10 primary classroom management strategies

By Mark Higgins

1. Establishing routine

Establishing good routines is vital to your success in classroom management. Young learners respond well to structured routines because they minimise confusion about classroom expectations, create a sense of security, and promote their independence throughout the day. The benefits you can expect to see include easier classroom management, smoother transitions between activities, an increase in positive interactions with your students, and greater efficiency in your instruction and facilitation of classwork.

2. Ask a friend

If you find yourself having to explain things over-and-over again to your students, teach them to ask a friend about what they should be doing. A student might come to you and say, “I don’t know where to put my bag?” Reply, “Ask a friend where (Mr. Biddle) asked you to put your bag.”  You can also apply this to situations that you encounter throughout the day: “Alex, you need to ask a friend about what colours (Mr. Biddle) said to use on this activity.” Provide positive feedback when the students resolve the situation on their own. In time, your students won’t need prompting to ask their friends for clarification and they will be instinctively motivated to help their classmates when they need it.

3. Communicating expected behaviour

Providing positive commentary on good behaviour in the classroom increases your students’ awareness of expectations and motivates them to regulate their own behaviour. When implementing new routines, develop the habit of describing what the students behaving correctly are doing: “I love the way that Sam waited for my instructions before he moved to his desk.” “Isn’t it amazing how quietly the Red group sat down and waited?”  This is especially effective for students who consistently misbehave to get your attention. If you can, completely ignore any unwanted behaviours while directing your attention to a student acting appropriately and give them praise. They will learn that the students who get your attention are the ones who follow classroom expectations.

4. Use timekeeping devices

Students of any age can be easily distracted. Although it’s important to be flexible at times, your students need to learn to complete activities during given timeframes. Ringing a bell or setting an alarm clock will help to break through chatter and grab your students’ attention. Teach them that the sound means “Stop,” (pencils down, sit up straight) “Look,” (eyes to the front) and “Listen” (no talking, ears open). For every extra minute it takes for the students to settle down, you can dock a minute from their free time. Your students will learn to complete activities within set time limits and transition between activities more smoothly. When a student needs time to settle, teach them to take an hourglass (or a plastic bottle with water and glitter) to a designated quiet space, shake it up, and then wait until the glitter or sand has settled before rejoining the class. Afterward, you can thank them for making the right decision to control their behaviour.

Establishing a routine in the classroom
Establishing a routine in the classroom is an important way to set expectations and promote productivity among primary students.

5. Busy bees

It is important to keep idle time to a minimum to prevent your students from becoming bored and acting inappropriately. If you have space, create an area stocked with books, puzzles, and educational toys for students to use quietly once they have completed their work to your satisfaction. If you don’t have space, before the class begins, students can pick one book, puzzle, or toy to keep at their desk or designated area and to use it only when they have finished your task. You could also design a fast workers board with envelopes containing fun activities that the students can choose like decorating part of the classroom, using a computer, a library visit, find-a-words, or sudoku puzzle. When your class is working well, allow students who don’t always finish early the chance to have fun with these bonus activities, too.

6. Developing behavioural plans

If a student is continuing to struggle in your class you might consider holding meetings with the student’s parents, executive staff, the school counselor, and the student. The aim should be to determine any underlying problems, make sure their needs are being met, and develop a plan for addressing challenging behaviours. Encouraging inclusion and better relationships with staff and classmates are also important. Remember that you’re dealing with children who do not have the adult skills necessary to deal with difficult situations or experience in resolving them. By making sure that a challenging student feels safe, cared for, and included in your classroom, you can build trust and a good rapport with them. When they start to feel a sense of connectedness, they will be more willing to settle and focus on their work in your classroom. Encourage your fellow staff members to try building rapport with challenging students through short, positive interactions when they see them during the day. This will help break-up the constant negative feedback the student is probably used to and this will strengthen their self-esteem and sense of belonging in the school.

7. Shout-outs

To promote a sense of camaraderie, place student’s names in a hat, and at the end of the day, have students draw out a name and say something positive that they saw the student doing. If needed, you can demonstrate first or display a list of examples like being a good friend, talking nicely to others, doing their work quietly, and trying their best in P.E. This can give them ideas if they’re unsure of what to say. Keep selected names aside until every student has been drawn out of the can. If you think your students might be embarrassed complimenting certain classmates, you can hand out specific names to students who are friendly with each other. Alternatively, students can be allowed to write an anonymous response on printed name cards; then place them in a box for you to read out later.

8. Quiet activities

You will have a good sense of certain times when your students are unsettled or have too much energy (after lunch/rainy days/Friday afternoons). It will be handy to have several quiet activities ready to go when necessary. Reading to the students after lunch or allowing them 10 minutes of reading time is a great settler. By choosing engaging authors like Roald Dahl and reading with enthusiasm, you can hook them in. Telephone, heads-down-thumbs up, statues, and four corners are easy, no equipment necessary games to use in a pinch. You can play some relaxing music and let your students draw or colour in or dim the lights and play an educational ClickView video. Another idea is to break your kids into small groups and give them each a puzzle to complete together with rewards for the quietest and fastest group. It is important to be consistent with your classroom expectations, so be careful that students don’t learn to be noisy just to get games as a reward.

9. Louder activities

My primary school class was very energetic. We could annoy teachers with our noise levels and our inability to sit still. Our year four teacher had a different student choose their favourite song and lead a morning exercise work out for the class every day. This was a fun way to start the day and use up some energy. When transitioning between activities, throw in an energetic interlude to break things up. On Monday, play a breakdance video and practice the steps. On Tuesday, run a quick class lap around the playground. On Wednesday, see which students can come up with the most intricate “cool” handshake. On Thursday, select and play a “minute to win it” style game (these usually require teamwork and problem-solving). On Friday, play follow the leader. In a circle, one student makes a sound or does an action. The next student repeats and adds one of their own, and so on. This will help your students to maintain their focus when completing activities because they know they have something to look forward to each day. Remember to switch things up as necessary and be ready with some fun, spontaneous activities for when they have too much energy.

Physical education for primary students
Adding physical education sessions to your lesson plan can assist with primary classroom management.

10. Dealing with aggression

When there is a fight or when a student is being aggressive in your classroom, it is important to follow your school’s guidelines in response. Looking out for changes in a student over the day, such as angry stares or raised voices, can help you to pre-empt and deal with a tense situation appropriately. Teaching verbal conflict resolution techniques to your students is useful as well. Aggressive behaviour should be dealt with immediately to make sure there is no escalation. Remaining calm is essential when you deal with this kind of situation. Moving closer to students and demand they adjust their current behaviour in a strong, clear voice can often provide a chance for them to escape the situation without losing face. Remind them of the consequences of fighting. Try directing them outside of the classroom to calm down. Don’t get physically involved. Once the situation is handled, make a report of the incident. When it comes to students who are having problems outside of school, reassure them that school is a safe place for them. If they need it, you can arrange for them to have a quiet, low-stress day and make sure they know who is available to talk to and help them.

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