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How to Establish a Rules-and-Consequences System in the Classroom

Read our comprehensive guide to creating a rules-and-consequences system with staying power.

Students holding books

By The TFA Editorial Team

June 30, 2015

This post was adapted from a larger lesson plan by Teach For America alum Rachel Wright.

A healthy rules and consequences system is essential in creating a culture of respect and academic achievement in the classroom. Before embarking on tackling your big learning goals for the year, your students need a chance to internalize rules and consequences, have a chance to see them illustrated or demonstrated, and understand why they’re necessary. Clearly articulated and practiced expectations will help you address behavior issues quickly and consistently so you can spend more time working with students to achieve academic goals. But where do you start? Read our guide to creating a rules and consequences system that sticks.

Outline Key Points

When introducing class rules and consequences to your students, first outline the key points that every student should know and understand by the end of the lesson, such as:

1. Classroom rules are important because they establish an environment of respect and academic achievement in our classroom.

2. When we follow rules, we are making good choices about our academic success and our lives. When we do not follow rules, we are making bad choices, and there will be consequences to help you continue on your progress toward your academic goals.

3. Your class rules are (sample rules detailed below): be prepared, show respect, be prompt, participate, and be responsible.

4. Your class consequences are (sample rules detailed below): a written warning, a teacher-conference warning, a seat move, a behavior/goal reflection with a call home to parent.

Sample rules and what they mean:

  • Show respect: Follow classroom procedures and any directions given by the teacher. Listen when the teacher is talking or another student is asking a question. Treat other students as you would like to be treated.
  • Be prepared: Come to class with your homework completed and have it out on your desk at the start. Bring a pencil and your binder with blank notebook paper each day. Study for tests and quizzes.
  • Be prompt: Arrive early. When class starts you must be in your seat with all of your materials out. Turn in all assignments when they are due
  • Participate: Actively contribute when asked or during group work. To ask a question during instruction, raise your hand and wait to be called on.
  • Be responsible: Make good choices. You are in charge of your academic success.

Sample consequences:

  • First: A written warning on a blue post-it will be placed on a student’s desk.
  • Second: An orange post-it will be placed over the blue, and verbal conference with the teacher will take place.
  • Third: Student will be moved to the independent desk at the front of the room. This is because the student has demonstrated that he or she needs extra help to meet academic goals that day.
  • Fourth: Student will be assigned a take-home behavior reflection sheet, and the student’s parent/guardian will be called so they are aware.

Communicate the What 

Start your lesson by telling students exactly what you plan to do during the practice: that you will spend the next 20 minutes talking about and justifying classroom expectations and consequences, so they understand why you are enforcing them and don’t think that you are just being mean or unfair.

Communicate the Why  

Explain that establishing a culture of respect and academic achievement in the classroom is the only way to reach their goals.

Communicate the How

Spend a few minutes doing a “looks like, sounds like” for your first rule, and then go through and explain each one of the rules and consequences. To ensure the information is accessible to all students, present the rules and consequences verbally as well as visually on poster displays. Consequences also may be acted out to engage all learners. Make time for questions to ensure everyone understands what is expected of them, and randomly call on students throughout to gauge their understanding (for example, “what might ‘be prepared’ mean?” or “what do you need each morning in order to be prepared?”). Finally, at the end of lesson, consider assigning a written project to assess students’ overall understanding.

How else do you establish and communicate a rules and consequences system in your classroom? Tell us in the comments.