Back to School - 5 Tips for Managing Classroom Behavior

This post is especially for you new teachers out there, but yet a good refresher for veteran teachers. As you're planning for the year, I know you're busy getting those reading, writing, math, and subject area lessons all planned out just perfectly. You will know exactly what you are going to say and have each and every activity ready to go. That very first week sets the tone for the entire rest of the year. That's why the most important part of your planning should be your behavior management plan.

Behavior Management means exactly what the name implies, managing the behavior of your students, so it enables them to be attentive learners. Without good behavior management, you will have a hard time keeping your kids involved in learning, and you will feel as though you have lost control.  With proper planning, however, for both the academics and behavior management, your days will flow smoothly and you will be thrilled at the progress your students make.

I have always said that the college course that prepared me the most for the job of teaching was the one called "Behavior Management."  In that class I was given some very specific strategies for running my classroom in an atmosphere conducive to a successful learning experience for every student.  I learned that it was of utmost importance to teach my students, step by step, how they were expected to behave in my class, considering both primary and secondary behaviors.  This would be the foundation for positive relationships within the classroom that would lead to motivated students who were ready to learn.

To be a good educator, you must first learn good techniques, and good management techniques must be practiced and talked about every day with the students!  There are things you must master before expected behavior can occur, and you must learn to do them correctly; this includes establishing and practicing your rules, your cues and setting, pacing, and level of work for your students. 

So about that first week of school...........instead of focusing on academics, your focus should be on establishing behavioral and procedural expectations for the class, including both primary and secondary rules. Primary rules are the 3-5 main rules you post in the classroom.  Secondary rules include anything else that takes place and how you want it to happen (what it looks like, what it sounds like) - every little nitty gritty thing, including how to enter the classroom and what to do, how to do lunch count, what to do when you are giving instruction, when and how to sharpen pencils or throw away paper, how to get a Kleenex, how to put names on papers, how and where to hand in papers, when and how to use the bathroom, how to make transitions (moving from one activity to another), how to say the pledge, respecting the property of others as well as their own, how to use classroom centers or stations, how to use the classroom library, how to work in cooperative groups, how to keep track of assignments, what to do when visitors come, and anything else I've neglected to mention.  Plan your day, step by step, and then teach your students how to do every little thing. Then practice, practice, practice every day.

Anyway, by now I'm sure you get the point.  Leave nothing up for interpretation.  Be clear about your expectations from day one and be consistent.  Kids need to clearly know what is expected of them,and you need to be clearly consistent about your expectations. No gray areas!  It will make for better students, a better teacher, and a better year.   

Here are some tips to help you establish and manage your classroom behavior:

Tip # 1 - Rules  
First, clearly decide what you want your students to do and not do. Your primary rules should be few in number, never over five, and written to tell them what you want them to do (no "don't" or "no" statements).  Make a plan and write it out step by step. Be specific. When you introduce a rule or expectation, don't just talk about it.  Model it, the right way and the wrong way and ham it up - the kids love that. Role play it. Then practice, practice, practice every day the first week and frequently thereafter.  And remember, leave no gray areas, be specific!
Tip # 2 - Consequences
Consequate your rules. It is important that there is a consequence for following or not following the rules or they become meaningless.  Various consequences include positive reinforcement (praise, a smile, a desired activity, or a tangible reward), ignoring (but perhaps praising another child for doing the right thing), or sometimes even a punitive consequence (may include time out, owing time, or whatever you feel is appropriate). 

Honestly, ignoring, but praising another student for choosing to do the right thing was at the top of my list for effective consequences with my second graders.  If Johnny was acting out and not lining up properly and I complimented Suzy for lining up so nicely, 99% of the time Johnny shaped right up and stood perfectly in line.  I'm not sure what the protocol is now, but I was taught to begin my complimentary statement with, "Oh, I like the way Suzy....."  It worked like a charm.

Tip # 3 - Setting and Cues
The classroom setting and the use of effective verbal and non-verbal cues are tremendously important to maintain order and attention. Here are some things to consider to help prevent problems before they occur:
- have your academic lessons thoroughly planned and materials ready so the day runs smoothly; 
- use your voice properly to imply intent; 
- learn to demand attention with "get ready" statements: "Everyone get ready!" "Listen up!"
  "Eyes on Me!" and my favorite (which had to be taught) was "Get in your listening positions!" 
- better yet, use non-verbal statements (clap, hit the light switch, hand signals, etc.);
- use warning signals ("Billy, you'd better get ready because I'm going to call on you.");
- use a timer; 
- use drama, suspense, and mystery; 
- make deliberate mistakes (they love this and it gets their attention); 
- offer a challenge ("Listen up, this is the hardest one of all. I bet not one of you can get it!"); 
- use the questioning technique state the question before the name ("What is a noun, Tom?);
- use "Rules on, Rules off" - some rules can be off in some situations involving excitement;
- stay totally aware of your classroom ("I see your hand; I'll be with you in a minute.")
- don't turn your back on a group (ex: don't write on the board and talk at the same time.);
- grouping is SO important; constantly break the class up into groups,work with a few at a time;
- alternate your movements around the room for attention and control;
- use proximity control - move to the proximity of a possible problem arising;
- remove seductive objects (pencils and other noise makers, etc. - have them put them away);
- build relationships - find something of interest to talk about with a child;
- use humor to break tension (questioning - "What color is orange?");
use structure through routine. There is something about a predictable routine that keeps kids on task and acting appropriately. It's the only way some can function. Train them.

Remember to model and practice, practice, practice.

Tip # 4 - Pacing  
How quickly lessons and activities move in your classroom is another important thing to consider in preventing behavior problems.  If a lesson or activity drags, students can lose concentration and interest. If it goes too fast, they may not be able to keep up and become frustrated.  Either way, problems can occur, so you need to think about how fast to move, then practice with and train the kids.  Here are some things to consider to help with the pacing in your classroom:

If you feel things are moving too slowly, clap your hands and say something like, "We're moving too slowly; we need to speed up," and use your voice and actions to speed it up.  Do the same when things are going too fast - "We're going too fast; let's slow down."

To keep things moving along, set time limits often in the course of the day. Use your timer!  Give warning statements -"You have 10 minutes, no time to spare, 10 Minutes." - then set the timer. Other examples - "You have 2 minutes to get a drink," "One minute to find the answer," etc

Set definite signals - "Ok, we're going to do this quickly;" "For this one, take your time."

Use your voice (the rate of speech) to control the pacing of an activity along with words that imply the speed ("We've got 5 minutes; do it now," spoken quickly.  "Take your time," spoken slowly.)

Transition periods can take up a lot of time in the classroom.  In some instances, you can utilize the Premack Principle.  The Premack Principle is doing something they don't want to do (like an assignment) because they know there will be a desired consequence (something they want to do) if they do it anyway (recess).  You need to train your students and  practice moving from one activity to another quickly and quietly, and for the most part, simply giving positive reinforcement such as, "I like the way you...."

Proper grouping can help to make the best use of time.  Group size can make a big difference in how quickly you can move through something.  Naturally, small groups work best.

Good academic planning, as I have said before, will help your day run smoothly and help to prevent behavior problems.  If you've really thought out what you want to teach and have pinpointed fast, medium, and slow kids, you can plan for time.

Tip # 5 - Level of Work      
Differentiating classroom work for the different types of students in your room is another important aspect of preventing behavior problems before they begin.

There are basically three different types of students: (1) those who can and do (the greatest number), (2) those who can't and don't, and (3) those who can and don't (not as prevalent as teachers think). You need to figure out those who can't and those who can, and work with them from the standpoint where those who can't can compete with the others in class.  If you try to measure every kid the same, some will withdraw and act out.

Even with 30 kids in your class, there are small things you can do to help those who can't.  There are so many fabulous resources on Teachers Pay Teachers that provide differentiated lessons, games, and center activities.

Working with small groups, as previously mentioned, allows for differentiation in lessons such as Guided Reading, Guided Math, and others. Again, you can find great resources on TpT.

And, of course, reducing the amount of work required for those who can't and don't is another option. For example: there are 25 math problems on the page; Tell Billy, "You only have to do these six problems, but they must be done correctly."  Increase the number of problems as he progresses. Put a written rationale in his folder of what you're doing, so the next teacher will see it.  You may also want to discuss it with the parents and have them sign it.

I've created this Freebie for you to use as you are making your behavior plan for the school year.  It includes EDITABLE templates for detailed planning of your primary and secondary classroom rules and procedures.  You can download it HERE.

I hope these tips will help you get started as you plan for the year.  So what are you waiting for?  You have plans to make.   Best wishes for the best year ever! :)



  1. I found your post very interesting but would also like to see some tips for substitute teachers. These are very important people and have a very difficult time being in a classroom where the children don't know the teacher and the teacher does not know them. Sometimes these men and women have a very difficult time with undisciplined students and a few tips would help with the unruly.

  2. Loved your comment Susanne. I am a substitute teacher and often teach 1st & 2nd grade classes. If I see a children that I get a feeling is going to be unruly, I general move them close to my desk area to work with them. This general stops the talking and hyperactivity..

  3. Thank you both for your input! And, yes, proximity control is a good strategy for substitutes as well. Also, the strategy of ignoring, but praising a child who is doing the right thing works well for young students, I would think even with a substitute.

  4. awesome! thank you so much! i am a substitute and a new teacher in training! so helpful!!

  5. Excellent points on behavior mangement!


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