Some tips for teachers for next September...

I know, I know, I'm as bad as Asda, advertising Back-to-School stuff when the holiday's only just begun. But I know what we teachers are like; we like to plan. And let's face it, our holiday doesn't begin until at least three days after those gates close for the last time. So, here is my offering for this week:

10 Behaviour Management Tips

Teaching can be very rewarding - I’ve been a teacher in UK schools for more than a decade now and I’ve never had a dull moment.  I love the way a class full of children can change your entire mood and make you see things in a brand new way. But there are times when they turn from little angels to little monsters and that’s when your ability to manage behaviour really comes into play.  It is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it a list of the only techniques that will work. Obviously, all children are different and there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach (are you listening, government?) but if even one of them is useful for you, then the writing of this list will have been worth it!

Call and respond

This can be as simple as saying ‘ABC’ and having the children respond with ‘123’.  The idea is that you train the children to listen out for a certain phrase and then respond with the correct phrase, then, importantly, stop making noise and await your next instruction.

I’ve heard a variety of phrases, rhyming ones seem to be preferred because the rhyme can help the children remember the response.  Some examples are “123” “Eyes on me”, “1 and 2” “Eyes on you.” I’m not a huge fan of this one - I think it’s too long, but it worked well in a Year 2 classroom.  Another is: “Macaroni cheese!” “Everybody freeze!” That’s kind of fun. Last year, my Year 6 class enjoyed using “Pen-pineapple” “Apple-pen” but that one dated fairly quickly.  You can use anything, the idea is to keep it short and recognisable - avoid phrases you would use ordinarily every day.

Positive names on the board

I’m sure we can all remember that time in class when we were younger, when an adult would tell you off, then write your name on the board.  A permanent, visual reminder that you were in trouble and had done something wrong. For some children, this would only add fuel to a disruptive fire; for others, it would crush them for the rest of the lesson.  Either way, it’s not great and can even lead to getting sucked into an argument, halting your lesson completely.

How about flipping the paradigm?  Instead of noting the negatives, note the positives.  Write the names of the children who are doing exactly the right thing.  We all do it verbally, “Isn’t Joey sitting well? Wow, Elizabeth, you’ve already written the date and title; go you!”  And it is super effective. So write their name on the board. That visual reminder of positive behaviour will pay dividends and can be a nice little incentive to other children who may be inclined to fuss.  One extra tip with this though, make sure it means something. If your school employs a points system, then have the names on the board gain three points. If your school doesn’t have a points system, them make sure that the names on the board get to go out to play first.  It’s such a little thing, and it’s free and easy to do, but it means a lot to a child. I’ve used this will children from Reception all the way through to Year 6 and it has never failed to work.
Speaking of points…


Children love earning points.  So do adults, but this is about the kids.  They have all grown up in a world that is so gamified, earning points has an inherent meaning.  We can use this to our advantage within the classroom. You’ll be surprised how motivating the following phrase can be: “First [child/table/8-year-old] to be ready and quiet wins x points.”  Try it. They’ll move. They never even have to know what the points are for! The great thing about this is that points are free (and completely arbitrary, but never let the children know that!).  I have tamed unruly classes before by seating them in teams (not tables, even though they are blatantly table groups, they are teams) and offering 1,000,000 points for being the first to have everyone finish an activity.  By making it a team effort, you are encouraging peer-assessment and coaching. It stops it being an individual race to get done and makes it much more inclusive.  

The great thing about using points is that children know more equals better.  So you can start out by awarding 5 points for something simple, allowing lots of children to earn that easy point, then crank it way up to millions for the actual task and they’ll be on board and excited purely because a million is a big number.  

Feel free to award second-place point-tiers as well.  Also, introduce fines (never take points away, fine children for noise pollution or health and safety issues (talking too loudly or making a mess) and deduct any fines at the end of the lesson.  This goes down way better than simply erasing hard-earned points.

Again, if you want to the points to mean something, set up a video-game style shop.  For so many thousands of points, you can have extra computer time, or be the first out to play, or even the first in to lunch (speak to the lunch people first, but they’re usually okay with it).  If you want to buy small prizes like pencils then go for it, but anything you give a value will be worth something to a child. More on that in a later video.

Show, don’t tell (being quiet)

At some point, you are going to come into school either feeling glum, suck or just plain exhausted.  It’s on these days that an unruly class can really begin to try your patience. My advice? Don’t talk to them.  Seriously. Spend a little extra time writing up simple instructions on your board and draw their attention to it.  The novelty of you not saying a word will lure the children into working out what they need to do. When using this approach, make sure your facial expressions do the talking for you.  Really ham up that happy face when the first child cottons on and starts doing what you need them to do. And don’t forget, just because you're not speaking, that doesn’t mean that the children have to be silent.  Get that child who gets it to come up to the front and explain it to the class.

When you’re confident that everybody knows what to do, quietly and calmly congratulate them and challenge them to keep that peaceful atmosphere in the room.  This one won’t last all day, but it is a great way to begin.

Behaviour chart

Do me a favour, I want to you help me out with a little thought experiment.  I want you to think of anything, absolutely anything at all, but DO NOT think of a pink elephant balancing on a ball.  You did it, didn’t you? You pictured that damn elephant. Sigh. I’ll explain the point of that in a while.

I have worked in a lot of schools and many of them have used behaviour charts in the same way as they have used names on the board.  That is to say, negatively. I will never understand the compulsion of teachers to bring attention to the behaviours they do not want to see.  It’s like someone saying ‘don’t think of a pink elephant.’ Ah, now it makes sense! When we make a point of behaviour we don’t like, we’re just elevating its status within the group.  Now, I’m not saying ignore all bad behaviour, you can’t; children come to school to learn morality as well as maths. But you can catch them being good as well as bad. So, I use a two-sided chart.  As you can see here, the names go down through the middle and to the left, we have numbers 1 through 5, gradually getting redder, and on the right, we have the letters, P, R, I, Z and E, moving through green and on to blue.  The colours are not important, and honestly, I only use them to ensure that the chart overall ties in with the school’s existing behaviour chart, which is an all-too-common traffic light system.  

But Carl, why do you hate the traffic light system?  I’ll tell you. In my experience, it either gives the child too much freedom to move around, or not enough.  I have seen it where children begin, and often remain, in the middle for weeks, only moving down, if at all, because the hallowed green circle is reserved for those who go above and beyond.  I have also seen children move down into the amber or red circles only to be moved back up a level after a few minutes of improved behaviour, teaching that child that, so long as they can behave for the last few minutes of your lesson, they can avoid any consequences.  

So how is mine different?  Well, I’ve combined two separate charts.  One for recording negative behaviour (the numbers) and one for recording positive behaviour (the letters).  It’s important to establish with the class what the numbers will represent. Often they agree that a 1 simply represents a verbal warning and is nothing too serious.  A 2 is for when the child is repeating behaviours that they have already been warned about, or for more serious disturbances. Neither 1 nor 2 result in anything more than a disapproving look.

The number 3 is for more serious actions and often results in a missed playtime or similar sanction. 

This trend continues through 4 and 5, with a 4 usually resulting in referring the behaviour to a more senior member of staff and a 5 resulting in a phone call home to discuss the issues.  It is incredibly rare for a child to get beyond a number 3. It is often rare for them to get beyond a number 2 as most children just need that gentle reminder to do the right thing.

So, the other side?  Well, if the child does something you want the rest of the class to aspire to - anything from being very helpful, to completing extra work at home - they can circle a letter.  If they manage to circle all five letters in one week, then they have earned themselves a prize. Again, these prizes never have to be very much; the important thing is that you give them value.  Check out a later video for more on this subject.

The way I have worked this system very successfully for years is to erase the numbered side every day, but leave the letters up until the end of the week.  If interest seems to be waning a little, then I will go on a ‘letters blitz’ and start giving them out for even the smallest acts of positivity. I have also been known to have a letters ‘roll-over’ event, which drives the kids mad with excitement because they were on PRI and now have an extra five days to earn those final two letters.

The great thing about this is that you can make it as easy or as difficult to earn letters as you like.  I laminate mine and keep a dry-erase pen close by so that the children can circle their own letters and numbers.  Sometimes you need to keep an eye out to make sure that they are not circling somebody else’s numbers, but this doesn’t happen very much - and the other kids will let you know when it does!  It’s easy to make, but if you want an editable copy, ask for one in the comments section below.


Another visual reminder of work done well.  I have a small collection of plush toys and a Shakespeare bobblehead and if you or your table is impressing me then I will put one of these mascots on your table.  If your impressive behaviour lasts for the rest of the lesson (or a given time limit if that’s easier - remember all of these things have to first be achievable) then your whole table wins points/a prize/whatever.  If, however, so much as one person breaks that positive learning atmosphere, then the mascot is taken away or, worse, given to another table. This works so well because it is visual and potentially fleeting. Yes, the children will touch the mascot at first, but you simply threaten to remove it if they stop working and they leave it alone.

You can change this up by awarding a mascot for every table doing the correct thing, or by limiting the number of mascots available or by holding a ‘how many can you collect’ competition within the class.  Just for fun, one day introduce one mascot and, after ten minutes of a good learning atmosphere, announce that the class has just ‘unlocked’ another, then feel the buzz in the room. Anything related to gaming will work.  With this tip, I advise 1: collecting the mascots in at the end of every session, and 2: washing them at least once a term!

Check for understanding

This is such a simple one that it is often overlooked.  If the children don’t understand what they need to do; they can’t do it.  And if they can’t do it, they are more likely to be disruptive.

This is easily remedied by displaying the title in the form of a question and checking that everybody understands it.  I like to ask if there are any words that people are unsure about, or if there are any terms that someone would like to explain.  This does rely on creating a safe learning environment where mistakes and risks are encouraged. It’s also a really useful way to address any misconceptions immediately and make sure that everybody is on the same page.  If no-one admits to not understanding something, play devil’s advocate and ask for the meaning of the key concept you want them to learn. This way, even those reluctant to speak up will hear an explanation at least once.  You can also have other adults in your room ask for a clearer explanation if they feel the children still aren’t getting it.  

If everyone understands, they are more likely to get on with it peacefully.

Magician’s choices

Children love to feel like they have contributed to the lesson in some way.  After all, it is their classroom, their learning experience and you are their teacher.  It’s only fair that they have some say in what goes on.  With this in mind then, it can be beneficial to you to ask them what area they would like to explore next… then give them a choice of two things.  Both of which you intend to cover anyway. This is known as a magician’s choice because it comes from card tricks that involve the illusion of choice.  For example, in a maths lesson, let’s say you’ve just finished a unit on addition and subtraction. You know you’re going to move on to the other operations, so you ask the class if they would prefer to learn about multiplication or division next. 

Now, it doesn't matter which one they choose because you're going to teach them both anyway. but you've got planning to do, you can't just sit around and wait for the children to dictate what you will and won't teach. That's where the magic happens. You ask whether they would like option A or option B, you know you are planning to teach option B. Let's say they choose option A, 'Okay,' you say, 'we'll save that one for later - something to look forward to, and we'll cover option B next.' You win.

What if they choose option B though? Well then you agree with them and go ahead and teach option B.

You can ask for reasons behind their choices, forcing them to think about the maths concepts they prefer and why; you can ask them to write you a persuasive letter for homework (assessing their ability to write persuasively), you can even challenge them to come up with five starter activities for the operator they chose.  Then let them deliver those starters. This is great because it gives the children that illusion of control (they never really have it) and it also gives them a chance to experience what it is like to stand in front of the class - they soon learn how irritating it is when you just can’t catch the people chatting when you’re trying to teach!
It doesn’t even have to be maths.  The concept can work equally well across the entire curriculum. By the way, a curious thing about choices and psychology, if you want to influence their decision, put your preferred choice and the end.

Clap once if you can hear me; twice if you’re listening; thrice if you’re ready!

This is one of my favourites, and I am not a clapper (you know the clapped rhythm - clap, clap, clapclapclap - urhg).  What I love about this is that it works well in the classroom, but it works equally well on trips, public transport, whole-school assemblies, governor’s meetings (yes, it works on adults as well)... and it makes you look like a child whisperer!

It’s a variation on the call-and-response from earlier but with instructions instead.  Clap once if you can hear me. If nobody claps, you can’t be heard - try again but a little louder.  The great thing is, not everyone needs to hear you, the clap will alert the others that something has been said.  Clap twice if you are listening. 99% of the class will clap twice because they have been alerted by the previous clap.  You can now use this silence to calmly deliver your next instruction. I used this on a crowded underground train in London once and not only did some members of the public clap twice; I was complimented on my ability to silence 30 excited 10-year-olds in an instant.  It really does work!

Be positive and consistent

None of these methods will work if you only use them once (with the exception of the previous one, maybe).  You have to be consistent and stay positive with them. My advice is to pick a couple, no more than three though, and use them from day one.  Remember that you will have to explain the rules, sometimes more than once, but if you are positive and consistent, then they will work and work effectively.  Hand in hand with this is respect for the children. Don’t call them kids. Take the time to call them children. Or boys and girls. I tend to refer to them as ladies and gentlemen because that’s how I want them to behave.  But however you address them, be calm, be clear and be concise. I have met many problem children, but I have never yet met a child who actively wanted to do the wrong thing. Children are like puppies; they’re pack animals and they want to belong to the largest, and therefore safest, group.  Engineer your classroom so that group is the well-behaved group.

So that's my list.  If you have any other tips, please add them in the comments below, or tweet them with #behaviourtips.  Also, since you're here, check out my other posts and have a look at my website, which has learning games and self-marking times tables tests and is always growing!

Carl Headley-Morris