Mystery Motivator

  • Situation

    I need some new, motivating ideas for reinforcing my students for appropriate behavior.

  • Summary

    Try the Mystery Motivator, first designed by William Jensen. The student earns tokens toward reinforcement, but does not know when the reinforcement will happen or what the reinforcement will be. A sealed envelope with a question mark on the outside holds a card that tells what the reinforcement is. A token chart is filled in one block at a time as the student engages in the desired behavior. In some of the blocks, a star has been drawn with an invisible marker (Crayola Color Switchers). When that block is colored in, the student earns an immediate smaller reinforcement. When all of the blocks are filled in, the mystery motivator envelope is opened.

  • Definition

    The Mystery Motivator is a reinforcement strategy first described by William Jensen. The strategy uses anticipation and surprise to motivate students to engage in the desired behavior. This strategy can be implemented with individual students or the entire class.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13, 14-17
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Able to wait for a reinforcer, understanding of token reinforcement

  • Process

    1. Make a list of items, activities or foods that would be reinforcing to the student.

    2. Choose one, write it on an index card and seal the card in an envelope. Draw a question mark on the envelope.

    3. Print out the “Mystery Motivator” token chart.

    4. With the invisible, Color Switcher marker, draw a star on several of the blocks in the grid.

    5. Explain the program to the student and demonstrate how the invisible marker works.

    6. Give the student the opportunity to fill in a square in the grid when he/she engages in the desired behavior.

    7. When the student colors in a square with a star in it, give a small reinforcer such as a sticker, small treat or good behavior note.

    8. When the student fills in all of the squares, he/she earns the mystery motivator.

    9. Throughout the program, talk up the “excitement” about the mystery (i.e., “I wonder what the reinforcer will be this time??”)

  • Documents and Related Resources

    William Jensen Tough Kids link to website


    Sample Mystery Motivator (word document)


    Sample Mystery Motivator (PDF)


    sample mystery motivation chart (website)

    This resource was authored by Watson Institute Special Education Consultant, Lisa Plastino, M.Ed.

    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.