During my first year teaching middle school students, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. When the bell rang, I knew that I should be able to control my class. It should be orderly and on task. But it simply wasn’t. In fact, it was often a bit of a disaster. I had an activity on the board for the students to complete, but no one did it. Instead, disruptive students just kept chatting and laughing.
Now some teachers have a natural air of authority and a voice that commands respect, but I do not have those gifts. I cannot (and will not) raise my voice loud enough to be heard. In fact, I often struggle with losing my voice altogether. Moreover, I knew that even if I could get their attention that way, I didn’t want to have to yell for class to come to order each day. I had repeatedly told them that this behavior was unacceptable, but I wasn’t following through with anything, and I wasn’t sure what to follow through with. With half the class talking, I wasn’t about to give them all detentions.
I desperately needed some classroom management strategies that actually worked. Eventually I went to my mentor teacher, and she gave me the following idea: When the bell rings, calmly give a warning to everyone who is talking. When they notice, tell them that each student now has a warning because they were talking after the bell. If they speak out of turn again during the class period, they will receive a discipline essay (or whatever penalty is appropriate at your school).
Well, this seemed a bit juvenile to me, but I tried it, and wow did it work wonders! The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong explains how to make this method work on a regular basis. I tweaked their plan to fit my situation and soon had a surprisingly effective discipline tool. Keep reading for ideas on how to give a warning.
the method to control your class
Here’s how it works.
- Explain to your students that if they are communicating in class without permission that they will receive a warning. Take a few minutes to talk about how this is not meant to embarrass them or to treat them like little kids but as a way for you to give them a warning without stopping your teaching. Explain that if they talk again, you will give them another warning. If they get a third warning in the same class, they will receive a consequence. Some teachers prefer to give a consequence after one or two warnings and that can work well, too. (The consequence given, of course, will vary depending on your school’s policies. If you need some ideas, click here to request our consequences idea list.)
- Watch carefully for the very first person who talks and be sure to give him a warning. This shows right away that you mean what you say. When you give the first warning, say something such as, “Taylor, you see I am giving you a warning. Remember that talking is not permitted and that this is just a warning to you that you were talking and that you need to stop. You are not in trouble at this point, but you will be if you continue to talk without permission.” This shows the class that you are not demeaning the student and that he isn’t yet in trouble but that he is being warned to correct his behavior.
- From then on, simply use your chosen method (see options below) whenever you need to give a warning. The student is warned, the incorrect behavior ceases, and the flow of your teaching is not interrupted.
- Be ready and willing to give a consequence. You do need to be ready to hand out the penalty when a student gets too many warnings. Otherwise, the students will quickly see that you don’t mean what you say.
the results for disruptive students
So what happened when I started giving warnings? The level of talking decreased dramatically, students were more on task, and I was less flustered.
In addition, I found that I hardly ever actually had to give out any discipline. I probably gave out consequences for talking only about ten to fifteen times in an entire year. Having a visual warning serves as a deterrent and helps students get back on track without actually having to hand out many punishments.
This method made the biggest difference at the start of class. There would still be days when the bell rang and half the class was still talking, but instead of allowing my stress level to rise, I would calmly start giving out warnings. It didn’t matter if I got everyone because it normally only took three or four names for the class to notice. Then they would quickly quiet down and get to work. What a better option that is than yelling!
Now the obvious downside to this method is that it seems juvenile. Elementary teachers, you have no problem there. For middle school, yes, it seems juvenile to me, too, but I can’t believe how well it works!
8 ways to give a warning
There are a lot of different options for how you can give a warning. The key to any method you choose is that you 1) personalize the warning to the student and 2) don’t interrupt your flow of teaching. Here are a few ideas:
- Write student names on the board- This method has been used by teachers for years and it's the way I gave a warning in my classroom. I would write names on the board of students who were talking out of turn and put a checkmark on the names for a second warning. If the behavior continued after that, I would give a consequence. This method is very visual, which can be a positive (noticeable to student) or a negative (it's public, not private).
- Bubble method- Each student has a laminated card on their desk with 3 bubbles on it. To give a warning, the teacher "pops" a bubble by putting an X on it with a wet erase marker.
- Post-it Notes- One method is to give a student a warning by putting a post-it on their desk. You could write a note to the student on it or simply explain to the class in the beginning of the school year that if they receive a post-it note on their desk, it's a warning and then explain what it means.
- Yellow Cards- Another idea would be to pass out “yellow cards” (like in soccer). Simply laminate yellow cards and place them on a students’ desk as a warning. You can also have a reminder printed on the card of what a warning means. For example, "You now have a warning. If you continue talking out of turn, you will receive a consequence."
- Colors- Remember pulling a card in elementary school? That's another version of this method. All students start on green, a student pulls a card and turns it to yellow when they receive a warning, and if they continue, they get a red card, which means a consequence. Some teachers add positive colors above green, such as purple, for students who are showing extra appropriate behavior.
- Class Dojo- You can use a tool, such a class dojo, to give a warning as well. Students may lose a class dojo point as a warning before they get a consequence. However, students may not know "in real time" when they have lost a point unless you have Class Dojo projected and they're actively watching the screen, so you may also need to tell them face-to-face.
- A clipboard/notebook- A clipboard or a notebook can be utilized to track which students you have given warnings to. However, you will still need to let the student know you've given them a warning. These sheets can end up being great daily behavior data for conferences, IEPs, etc., if you save them.
- A behavior reflection sheet- Some teachers will give a student a warning by placing a behavior reflection sheet on their desk. The student needs to fill out the reflection sheet and return it to the teacher. This is another method that provides great data for conferences, IEPs, and meetings, especially because it is written by the student him/herself. It may look something like:
- What behavior I was doing: _________.
- Why I was doing it: _________.
- What I need to do instead: ___________.
This method may not be a good fit for everyone. But if you’ve had trouble keeping order in your classroom, I do highly recommend that you try it. For me, it was a miracle worker.
And if you’d like more classroom management help, check out our free training: How to Reduce Disruptions without Yelling, Begging, or Bribing. You can reduce disruptions and get to the point where you can actually teach and your students can focus & learn. You can sign up here.
- Post: 30+ Powerful Classroom Management Strategies that Work!
- Post: “Should You Use a Behavior Chart?“
- Post: “What to Do if Your Students Control You“
- Tools: Class Dojo
- Book: Create Your Dream Classroom
- Audio: Podcast season 1 on classroom management
- Full classroom management course: Classroom Management 101