By Hanna Lim
Edited by Claire Murphy, 9/2022
What is the Color Wheel?
Color Wheel is a school-based, class-wide, Tier 1 behavior intervention that can be used with children in grades K-12. The Color Wheel is ideal for classrooms presenting with problem behaviors that are negatively impacting classroom management. Additionally, it is ideal for classrooms that struggle with transitions to the next activity. It was designed for classroom use, but could be adapted for use in other settings. In the intervention the color wheel is split into three different color sections, each of which has a different set of behavioral expectations for students to follow. When given a color cue, students will know to switch from one set of rules to another. It is recommended that the Color Wheel be divided into green, yellow, and red sections. The green represents expectations in free-time/low-structure activities and example rules for this section could be talk in a quiet voice, keep hands/feet to yourself, and comply with directions. The yellow represents large or small group work instruction/independent work, and the expectations could be raising your hand to speak/get teacher permission, look at the speaker or your work, and comply with directions. The red represents transition between activities where the expectations could be to return to your seat, clear your desk, look at the teacher, and remain quiet for the next instruction.
Components of the Color Wheel
The concept of the Color Wheel needs to be explicitly taught to the classroom, and expectations for each color need to be laid out and displayed in the classroom where all students can see them. Discuss each color’s expectations thoroughly prior to the intervention.
Make the expectations for each color developmentally appropriate. It is recommended that the lists range from 3-6 rules per color.
A Color Wheel should be made and displayed prominently in the classroom with a clear indicator of what color zone the class is in (an arrow pointing to the color section).
Model how each color zone should look in the classroom. Continuously use visual and verbal cues to remind the classroom of expected behavior.
Give at least a 30 second warning before transitioning to a different color. If students are struggling with transitioning, it may be helpful to provide multiple warnings, such as a two minute and 30 second warning.
Keep the red periods short, allowing only the amount to transition. Transition lengths can be lengthened as the intervention progresses.
Do not go directly from yellow to green, always incorporate a red zone to set the stage.
Give regular positive praise and point out students/groups that are following the behavior expectations.
Cost: This intervention can be done with no cost to you! The Color Wheel and Expectation Poster can be easily made with materials found around the school/classroom.
Evidence of the Color Wheel's Effectiveness
In a study done by Hautau et al. (2008), researchers examined the effect of the implementation of the Color Wheel intervention on a kindergarten classroom in an urban area. The results showed an increase in on-task behavior during seatwork and carpet time after the intervention was applied. In an additional study done by Saecker et al. (2008), the Color Wheel was implemented in a fifth-grade classroom in an urban setting. Results showed that the intervention was successful at decreasing instances of inappropriate talking class-wide, as well as a decreased frequency of the teacher repeating directions to the students. Finally, in a study done by Aspitanti et al. (2018), researchers observed the implementation of the Color Wheel in two classrooms, one second-grade room containing two students with autism, and one third-grade classroom containing four students with autism. Results showed a large and immediate decrease in inappropriate vocalizations in both classrooms. The majority of students enjoyed the intervention and teachers designated The Color Wheel as an effective intervention they would like to continue utilizing in their practice.
Aspiranti, K. B., Bebech, A., & Osiniak, K. (2018). Incorporating a class-wide behavioral system to decrease disruptive behaviors in the inclusive classroom. Journal of Catholic Education, 21(2), 205-214.
Fudge, D. L., Skinner, C. H., Williams, J. L., Cowden, D., Clark, J., & Bliss, S. L. (2008). Increasing on-task behavior in every student in a second-grade classroom during transitions: Validating the color wheel system. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 575-592.
Hautau, B. L., Skinner, C. H., Pfaffman, J., Foster, S., & Clark, J. C. (2008). Extending the external validity of the color wheel procedures: Increasing on-task behavior in an urban kindergarten classroom. Journal of Evidence-Based Practices for Schools, 9(1), 3-17.
Intervention Central. (2013). How to: Improve classroom management through flexible rules: The color wheel. Response to Intervention. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.interventioncentral.org/classroom_management_color_wheel
Kirk, E. R., Becker, J. A., Skinner, C. H., Fearrington, J. Y., McCane-Bowling, S. J., Amburn, C., Luna, E., & Greear, C. (2010). Decreasing inappropriate vocalizations using classwide group contingencies and color wheel procedures: A component analysis. Psychology in the Schools, 47, 931-943.
Saecker, L., Sager, K., Skinner, C. H., Williams, J. L., Luna, E., & Spurgeon, S. (2008). Decreasing a fifth-grade teacher’s repeated directions and students’ inappropriate talking using Color Wheel procedures. Journal of Evidence-Based Practices for Schools, 9(1), 18-32.
Simonsen, B., Fairbanks, S., Briesch, A., Myers, D., & Sugai, G. (2008). Evidence-based practices in classroom management: Considerations for research to practice. Evaluation and Treatment of Children, 31(3), 351-380.
Skinner, C. H., Scala, G., Dendas, D., & Lentz, F. E. (2007). The color wheel: Implementation guidelines. Journal of Evidence-Based Practices for Schools, 8(2), 134-140.
Skinner, C. H., & Skinner, A. L. (2008). Establishing an evidence base for a classroom management procedure with a series of studies: Evaluating the Color Wheel. Journal of Evidence-Based Practices for Schools, 8, 88-101.
Watson, T. L., Skinner, C. H., Skinner, A. L., Cazzell, S., Aspiranti, K. B., Moore, T., & Coleman, M. (2016). Preventing disruptive behavior via classroom management: Validating the Color Wheel System in kindergarten classrooms. Behavior Modification, 40(4), 518–540. https://doi.org/10.1177/0145445515626890