Over the years of teaching 3rd through 7th grade, I have learned a few classroom management tips that were life savers for my management and classroom. I spent the first four years of my teaching career in an inner city, urban school. Teaching in that type of environment really allowed me to fine tune my management.
Now, I would not be honest if I said I never had classroom management issues arise, but by following these tips I am about to share with you, I was able to minimize them and focus on instruction and push my students to levels they had never been to in previous years.
Before I share these tips with you, I will remind you that your classroom culture, school, and demographics will play a large role in your management. While you read these tips that work for me, I encourage you to read them through the lens of your own particular classroom and students. Some of these will be familiar to you, but I hope you will find at least one tip to help you develop your own classroom management plan.
1. Build relationships with your students.
I put this tip first because I think this is the key to having strong classroom management. I have always worked hard to build relationships with each of my students. I try to target my students most at risk for misbehavior and build a relationship with them first. I get to know their family, their interests, and their strengths. This helps greatly when it comes to enforcing the rules and procedures of my classroom.
2. Explicitly teach procedures and rules.
I honestly teach my 5th graders procedures in a very similar way as primary teachers teach their students. I explicitly teach, model, and review procedures and rules at the beginning of the school year. We spend time discussing why the procedures and rules are important and should be followed. I have found that most students will respect a rule or procedure more if they understand the purpose.
When planning out your procedures and routines to teach, think about what you want your students to do during all parts of the day. You may also want to think about situations that may come up during the day and teach your students an appropriate response or routine. If you subscribe to my email list (click HERE to sign up if you are not already on the list), I have a free list of procedures and routines to teach in my exclusive freebie library (the link and password the library is in the first email I send and every email after it- at the bottom of the email).
This list comes from one of my favorite back to school resources, Back to School Activities to Teach Rules and Procedures. This resource includes several engaging activities and printables for teaching rules and procedures. I use these activities to make teaching these rules and procedures more engaging and interesting for my students. One of my favorite activities in this resource are the realistic classroom scenarios (shown below) for the students to discuss in reflect upon in groups.
3. Name your procedures.
Whenever possible give your procedures a name. For example: testing procedures, hallway procedures, entering the classroom procedure. I do this so when a student is not following a procedure, I can simply say “Remember our hallway (or whatever the name is) procedures.” This puts it back on the students to remember the expectations and keeps me from constantly feeling like I am nagging. If the student pretends to not know the procedure, I call on a student to remind all the students of the procedure.
4. Be fair, firm, and consistent with your procedures and rules.
This is probably one of my biggest tips for classroom management in the upper grades. Once you have chosen your rules and procedures and explicitly taught them, stick to them. No matter who the child is or what the activity- stick with your procedures and rules. This will show the students that you are fair and mean what you say. They will respect you more for it.
5. Teach and post expectations for behavior at different (and important or “sacred”) parts of your day.
I post clear expectations for times were the students are independent the most or times when they are more likely to misbehave or become off-task. Examples include independent writing time, math center time, and morning work expectations). Another tip is to number the expectations if possible (no more than 5 expectations if you can). When the student is not following a specific expectation, call his/her name and then simply say the number of the expectation they are not following and refer to the chart. Again, this puts it back on the students and you are not nagging or wasting instruction time. This is very important during times when you are working with small groups.
6. Have class discussions and meetings to discuss issues with specific issues with behavior.
One of the best parts of teaching upper elementary (in regards to classroom management) is that the students are more than capable of having discussions as a class about behavior problems and why those behaviors are causing problems and how to fix them. Whenever I am having a problem with behavior with a specific activity, transition, or part of the day, I can call my students together and have an honest and open conversation with them. We discuss:
- The behavior I am seeing
- Why the behavior is happening: I genuinely want to know why they are behaving this way because it may be something I can fix or address with a new procedure.
- How the behavior is affecting their learning and my teaching
- What we can do moving forward to fix this behavior problem
7. Use positive reinforcements whenever possible.
I try to keep as much positive as I can in my classroom management plan. I have found that when I go positive with my students, I get better and quicker results than if I had issued consequences or taken things away. To do this, I use Class Dojo (which has been controversial so check with your district or school and make sure you can use it to track behavior).
Even though I try to keep my management as positive as possible, I do take points away from students as needed. However, when I have to take a point away for off-task behaviors, the students know that I will keep an eye on them for the next 20 or so minutes to see if they improve so they can earn the point back. I only do this for off-task behavior because my goal is to get them on task. I don’t do this for disrespect or any other zero tolerance rules.
8. Use team or group points.
5th graders love competition and there is so much you can do with team points. Award points during transition, when gathering or putting up materials, when cutting INB materials, etc. I also assign team or group points to math center groups, writing center groups, and reading center groups. The groups can earn points (tally marks or Dojo points) throughout the week. The group with the most points at the end of the week earns a small prize or incentive.
9. Review rules and procedures throughout the year as needed.
The key to classroom management in the upper grades is being consistent with your procedures throughout the year. In order to stay consistent, I regularly review procedures as needed throughout the day. I also make a point to review procedures when I get a new student, after a long break from school, and after state assessments. Click here to read a post that details out what to do after you have taught procedures in order to maintain those procedures all year long.
10. Have clear (and logical) consequences.
Another big one with older kids are the consequences. Make sure you think through your consequences for misbehavior, not following procedures, being off-task, etc, and then clearly communicate them to the students. I would even have them posted so there is no confusion and the students know what will happen to them if they do XYZ. Going back to a previous tip, once you decide upon your consequences, be consistent with issuing them. If you are wishy-washy, the students will pick up on that quickly! Having clear and well thought-out consequences allows you to calmly issue a consequence without getting visibly upset or rattled. My time in inner city schools taught me the importance of this. The more upset I became, the harder it was to maintain my management plan and the unhappier I was.
Here are some books and online resources I highly recommend to help with your classroom management. These resources have shaped my own personal philosophy and I think you will find something useful in them no matter what type of school you teach at. (the links to the books are Amazon affiliate links)
Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov– This book was a game changer for my instruction and engagement. If your students are engaged and your pacing is on point, you will not have as many management concerns.
First Days of Schools by Harry Wong – Even though I am an “experienced” teacher, I still read this book every summer before school starts back. It has great, easy-to-read and digest reminders for teaching those procedures and rules from day one.
Smart Classroom Management – This website was a life saver when detailing with behavior problems that happened even with all of the classroom management pieces in place. I had one particularly tough year when I referred back to this site almost daily with specific issues I was dealing with or just when I needed a reminder of the best way to handle behaviors in the classroom.
Do you have any other classroom management tips that I have not shared? Let me know in the comments!
I love your list. I totally agree with #1! I think there are students who have done well with me when they have had a history of problematic behavior because I was interested in them personally. That connection is everything.
Jennifer Findley says
I agree, Alicia! I make a point to seek those students out and build that relationship from the beginning. It pays off, for sure!
Amy Z says
Thanks for sharing this amazing list of behavior management tips! I think behavior management is one of the most important skills a teacher can work on strengthening! If a teacher doesn’t have control over the classroom and if students don’t know what is expected of them, instructional time is interrupted and that negatively impacts every student.
I 100% agree that developing positive teacher-student relationships is one of the most important things a teacher can do. When you have a strong relationship with students, they see that you care about them and they are more willing to work hard for you. I always invite students to share their extracurricular schedules with me if they want so I can attend soccer games, dance recitals, musicals,etc. My students love seeing me at these events and it really shows them that I care about them as people not just as learners.
Having consequences planned out in advance for certain actions is a great idea, but another strategy I have found particularly useful is the use of one-on-one problem-solving conferences after a student has broken a rule or made a bad choice. This is something that I learned about in a grad class and have been using this school year, with great results. In short, I do not talk to my students about behavior until after they (and I) have cooled down and have moved past the situation emotionally so that they can think clearly about their choices and reflect in a meaningful way. Then I ask students to explain what I would have seen if I was a fly on the wall (so their explaining just the events), I ask them if their actions were beneficial to the classroom, then ask them what their plan is moving forward to make sure they don’t make the same mistake again. This puts all the power in the child’s hand and puts them in control of their actions and education. My students have responded really positively to this method and it has taken the stress out of dealing with behavior problems for me!
Check out more information on it here! http://faculty.scf.edu/frithl/SPC1608update/handouts/Dewey.htm
Jennifer Findley says
Thank you for sharing that strategy. That is a great way to handle behavior that is more than just off task behavior. I have done something similar when I taught in a particularly rough inner city school. It was very important that I not react in an emotional way and the student reflection part is key. Thank for your sharing the link for more information!
Ashley Bush says
I loved this! I am entering my first year teaching 4th grade in a pretty rough school (I’ve only had experience in first and second grade) and I think this will be a game changer!!
John Anderson says
Hi Jennifer. I read your article and I completely agree with all the points that you have mentioned in your article. If we use digital platforms to teach our students we would be able to explain them the subjects more easily and the students will find it interesting too.
joe root says
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Would you happen to have a list of your “if this happens, this is the consequence” situations? I am struggling with coming up with effective consequences and would love to see your ideas for that, so that I too can have clear expectations.
Hi there!! I just found out that I’ll be teaching 5th in the fall. I’ve only taught lower grades…second, first, and 5 years of TK. I’m going to need a lot of help. I’m glad I found this article and I’m hoping to get as much information as possible. What’s the first thing to think about???