activity quickly and efficiently, they save their teacher time," said Armstrong. "And they are rewarded for this saved time by, in return, receiving time for a preferred activity that the class as a whole or individual students choose, depending on the situation. Essentially, it's a reward system that uses time rather than point systems or prizes."

Armstrong likes PAT because it is a reward system that doesn't require a lot of time, planning, or expense. She doesn't have to buy any prizes or worry about the issues involved in handing out candy during class -- issues such as students who have dietary restrictions, the nutritional value of treats, or the fact that she normally does not allow any food or drink in the classroom.

"PAT is adaptable to individual teaching styles," said Armstrong. "I like to play, so games suit me well. Other teachers might prefer to make the activities more academically oriented, such as doing a review game activity or showing a video -- activities that still cover the curriculum yet are perhaps lighter than their regular teaching strategies."

Armstrong also likes that PAT can be used to develop certain behaviors with students. She suggested that if a certain class needs to work on being on time after lunch, PAT can be used as an incentive for students to be punctual. If all students are on time, they may receive a minute of PAT. If they're not on time, they get a chance to try again the next day. The result is that the students end up monitoring and encouraging one another in order to earn their time.

Even with all its positive aspects, PAT is not perfect.

"PAT does not work for all students," Armstrong explained. "Students with behavior issues may find it an attractive source of power to be able to single-handedly deny their classmates PAT by not following the desired behavior. In this case, it's best to exempt them from the PAT situation and try another reward strategy with them."

However, in Armstrong's class, PAT has helped develop class spirit and teamwork. And playing games such as Scattergories or Pictionary serve as a positive way to end the school week. The greatest challenge Armstrong has faced in the use of PAT occurs when she has fallen behind in the curriculum she needs to cover. At these times, she has been tempted to skip PAT altogether and just continue with the regular material.

Educators who use PAT advise that a key to the effectiveness of this system is for the teacher to be consistent with its implementation.

Preferred Activities by Armstrong

Like Forsman, Armstrong exerts a great deal of control over the choice of PAT activities. She introduces her students to a variety of options at the start of the school year. She shared some of the activities her class most enjoys, many of which she collected from friends on the Internet!

  • Silent Pig (Silent Ball)
    Students sit on their desks and pass the pig (ball) around from person to person. A student is out if he or she talks, throws poorly (the ball is too hard or impossible to catch), or misses catching a good throw. Students continue playing until one person, the winner, is left. Or you may announce, "Everybody back in," and students then continue playing.
  • Scattergories
    Display on an overhead projector 12 categories, such as "things found in an Easter basket," "girls' names," "sports teams" -- things appropriate for middle schoolers. Then divide the class into four groups and send each to a different corner of the room. Choose a letter, such as T, and each group must come up with a word beginning with that letter for each category. Allow a set amount of time (three minutes is adequate); then have each group take turns giving answers. If the group's answers are unique (not used by another group), the group gets a point. If another group used the answers, all groups cross that word off their lists and no points are awarded. The best part of this game is that students have to be very quiet while the game is in session so no other group hears their answers!
  • Seven-Up
    Seven-up is another game that requires quiet movement. Choose seven students to stand at the front of the classroom. The rest of the class members put their heads down on their desks with their eyes hidden and their hands out with one thumb held up. Each of the seven standing students circulates around the room and touches one student's thumb. The student whose thumb is touched retracts it into his or her fist but keeps his or her head down. Call "Heads up" once all seven students have returned to the front of the room, and the seven students whose thumbs were touched stand up. One at a time, the touched seven have to guess who touched their thumbs. If they guess right, they take the place of their toucher at the front. If they guess wrong, their toucher stays up at the front.
  • Endless Chain
    Divide the class into teams; each team starts with 10 points. Choose a category, such as "cities," and have the first team give a word within that category. The next team notes the last letter of the word given and gives a word that fits the category and begins with that letter. Teams take turns until a team cannot continue the chain. (Within a chain, no word can be repeated.) A team that cannot continue the chain loses a point. Choose a new category, and the teams begin a new chain.


PAT Makes for Positive Experiences

"PAT is a great means to establish discipline, procedures, and rewards students for their cooperation, especially when you're a new teacher," chimes Laura Hayden, a seventh-grade communications teacher at Derby (Kansas) Middle School. "I know I couldn't have survived my first couple of years without using this idea. I think the idea that 'as a teacher, I'm going to give you this time to enjoy learning' helped me in my approach."

Initially, PAT gave Hayden's students a reason to follow procedures and to work as expected. She believes that the approach helped her to be more positive. Through the PAT activities, students learned to relate to her differently; they viewed her as something other than the "task master." Hayden feels the experience built respect and the behavior of her students showed it.

Hayden's use of PAT has taken on many forms, but early in her teaching, she developed a core group of activities that went over well with her students.

  • Symbol Simon
    Divide the class into groups. Put up overheads with rebus types of phrases, such as T + [a picture of an ink bottle] + R + [a picture of a bell] (equals "Tinkerbell"). Groups compete to solve the puzzle first. What Hayden likes about this game is that some of her low-achieving students really catch on to it and are able to shine. She says that it is a great game to fill just a few minutes of time at the end of a period. When she says, "If we use our time wisely, we should have time to play Symbol Simon," it motivates!
  • Boggle
    For this activity, use a Boggle game. The game comes with cubes that contain letters on the sides, a tray, and a timer. Shake the blocks out onto the tray; then copy the letters onto a grid on an overhead. Have students list as many words as possible from letters that are adjoining. Students can play to see who has the most words, or you can have students use the words in a story.
  • Computer Relay
    Divide the class into the same number of teams as you have computers in the classroom. Provide a story prompt on each computer. Have one player from each team hop, jump, etc., across the room to a computer. The player types a sentence for the story; then hops or jumps back to another teammate. The groups work in relay fashion for a specified amount of time.
  • Illustration Time
    Have each student include a "Just for Me" section in his or her binder. Then provide special time for students to add illustrations to their sections.


Related Web Site

  • Fred Jones Here you can learn about the man behind preferred activity time, Fred Jones, and secure a copy of his latest book, Tools for Teaching, or another of his works.

Cara Bafile
Education World ®
Copyright © 2009 Education World


Originally published 01/15/2001
Last updated 07/20/2017