9 tips for positive classroom behavior in young learners

Ever looked at your young learners and wondered if you’ve been dropped into a cage of monkeys? Naturally far more energetic, curious, and just plain (how can we say it?) bouncy than teens or adults, it’s clear that teaching children requires a different set of skills. Establishing and maintaining positive classroom behavior is essential to a smooth-running semester. But how’s that done? Here are a few pointers to remember.

Part 1: Establish expectations

Parents learn that children need a certain level of structure, and within that, they understand the household limits are and what is expected of them. At home, these are things like “wash your hands before eating,” and “we put our toys away at the end of the day”. In the classroom, boundaries for young learners are not dissimilar; think no talking when others are, share classroom materials, and no running or screaming during class time. Here are three first steps to establishing these expectations:

  • 1. Be clear

Young learners need expectations set early and clearly, so don’t overcomplicate things and keep “class rules” to the essential. Very young children may like to decorate or color a poster of the class rules and older pre-teens may enjoy making suggestions for classroom rules (under your guidance, of course!).

  • 2. Be consistent

Now that students know what is expected of them, make sure that consequences are kept consistent each time. Similarly, keep to the rules yourself. Say, don’t bring a cup of tea into class if students are only allowed to drink water themselves.

  • 3. Be respectful

Like anyone, young learners respect those who show them the same courtesy. Essentially, this is to do with listening to their needs and treating them as a valuable member of the classroom.

Part 2: Maintain positive classroom behavior

While some days will naturally go better than others, there are things you can do to limit those “urgh” moments and keep your young learners motivated. Here are some of our favorites:

  • 1. Signal transitions

Using sound can be a technique to communicate when it’s time to sit together on the floor, return to their desks, put away their belongings, and other transitions. Choose an easy-to-produce aural signal, such as a maraca, wind chime, or even a short tune.

  • 2. Work to music

Letting your students listen to music while engaged in individual or group work can be very effective when coupled with that strategy that when the music is turned off, the teacher is speaking. Be sure to establish this from day one of the semester.

  • 3. Use call and response

Bring the children’s attention back by establishing a classroom call and response (or five!). Kids love an excuse to shout out and this gives it to them, while also focusing their attention. A quick rhyme is enough, such as these:

Teacher: “Hey, hey,”

Students: “What’d you say?”

Teacher: “Hand up high,”

Students: “Touch the sky.”

Teacher: “Simon says,”

Students. “Hands on heads.”

  • 4. Keep them busy

Younger children have shorter attention spans and so need to change focus more regularly than adults do. Ensure you have a good arsenal of activities for your learners that can be simply adapted to challenge those who need an extra push. Being kept busy and challenged limits boredom, which in turn reduces “negative” classroom behavior.

  • 5. Highlight “good” behavior

Generally speaking, focusing on what is going well is a more effective motivator than calling out what is “wrong”. Catch your young learners doing things correctly, be that by putting away shared materials, saying “please” and “thank you”, raising their hand to speak, sitting ready in their chairs.

  • 6. Pay attention to those who are trying

Similarly, remember to cheer on students who are trying, even if they have not achieved a certain goal just yet. This keeps their spirits up, which keeps them on track to continue working.

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