Let’s face it: one of the most difficult things about teaching is classroom discipline. But, it’s a crucial part of any classroom, to maintain control and get to the business of learning!


  • Fast-paced, positive lesson. Know your lesson. Keep them engaged in the lesson.
    • Verbal: “Those who do a good job in the first part of class get to play an instrument.”
    • “Let’s keep those letters up.” (I put MUSIC letters on the board as part of a class behavior plan. When the class is noisy, a letter is removed – or when the class is quiet, a letter is added. A second set of letters – I use gold letters – can be used to add to the board. This is often an even better motivator, because the class can earn another point for a gold letter. When the class accumulates 10 points, they have earned a 10-minute game.)
  • Seating chart – place students where they will be least distracted

Positive Reinforcement

  • Verbal: “I like the way Johnny is paying attention.”  Be specific; name the behavior, not general statements.
    • Don’t say: “Johnny, you are so smart” or “Class, you are so good.”
    • Do say:  “Johnny, I like the way you answered that.” or “Johnny, wow, that was a difficult question!” or “Class, I like how many people are looking at me quietly while I’m speaking!” “That’s a hard song; I can’t believe you learned it so quickly!” “You sure are paying better attention this week than you did last week.” (If you compare behavior, compare it with the job they did another day. Never compare their behavior with another class.)
  • Non-verbal: thumbs up, smile, nod, high five


  • Verbal: Teach the behavior you expect.  Be specific.  “We are about to hold hands and do a circle dance. How should we hold hands with each other to make sure no one gets hurt?” Then be quick to say to a student who is not complying, “Johnny, it looks like you forgot to be careful with Sammy’s hand. If you do that again, you’ll have to sit out of our dance.” If it happens again, say, “Johnny, sit out for awhile to make sure you or no one else gets hurt.” or “I’m sorry you chose to squeeze Sammy’s hand too hard again. Sit out please.
  • Demonstration: If it’s a new exercise, it might be worth the time to have students discuss, even demonstrate “right” and “wrong” behavior.


  • Redirection:
    • Non-verbal: a look, a tap on shoulder or head. Or catch the student’s eye and point to where the rule is posted on the wall.
    • Verbal: “Remember, no talking when I’m talking.”  “Remember our deal?”  “Is that the right thing to be doing now?”  “Is that what I asked you to do?”
    • Verbal warning.  Name the behavior, not the student.  Emphasize the choice the student is making.
    • Move student’s seat, either temporarily or permanently.
    • Time out – if the behavior has stopped the momentum of your teaching.
    • Further consequences: call or note home (parent signs), detention, office.  Idea: Have same note for all specials teachers.
  • Whole-class behavior problems.  Every once in awhile, stop the teaching, have honest discussion about how their behavior is affecting the teaching.  Do they have ideas to fix it?  In a performance group, have the group feel ownership of their behavior; i.e. the behavior affects the concert!

A Few Other Hints

  • The more you can encourage students to take responsibility for their own behavior, the better.
  • Try to act, not react.

“Teacher Speak”

  • Positive reinforcement: “Thank you for making a good choice.”
  • Verbal warning: “Remember the first rule is to listen to the speaker.”
  • Student frequently talking to neighbor: “It seems like it’s hard for you to be quiet when you and Sally are sitting so close together. Do you want me to change your seat so you don’t get in trouble, or do you think you can control it?”
  • Student who doesn’t want to work in a group: “It seems like you’re having trouble working with your group. I’m just concerned because you need to work with them to get a good grade. Do you have another idea of how you can get the work done?”

See also

Extras for Plus Members

  • Class Rule Posters

  • Behavior Notice for Specials