If your behavior management is spot on, your school year will be a breeze, but if it’s wobbly? Watch out for a rocky year. All Really Good Teachers know that behavior management is perhaps the most important skill you can master as an effective teacher. If you’re struggling, don’t worry. We’ve compiled advice from some of the Really Good Teachers who best know how to maintain order in any classroom situation.
1. Steps to a Peaceful Day
Idea By Rachna, 4th Grade Teacher, Arlington, VA
To bring peace to myself and my students during each instructional day and beyond, I integrate meaningful opportunities that allow us to work and play as a “classroom family.”
First, I ensure that I purposefully integrate plenty of “think-pair-share” opportunities. Students learn just as much from one another as they do from their teacher; “think-pair-share” opportunities encourage “instructional talk” while also strengthening friendships among all students. I find that if my students get along, then they are more at peace with themselves and each other.
Second, I integrate a group class management system, whereby unsolicited compliments from staff members earn my students letters in words that are synonyms for “excellent.” Once they spell a word together as a class, the entire class receives 30 minutes of “Preferred Activity Time” (Fred Jones’ theory). This makes my students work together in a harmonious, thoughtful manner toward a common goal.
Third, I read high quality, engaging literature to my students to calm them down after lunch and before dismissal. I build in procedures for active listening and use of reading strategies, and I find that these read-alouds create a sense of peace and harmony during times that could otherwise be chaotic.
2. Share a Positive Message
Idea By Beverly, 1st Grade Teacher, Jamaica Plain, MA
After our usual morning routine (song, chants, rules, etc.) we begin the morning by having a child pass a positive message around our circle. Each child shakes hands with the next child and repeats the message until it reaches the child who sent it. Sometimes it’s a rule, but more often it’s a message of hope or encouragement. Students have said, “Have faith in yourself” and “Root, root, root for the Home Team” (because we’re the Home Team.)
3. Sing Along Learning
Idea By Susan, Kindergarten Teacher, Stephens City, VA
This may not be a new idea, but everyone seems surprised when I tell them. I sing with my students every day. We sing about the calendar, numbers, colors, letters, and words or whatever we are studying. I also sing or do a fingerplay when I need to get their attention. It is hard to be mad when you are singing and works faster than yelling. Too bad I don’t sing well, but my students don’t seem to mind!
4. Have a Class Mascot
Idea By Lisette, 2nd Grade Teacher, Hawthorne, CA
One way I bring joy to the day is with our class mascot, Sock Monkey. I use Sock Monkey to teach lessons about class behavior, manners and pillars of character. I also use him to motivate students to write. I have a “Sock Monkey Adventure” bag that includes a journal and a sock monkey.
Each day a different student takes the bag home and gets to write about his or her adventure with the monkey. I lend the bag to adults, too (e.g., the principal, counselor, other teachers) so that they can model proficient writing for the students. At the end of the year, when all of our hard work and testing is over, each student gets to make his or her own sock monkey.
5. Finding Joy
Idea By Barbara, Friendswood, TX
We decided to inspire better behavior in the cafeteria with a spinoff of the Elf on the Shelf. We’re actually using a little hanging monkey we call JOY by putting JOY up for grabs. JOY will get to go back to the classroom whose class showed the best table manners for that day. To encourage their participation, I designed a cafeteria bulletin board that reads: Who has JOY today? It has a WANTED: JOY poster with a “mug shot” of JOY and room for the teacher whose class has JOY for the day to sign her name.
So far, so good – we’ve had three JOYful days in the cafeteria as our oldest students try to end up with JOY. I’m certain that this would work in a classroom, too, only rather than working as a team, the kids would work individually to get JOY for the day.
6. Smart Seats
Idea by Ashley, 1st Grade Teacher, Greenville, NC
With 21 children in each of our first-grade classes, we usually arrange children in groups of 4-5. There are always a few children who require alternative (individual) seating arrangements, as they do not work well within a group. Instead of making these particular children feel ostracized, I decided to label these individual seats “Smart Seats.” I tell children they work so much better when seated in their Smart Seats.
So far, it’s worked like a charm as children eagerly sit and work in these special spots!
7. Have Study Buddiies
Idea by Tracey, 5th Grade Special Education Teacher, Richmond, CA
Because I teach profoundly challenged students, there exists wide gaps in their ability levels. I’ve found that pairing students of similar ability levels together as Study Buddies has been most helpful. The buddies work together to discover answers and solve problems.
Meanwhile, an adult staff member monitors each pair’s progress and documents the strengths and challenges they each encounter. Students report that they love their Study Buddies and they seem eager to explore, experiment, and make discoveries together.
8. Turn Can’ts Into Cans
Turn attitudes around with this idea by Jessica, a K-5 Gifted Resource Teacher, in Wichita, KS.
My students are incredibly smart but often struggle with their own negativity. I decided we would put negative words and phrases, such as “I can’t,” to rest once and for all. First we brainstorm a list of ways we resist learning with negative words and phrases such as, “This is too hard,” “I don’t wanna,” etc.
We record each negative response on a separate piece of paper and place these papers into a shoe box. We then promise to put these words and phrases to rest by never using them in our class ever again. Students also agree to monitor each other and help each other develop positive thinking and speaking.
My students love telling other people about how being positive has changed their lives. We wrote letters to the principal of every school in our district as well as to governors and famous celebrities. Getting responses from famous people such as Tony Hawk and President Barack Obama made an impact on my students. They now know their positive voices make a difference to others as well as to themselves.
9. Give Them a Break
Get out the wiggles with this idea by Diane, a 1st Grade Teacher, from Langdon, ND.
Whenever my students get a little antsy while doing seatwork, I play a game I call “Switch.” When I say “Switch!” each student must gather up his or her work and move to a different desk. By the count of 10, each student needs to be in a new spot. After switching, my students have more energy to keep on working.
10. Keep Them Thinking
Try this really good transition idea from Teresa, a K-8 Librarian, in Kirbyville, MO.
As a school librarian, I sometimes find my students and I have a few extra minutes to spare at the end of a library period. Rather than just have the students wait quietly for their teacher to return, I developed an ABC game that students of all ages love to play. We begin by sitting in a circle, then we recite the alphabet with each student, in turn, reciting one letter.
We go ‘round a couple of times, then I begin asking students to predict who will say the letter Z on the next round. Some students make random guesses, while others attempt to count or recite quickly in order to predict the result with more accuracy. We then test our predictions to see who is correct and then repeat the activity by predicting who will recite other letters; we play until their teacher arrives.
My students love playing this simple game, and I love helping them use a few spare minutes to increase their brainpower and reasoning skills.
11. Get Their Focus Immediately
Get students focused immediately with this clever idea by Linda, a 5th –6th Grade Teacher, in Pacific, MO.
The students in my school switch classes and I found they had a hard time settling down as they came in my room. Then I hit on this idea that engages them in the first few seconds of class. Before my students arrive, I turn off the lights and project two sentences to be edited onto my SMARTBoard. (You can also use an overhead projector).
Students quickly settle down to a focused and valid task that allows the lesson to begin as soon as the bell rings.
12. Don’t Take the Bait
Idea by Lisa, a School Counselor, in Beavercreek, OH.
To offer children a strategy for not “taking the bait” when someone teases or bullies them, I offer an analogy about fishing. We begin by taking about fishing in general; I ask students to tell who has ever gone fishing and to tell what was it like, etc. When they come to the topic of bait, I remind students that when there is bait on the hook and the fish swallows the baited hook, the fisherman pulls the fish up and eats it.
I then ask, “ What would happen if the fish did not swallow your baited hook?” Usually (eventually) someone responds that he or she would fish somewhere else. I then draw an analogy between the fisherman and a bullying student who might “drop another student a line” by teasing or bullying with a baited hook. Then we talk about what happens the “fish” doesn’t take the bait. (The bully must “fish” elsewhere.) After that, whenever I see students beginning to tease one another in mean ways, all I have to say is, “Hey! Don’t take the bait!”
13. Have a Word of the Day
Try having a word of the day with this idea by Amanda, a 4th Grade Teacher, in Klamath Falls, OR.
The word of the day in my class is “book”. Whenever I say the word, my class shouts, “WE LOVE TO READ!” I give my class points for how quickly and loudly they shout the response. When we reach 25 points, I draw one student’s name to win a free book. I have found that this simple activity keeps my class alert throughout the day while also promoting a love of reading.
14. Create the 10-10 Rule
Stop missed information excuses in their tracks with this idea by Peri, 6th Grade Teacher, from Huntington, TX.
In my classroom, I have a “10-10” expectation meaning I expect my middle-grade students to be present during the first and last ten minutes of class. Both time periods are crucial as they are packed with vital directions and instructions; I don’t want any kid to miss this information because of a trip to the water fountain or a forgotten notebook. I make it mandatory that students remain in class for the first and last 10 minutes of the period. This helps cut down on my having to repeat essential information they need to succeed.
15. Reward Good Behavior
These chips will definitely help promote good behavior! Try this idea by Michele, a 1st Grade Teacher, in Frisco, TX!
Every summer I collect empty tennis ball cans to use in my classroom as student banks. I help students cover the cans with paper and then add decorative details to personalize. The cans fit neatly inside students’ desks. As students earn chips for completing daily activities, such as sharpening their pencils, unstacking their chairs, etc., they store the chips in their cans. They also earn chips for positive behaviors.
Chips are worth five points and can be saved and exchanged for prizes like treasure box items, lunch with the teacher, etc. In addition to guiding behavior, the chips also help students learn the benefit of saving, as well as offering practice in addition, subtraction, and skip-counting by fives.
16. Create Silent Signals
This idea by Carol, a 1st Grade Teacher, Delran, NJ, makes it easy to see when students are ready to move on.
“Whenever I ask a group of children to read the same passage silently, I have them signal they are finished by placing their hands on their heads. This practice allows me to assess their reading rate without disrupting the other children. (Tip: So that children who are still reading do not feel rushed as classmates signal they are finished, I tell them I’m participating in the silent reading effort, too. I am always the last one to place my hands on my head.)”
17. Monitor Behavior
Behavior management does not have to cost a lot with this idea by Shira, a 4th Grade Teacher, in Baltimore, MD.
As a positive reinforcement tool, I hand out really colorful paperclips for desired behaviors. Students can earn paperclips for participation, for asking/answering thoughtful questions, for positive and helpful behavior, for listening and speaking efforts, etc. A few times during the year, I bring in prizes so student can redeem their clips.
I also display a paper traffic light to help the class as a whole monitor its behavior. When I place a clip on the green light, it means that everything running smoothly and students can earn paperclips. When the clip is on yellow, no one can earn clips until the class is refocused and on task. Once I have moved the clip to green, students can start earning again.
Finally, if I have to move the arrow to red, everything stops until we discuss what is going on and why it is happening. In this way, undesirable behavior is addressed and altered on the spot.
18. Teach Students to Recognize Positive Behavior in Others
How can you help students recognize good behavior in others? Mary Lou, a 2nd Grade Teacher from Maple Valley, WA, has just the answer. Find out how she helped her students recognize “the right stuff.”
“Earlier this year one of my students was having difficulty controlling his angry impulses. His negative behavior escalated to the point that he was suspended twice from school for hitting other students. Fortunately, this boy got some professional help and stopped hurting others. Unfortunately, another classmate remained on the lookout for any suspicious conduct on the boy’s part, promptly reporting her findings to me. Upon investigation, I discovered that the boy was not acting with an intent to harm anyone. For example, he may have bumped into another child, but it was purely accidental.
I was determined to find a way to help the girl recognize the good in this boy and decided to make her a “positive reporter”. I took her aside and gave her 10 “Praise Notes”. Her job was to carry the notes and a pencil with her throughout each day, documenting any of the boy’s positive actions, e.g. listening to the teacher or sharing a pencil with a classmate. After writing 10 Praise Notes I would reward her with a prize from the class treasure chest.
Within a week this girl had written 10 positive things about the boy and claimed her prize. More importantly, the boy received kudos for doing well at school and the girl learned to recognize that her peer was doing “the right stuff”.”
19. Use Music to Transition
Shannon, a Kindergarten Teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, loves to get her students movin’ and groovin’. Read below to find out how she incorporates music into her daily classroom routine.
When my students get antsy throughout the day, we perform music and movements that never fail to boost their attention levels and make transitions to the next task a bit easier. While we rely on many different tunes, our all-time favorite is a hip-hop version of the Alphabet Song. (There are many such versions available on music CDs and online.) As we sing to this song, we move in ways that remind us of each letter’s configuration. For example, we reach up high for letters that start at the headline, put hands on their hips for letters on the mid-line and squat down low for letters with a tail. We then play the song again, and this time they rock out any which way.
At year’s end, I give each student a personal recording of the songs we sang and danced to in class. I tell them that each time they enjoy the songs at home, they are to remember all the movin’ and groovin’ and growin’ we did together in Kindergarten—and to remember that everyone else in our class will be cherishing those same memories as time goes by.
20. Get Students to Share
Help create a community with this idea by Amy, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Zanesville, OH.
Here’s an idea I like to introduce during this season of caring and sharing. I begin by telling my students I know it’s hard for them to concentrate with the many distractions they have this time of year. I also tell them that one way we can help each other concentrate better and learn more is for us to share something about what we have each learned and/or what we are about to explore.
For each sharing session (lasting one or two minutes each), I then suggest one specific way for them to share, for example, I might tell them to
- Discuss a problem they’re having with the topic
- Tell about something they didn’t “get”
- Share something they’re proud of
- Tell about something they learned that was amazing, etc.
I have found that the students enjoy these sharing sessions and that, by spending a few minutes this way throughout the day, students are indeed able to stay more focused and on task.
21. Take a Breath of Peace
Idea By Marie, 1st Grade Teacher, Lago Vista, TX
To bring peace to our classroom during the day, we all breathe in deeply while moving up on tiptoes. Then we exhale while rocking back on our heels. We finish up by giving ourselves a big hug.
22. Accentuate the Positive
Idea By Brian, Teacher in Titusville, FL
At the end of the day, I invite my students to sit in a circle, pass a feather around and tell what they liked or what they learned about during the day, as well as how they might do even better tomorrow. In addition, while driving home, I often reflect on my own teaching day. Once home, I record my reflections in a journal. I find that these simple practices have profound effects on our progress as a learning community.
23. Have a Warm Fuzzies Box
Idea By Rachna, 4th Grade Teacher, Arlington, VA
In my classroom, I set up a Warm Fuzzies Compliment Box. I have students reflect on why their classmates are valuable members of our community, then use index cards to record their positive observations. (We select names from a bag so that everyone gives and receives one compliment.) I then set aside class time for students to read their compliments aloud.
The kids enjoy keeping the compliments they received. This type of reflection ensures that, at a critical stage of their social development, my students focus on the positive interactions and friendships they enjoy. I also keep a Grateful Book in which I record kind words and deeds remembered from my own personal and professional life.
Idea By Dayna, Special Education Teacher, Hollywood, FL
To make learning more fun and memorable, I share songs based on target skills we’re working on. The music helps my students’ faces light up and it also helps them to remember the information at hand. In addition, I always smile, smile, smile! A friendly, caring teacher automatically inspires students to do their best. Whenever I smile at my students, they smile back, and that generates great joy for us all.
25. Record Kindness
This idea comes from Melinda, a 3rd Grade Teacher, in Gainesville, GA.
I keep a small mailbox next to my classroom rocking chair. Inside the box, I place a pad of sticky notes (the lined, larger-sized notes) and some colored fineline markers. I tell the students the notes and markers are for them to record kind things that others did for them during the week. They must put the kind student’s name on the note and sign the note as well. They then stick their notes on the back of the mailbox.
Each Friday we meet on the rug near my chair and I deliver the mail so the children can read and keep their notes. I augment their efforts by providing notes of my own to students who did not receive notes from a classmate so that everyone goes home with a note of appreciation for a kindness. Many of my students keep their notes in their journal.
(Tip: You can use the notes as writing prompts by asking students to tell the story behind the kindness. If students are too young to write, they can dictate or draw their kindness on unlined notes.)