1. Brainstorm classroom goals together.
This tip came from my dear mentor teacher as I was student teaching. The idea is that students feel responsible. Students ponder and then write their goals for the school year. I write mine as well and we post them for all to see. Then students are asked what they need from the class, including me, to accomplish their goals. They brainstorm as I write all the ideas on the board. We end up with many, many ideas. Then I ask the students if they can find similarities among the ideas, and we begin grouping them. Then we come up with just a few ideas that include all of the original ideas. These become our classroom guidelines.
We write them on large poster board and post them in the room. Then we discuss what would happen if someone were to not follow the guidelines and we again brainstorm consequences. Students do a wonderful job at this! They see the importance and they are more inclined to be responsible students and the consequences seem to fit very well! Discussions about this entire process should follow regularly to ensure that students keep it at the center of our classroom community.
–Submitted by Denise Hall (Grade 6 teacher, New York)
2. Balance their checkbooks along with their behavior.
Every year, I create a mock checking account system for my 6th grade class. The students get paid biweekly and live life in class just like they are on their own in the real world. If a student breaks a rule in class, he/she pays a fine. If a student is a repeat offender, the fine is doubled. The students determine the amount of the fines, as well as the amount of their paychecks prior to starting this year-long activity. If homework is not turned in, the student pays a fine. If a student does extra work (i.e. straightens the library, helps a classmate, etc.) he/she receives a bonus on his/her paycheck. The students keep track of their accounts using "checks" and "registers". I track their accounts just like the bank would and issue a monthly statement stating their current balance. At the end of the year, students who have not paid fines and still have money in their accounts get to participate in a class auction. Items auctioned include pencils, pens, calculators, pocket dictionaries, gift certificates, candy bars, and a pizza party. The students enjoy it and I like teaching them math that they will use every day.
–Submitted by Patricia Starling (Grade 6 teacher, California)
3. Wish upon a "Secret Star" for orderly lines.
To encourage my students to walk in a quiet and orderly line while in the hallways, I often pick a "Secret Star" when going somewhere (e.g. P.E., Art, lunch, etc.). I usually pick a boy and a girl "Secret Star". I don't tell who my "Secret Star" is and I tell the students that I am watching to see if my "Secret Star" is walking nicely and quietly. When we arrive back to our classroom I announce the "Secret Star" if and only if the "Secret Star" was successful in being a good walker. The "Secret Star" then gets a Starburst candy. Since nobody knows who the "Secret Star" is, everybody is usually very quiet and respectful in case it might be him or her. If the "Secret Star" is not quiet and respectful then I simply state that "My Secret Star did not make it this time." I don't tell who it was. This works wonders for getting the students to walk quietly in the hallways and it's also fun.
–Submitted by Maria Morgan (Grade 1 teacher, Florida)
4. Build a "stinky fish" of classroom infractions.
On the first day of school I read Swimmy by Leo Lionni to my class. We discussed the importance of working together and feeling safe. We brainstormed a list of behaviors we didn't want in the classroom, and I branched off their ideas to look like a fish skeleton. We called this the stinky fish (because it looks dead) and decided we don't want our room smelling like a stinky fish. Then we brainstormed what we DO want and created 10 Fishbowl Environment Guidelines (we are the Fourth Grade Fishbowl!). Students paired up and created a page for our Guideline Book with one of the ten guidelines and an illustration. At the end of the book is a contract we have all signed (including adults that work with my students in and out of the room). Each day at the end of school we read through their book and collectively decide how many incentive noodles to give ourselves based on how we followed the guidelines throughout the day. We are frank, and discuss ways we can improve tomorrow. The guidelines are basic rules with a fish twist: "encourage each other to swim faster & further," "raise a fin to talk," "try our best, even when the water's bumpy." It's a great beginning of the year theme: "School of Fish." Our school's September theme is friendship, so I also plan to read Big Al by Andrew Clements.
–Submitted by Erin Rounds (Grade 4 teacher, Vermont)
5. Have your people call their people for seamless student grouping.
Part of effectively managing the classroom is having an efficient way to put students into groups. Students love working in groups and this is a sure way to partner or group students with variety and inclusion of all students. To partner students, we make appointment clocks. I use a clock with the hour numbers and then a blank line by each hour. The students make an appointment with another student on each hour of the clock. If Sally is Jimmy's one o'clock appointment then Jimmy is also Sally's one o'clock appointment. When I need my students to pair up for activities or review skills, I simply say, "Go to your 2 o'clock appointment." To group my students, I place name labels on a deck of cards. I simply shuffle the cards and deal them out into stacks of the number of groups that I need and then call out the names. The cards are great to use for lots of things, selecting a student to do a special job, picking students to give presentations, etc.
–Submitted by Lisa Carney (Grade 4 teacher, Tennessee)