Power Cards: an effective behavior management tool

Have you ever spent what feels like days teaching a particular social skill? You find the perfect social story, review it daily, send a copy home for parents to read, and even do various activities reinforcing the main concept. It seems, like your student understands and recognizes what behavior is expected. Then it happens. One or two weeks later you find yourself in that precise situation you practiced and talked about. Maybe it is in an assembly or maybe it is waiting in line for pizza in the cafeteria. You feel confident, your student will behave perfectly; just like you practiced. But then it falls apart. It is as if all that work was for nothing. Your student seems to have forgotten all the cues, all the appropriate responses. It is just a mess.

Boy, have I been there. It can be really discouraging. We all know that social stories are an effective tool. We should not just abandon them when it feels like they may not be working. Maybe they just need a little more support. Maybe we need to add some power cards.

What are power cards?

Power cards are small, often 3 x 5 , that summarize in just a few words or pictures what the appropriate behavior is in a given situation. You can easily create a power card for just about any social story. They can be highly effective reminders, especially when it has been a while since you focused on that particular skill. Because they are so small and portable, students can easily carry them and refer to them as needed. In addition, they do not draw a lot of attention from their peers.

How do you make power cards?

There are a lot of tips out there on how to make the perfect power card. The bottom line, is that it depends on your particular student. Here are some things to keep it mind:

  • Keep them small enough to be portable. How will your kids carry them? In their pocket, on a key chain, in a phone holder? This will determine the best size to make them.
  • Use materials that will withstand wear and tear. I like printing them on card stock and laminating them. You can also use packing tape as a quick and cheap way to make them really durable.
  • Make sure they look age appropriate. The front image can be just about anything that is of high interest to your student. Often, they can look like trading cards. I also let my kiddos personalize them with stickers, color, and even glitter. You can always substitute the front image with something else.
Front of field trip power card
Back of field trip card

How do you use power cards?

Review the power card as part of the daily lesson when you are focused on teaching that skill. Then, make sure there is a designated space either you or your student keeps their card. In some instances, I kept all the cards myself. For example, the cards we made for a field trip, I would keep in my desk. I would pass them out before leaving and collect them again once we returned. On the other hand, cards we made for what to do when the teacher is talking, students kept in a location they could easily access. For some kids that was in their desk, for some it was in a pencil box, and for some it was on a key chain. As long as they could get it out when needed quickly was fine with me.

I found power cards to be a really nice tool to help students quickly review expectations. It allowed me to use less intrusive prompts. I could simply point to the card as a remember to appropriate behavior.

An additional benefit of power cards

One last great thing about power cards is that they are a great cue to other adults what is expected. If you are not present, another adult can look at the power card and implement the same expectations. Having everyone on the same page so quickly and easily is invaluable.

So, consider adding power cards to your social skills strategy. They are a great tool to have in your arsenal. Click the button below to download this one on telling the truth to try today.  There is a copy with pictures and one with just words.

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