My Top 16 Classroom Management Strategies

I have way too much to do during the day teaching and grading to deal with all the extra stuff that happens in the classroom. I can’t waste any time on unnecessary questions, losing stuff, waiting, cell phones, extra talking, distractions, bad behavior, and unpreparedness. They all take away from my instruction time and learning. All that extra stuff takes energy, effort, and time to address. And I have a limited supply of all that during the school day.

If some of the extra stuff can function in the background without my attention, I can be more present with my students. I can make stronger connections, and we can go deeper into the science. And let’s face it, when I can do my job better and teach, it’s just a more positive experience for everyone. That’s essentially what my classroom management is. It’s me being able to focus on my students, the science, and the learning. It’s a way to rise above all of the distractions of the school day. It helps me teach the best I can and get the best out of my students.

One of the reasons I wrote this blog post is to help other teachers. I put a lot of thought into the tips in this blog post. They include the best advice I’ve received from other teachers, and the things I tried over the years that were major successes for me, like my Class Points system (#10 in this blog post). These are the strategies I use in my classroom everyday so that I can teach, and students can learn.

#1 Preparation

It takes a lot of work outside of the school day to be prepared as a teacher. But I do it! I do it so I can sleep better at night. I got some great advice from a 30 year teacher friend of mine. He said I should be totally planned for the next day before I leave the building. Even if it takes 2 hours, I do it. I create assignments, make copies, set-up labs, and clean up. I usually take my laptop and some grading home with me too. It’s just what I have to do to stay on top of things.

I don’t regret spending extra hours doing research or lesson planning. When I feel prepared, and overprepared, I can have a good day. Backwards Planning helps me a lot in lesson planning. I use a unit test to make sure I cover the topics and find a nice sequence. I also learned it’s always good to over plan. It’s great when we don’t quite get to that little extra at the end. Extension activities can take extra time to plan, but built-in classroom routines (#3 in this blog post) like vocabulary and organization can be a productive use of extra time.

My first year teaching, I saved a lot of time lesson planning by purchasing resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. I purchased a lot of lessons from Kesler Science, and it introduced me to the 5E lesson. Now when I plan a lesson or unit I think: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate. Another benefit of the resources was a large pool of questions and lots of lesson ideas. Using the lessons I purchased made me a better teacher and saved me a lot of stress! I use it to this day!

The H-R Diagram engagement activity is a really memorable one for me. It came from a Kesler Science 5E lesson. I did this with a high school Earth & Space class. The students had so much fun! Hahahaha, sorry Willem Dafoe. I remember we all had a good laugh about that one.

#2 Learn Names

I try to learn names in the first 2 weeks of school. It helps me get to know my students better right from the start. I carry a clipboard around with a seating chart pretty much at all times. It helps me learn names to see their name and their picture. I can call on students and look down at their name, or walk around the room and still know who they are at all times. Assigned seating is a must!

One year I had a challenging student on my hands. He started with the silliness on the first day. I still remember getting prepared before class one day. He was already a handful and I knew I wanted to talk to him. I looked at my seating chart, memorized his seat, and repeated his name over and over so I wouldn’t forget. During class time I addressed him by his name and initiated a conversation with him. He was completely taken by surprise that I knew who he was. It sure took the wind out of his sails! And all I did was say his name. It was like it was laid open that his tomfoolery would not slide under the radar.

#3 Classroom Routines

Routines add order to my busy classroom. They help me with time management so we can maximize learning. Beginning of class, warm-ups, science notebooks, vocabulary logs, check-ins, and end of class are a few of my essential routines. My first year teaching I didn’t have nearly as many routines in place as I do now.

Through practice, students get used to me and my classroom. The things we do in class every day become habitual and second nature. When my students know what to expect, it’s a lot easier to get it done. When things are efficient we can achieve a lot more in the class period.

Students also learn to work efficiently and use class time wisely by staying on task. What they don’t finish becomes homework and that’s a motivating factor to get it done. That alone is a huge part of my classroom management strategy. I write more about my essential classroom routines in my blog post My Go-To Lesson Structure and 8 Classroom Routines for Better Classroom Management.

#4 Classroom Systems

As a science teacher, I have to teach abstract concepts like Protein Synthesis. On top of that, I have to manage 150 copies of everything. That’s a lot of paper! Systems for extra copies, absent work, science notebooks, supplies, cellphones, table and group numbers, and attendance bring order to the chaos. I need to be organized and methodical, or I’ll lose my dang mind! Classroom systems are a lot like classroom routines in that they bring order to my busy classroom. We can accomplish so much more when things move smoothly and efficiently.

I share more tips on some of my essential classroom systems in my blog posts: The 14 Teacher Supplies and Classroom Systems I Can’t Do Without, How I Manage Cell Phones in Class, and More Tips for Using Science Notebooks as an Organization System.

#5 Pedagogy

Have you ever taught a lesson where students weren’t getting it and they were confused and frustrated? I have! And it’s a really bad time! I have to use solid teaching strategies if I’m going to be successful at classroom management. I use solid strategies like, Think-Write-Pair-Share, I Do – We Do – You Do, Modeling, and Think Aloud every day. Sentence frames, sentence starters, vocabulary development, and graphic organizers are also great. I like to maximize visuals like images, graphics, diagrams, and models. Visuals are great for all students and especially English Learners!

As a teacher I don’t only teach science, but also peer interactions and collaboration. Pair sharing, group roles, and discussions are some of my favorite ways to facilitate those interpersonal skills. Engagement is important. I try to hit on Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking in every lesson. When we are doing things and talking about it, they are more memorable. As a science teacher I want to do as many hands-on activities and labs as possible. I want my students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. Labs are also memorable experiences and students enjoy doing them so much. Thank you teacher school for teaching me all these things!

#6 Things to Say

My few experiences of long-winded teacher talking in the past led to students literally squirming out of their seats. I learned to keep my teacher-centered moments like lectures on the shorter side, around 20 minutes. When we get into some interesting class discussions, it might go longer, even 45 minutes. But if everyone is into it, it’s worth the side track! I also learned to do a lecture towards the beginning of the class period for a calmer student experience. I support and reinforce my teacher talking with visuals, slides, and notes. I break it up with student engagement like questions and pair-sharing.

Another important part of my lesson preparation is to write a Teacher Script. I prepare questions, examples, and explanations to help me engage my students. My scripts help me be concise and stay focused through all of the distractions!

Everything goes much more smoothly when students understand what is expected of them. I work hard to speak concisely and use praise for positive reinforcement. Being positive and telling students what to do, instead of what not to do, is one of the best things I learned in teaching. It has helped me out so much over the years. I give little updates regularly throughout the class period. It helps students stay on task and do things faster.

After teaching for 7 years, I have dozens of phrases that I say all the time. I seriously need a whole blog post on it! They are ingrained in me and I keep using them because I am happy with the response I get from my students. Just a few of them are:

  • “Thanks for being on time!” Of course I say this and then 2 students stroll in tardy 5 seconds after the bell, haha. I really do notice that tardiness improves over time when I say this everyday.
  • “I’ll wait.” Yes this one actually works! They will “Shhh” each other for me. But I don’t know if it would work as well without my Class Points and Raffle reward system (#10 in this blog post).
  • “Good job.” I was taught in teacher school to say “Thank you” after student responses and not acknowledge if the answer is correct or incorrect. It didn’t work for me and I do make comments about what they say so that no one gets confused. I don’t say you’re wrong, or that’s incorrect or anything like that. I say “Good job” for good effort, good thinking, and good trying. “Thank you” is also good sometimes, just not all the time!
  • “I love how students are looking at the board for directions, taking out their supplies, and getting ready for class.” It’s amazing when I say what I want students to do, and they do it!
  • By raising your hand, what questions do you have?” Students know how I want them to respond. They raise their hand to answer the question. I get a break from talking, and students can think and ask me questions!

#7 Rigorous and Challenging Lessons

I strive for lessons that are at the right level of difficulty. I can tell if something is below grade level because it just won’t work! Something that surprised me in teacher school had a lot to do with rigor and teaching to the right grade level. It was something like, ‘One of the top 3 reasons why “School is bad/Teachers are doing it wrong/Students are underperforming,” is that the content is not being taught at grade level.’ Basically students are capable of doing more and they are not thriving because it’s not challenging enough. That was an AHA moment for me!

Challenging lessons also goes back to pedagogy and using effective teaching strategies. I prefer the Depth of Knowledge wheel, but there’s also Bloom’s Taxonomy. Gizmos is an amazing resource for science simulations and modeling. It is expensive, but very valuable. I haven’t had a subscription the last few years and I still try to fit in the ones that are offered for free. Obviously the very best is when we do a lab!

#8 Agenda on the Board

I usually love when my students ask me questions. But one question that gets old? What are we doing today? When someone asks what we’re doing today, I like to point at the board and say, “Something fun!” Whatever sequence of warmup/ notes/ reading/ lab/ check-in we’re doing, I write it on the board. I write at least the date and the agenda on the board every day. A learning goal is awesome too. It’s another routine and classroom system that helps things move smoothly. It helps with transitions from one activity to the next.

One suggestion I received (after an observation by an administrator I think, I can’t remember) was to write the length of time on the board next to each activity as well. I did it for a while but didn’t stick with it. At the end of the day usually everything in the agenda gets done.

#9 Grading and Feedback

Grading and feedback is super important for students, and is informative to my teaching and my classroom management. From my students’ perspectives, the whole reason they are at school is because of grades. Ideally I put in a grade any time I see them. Usually that’s a daily Check-in, or some classwork.

I had to research and try different grading systems. I prefer using a Total Points system for grading rather than a Weighted system. However, I think my students understand their grades a little better when everything is out of 100 (Weighted system). Some schools where I worked required a weighted system. The department had to agree on the weighted distributions for the categories: Assessments, Classwork, and Labs. And there’s the age old question: Do you give a participation grade? I don’t! I love when students get a Citizenship grade though.

It is so much effort, but it is the best if I can check in with each student at least once during every class period. I ask them questions while they are working, see if they need any help. If there are a lot of students missing an assignment, I write a list of everyone’s name who turned it in and show it to the class. These students get some thanks and positive recognition and no one is shamed. I also give a raffle ticket to each student on the list. Students who had it missing either find it and turn it in, or finish it for homework.

The students names on the board mean they turned it in/did it/don’t need to worry about it. They all got raffle tickets!

#10 Class Points and Raffle System

The only thing that has really fixed a lot of the recurring classroom management issues for me is my class points and raffle system. I honestly can’t imagine teaching without it. It’s too hard! These systems make my life easier in a few different ways. With my rewards system, students have motivation to follow directions, stay on task, and be on good behavior so they can get a class point. I can also get students to get it together quickly, be quiet, and let me speak! And best of all, it’s fun! With class points I can communicate clearly and visually with my students if they are meeting expectations or if they need to make improvements.

I give my students regular and periodic updates. “Everyone is focused and working together on the lab. Great job!” Class point. “The class is on task working on the vocabulary log. Keep up the good work!” Class point. I do this about every 15 minutes in the class period. With class points, the idea is that I can give clear and immediate feedback to my classes. When they follow directions and are doing well, they get a class point. If something is off, all I need to do is address it or walk over to the board and point to the class points. Students get it together and to start hushing one another. I love the help! I need to write a whole blog post because I’m just getting started but I need to keep it short here.

The raffle is one of my favorite strategies for classroom management. The raffle ticket is also one of my favorite activity ideas for the first day of school. Students get additional raffle tickets for good behavior, games, and 100% on quizzes. At 20 class points, we do a raffle. At the end of the day, I just love having some fun with my students and seeing them light up and smile! Bottom line though, bribery works! Sorry, but that’s what it comes down to sometimes, haha! Crying laughing emoji. I also need to write a whole blog post on my raffle system, there’s so much to say!

#11 Timer and Attention Signal

I train my students so if I say 30 seconds, 1 minute, 10 minutes…I mean it! Promptness is so important in my teaching and in my class that a timer is my #1 teacher supply. I like to use Google timer when students are working. I display it nice and big for everyone to see. Only bummer is that it occupies the entire screen and I can’t display anything else using the document camera. If the directions are on the board this is fine. Or if I need to show something on the projector, I can also write the finish time on the board.

When students are working, I give them periodic time updates. I walk around and help them and answer questions. If I notice a majority of students need more time, I’ll give them some extra time and let them know!

When my timer goes off, I make my way over to my teaching spot, the document camera. I ring my bell and I say, “Thanks everyone, please pause your conversations at your tables, and direct your attention toward the board.” I wait a few seconds. Everyone is ready 90% of the time! “Thank you.” Class Point. This all works because students know what to expect. It also works because of all of all the other systems I have in place, like Class Points and Whatever you don’t finish in class becomes homework.

Sometimes when the timer goes off and I ring my bell, there’s still talking! A student might be obliviously jabbering while the entire room is silent. Or they really are a little bit rude and don’t care that the teacher and the whole class are waiting for them. Whatever the reason, “I’ll wait” usually works. The students naturally help me out with shooshing the talking student and telling them to be quiet. They want a raffle, or they don’t want homework, so they help me out with my classroom management a lot actually.

We accomplish so much more when I time everything. This timer is great, it changes green, to yellow, to red. But it’s small and hard for everyone to see so I usually use Google timer on my laptop or on the projector.

#12 Proximity

This is another one from teacher school! I’m glad I learned it because if something is going on and I go over to check it out, 99% of the time they stop. If a student is talking while I’m talking, I continue talking but I walk and stand near their desk. They stop! A pat on their desk is another gentle reminder and redirection. I prefer to have a quiet conversation with a student afterwards, rather than during the lecture, discussion, directions…etc.

It’s really important that I circulate in the classroom when students are working. I have to touch base with everyone and answer their questions. I like to visit with each table, 1-8, and also answer individual questions. I admire a former teacher colleague of mine. When students were working, she moved from desk to desk around the classroom, spending a few minutes with each student. I’ve never seen a teacher give this much 1:1 attention before! It blew me away! She gets to know all of her students really well. She has inspired me to give more individualized attention to my students. I am not on her level though! I still need class time here and there to prep for the next class period or do administrative tasks or something.

During a movie, film clip, presentations, I sit on the counter or in a chair in the back of the room. Students have to watch the movie and take notes because I can see everything going on with a laptop or under a desk. There’s no phone sneaking in a lap either! The fact that I need to almost continuously monitor might be a sign that I need work on my classroom management, haha! It’s great when I can get away with entering a few grades or grade a few things while we watch something. But the truth is I am mostly keeping an eye out! It’s a lot of work!

Students need to know the teacher is present and on top of stuff. It might be strict, but some students just need more help focusing. Other teachers feel more lax and they do things differently. Believe me, if I could be more lax, I would be! If I didn’t use proximity, and I stayed at my desk, my class would fall off task and start goofing around in less than 10 minutes.

#13 Keep Them Busy

The worst thing for my classroom management might be if my students have nothing to do. If a student finds themself with free time, I will find them roaming around the classroom causing a disruption to other students at work. This is annoying for sure, but this behavior is dangerous when we’re doing a lab. I can’t have students finish a lab and then go hang out at another active lab station.

It is always good to have something ready to go. After 7 years I have a lot of ideas for what to do when students finish early. I need to write a whole blog post on it! Whatever it is, it has to be something academic in nature. It’s even better when it reinforces our science learning. And goodness gracious, I don’t want to to create extra planning for myself. That’s the beauty and the reason behind some of my classroom systems like student choice projects, vocabulary logs, and science notebook organization. There’s always something to work on! It keeps students out of my hair, haha! But in all seriousness, it means that we’re using class time productively and we can learn the most we can.

#14 Communication

The volume of emails and communication required in teaching really surprised me my first year teaching. It takes a lot of my planning time, as well as time before and after school to stay on top of it. A lot of the parent communication is easy to resolve. It’s usually about missing work, grades, or they want to know how to help their child in my class. Student behavior that disrupts the learning of others means I initiate a phone call home. Parent support can help a lot. Many kids stop undesired behavior after I contact home.

Sometimes after a few phone calls home, the behavior or problem is still going on. If a student is giving me a really hard time, I talk to their other teachers. Are they doing the same thing for you? Oh you called home already? What else have you tried? Reminders and redirection? You asked them to stop and they cussed you out? Me too! When necessary, we can escalate the situation and make a team to make a plan. Teachers, parents, guidance counselor, administration, student. We all come together for whatever the next steps will be: conference, intervention, student study team, behavior plan, IEP, or 504 meeting to name a few.

I learned a few things about communication over the years. I try to respond to calls and emails within 24-48 hours. Another tip, I call right after school or on my prep period. It is totally OK to leave a voicemail. Another tip that helps me manage my communications is to keep a special notebook in my desk by the phone. Any time I call or email home, I record it in the phone log. Student name, date, who I contact, and a description of why I called home. It’s great to have the documentation available when I need it. If I go to admin for support about a student, the first thing they will ask me is, Did u call home?

#15 Support

When a student is going through a hard time, they need more support. And it’s the same with teachers. No one understands the pain and suffering of a teacher better than another teacher. The best teacher support definitely comes from other teachers. I utilize the heck out of my teacher colleagues. They have saved my neck more than once. I drop everything to help them, too! I wouldn’t have made it this long without multiple shoulders to lean on.

I learned the best lessons, teaching strategies, classroom management strategies, and advice from my teacher colleagues and friends. I’m lucky I worked with so many amazing and talented teachers. They helped me so much by sharing their lesson ideas and resources.I also observed multiple teachers over the years. I saw how they did things. I used their strategies and tricks. It’s how I survived my first year teaching. Shout out to teachers online as well! I get so many ideas and resources from teachers on the internet. Maybe my blog will help someone out there too!

#16 They’re Just Kids

Sometimes when students are driving me nuts, they are just trying to have fun. A student even straight up told me once, Lighten up, we’re just having some fun. And yea, they were just acting like kids because they were only 15 years old. They were all nice kids and I realized I could loosen up a little bit more. We didn’t get quite as much done as my other classes, but it was the easiest way to go about it. It was just a chattier class and I learned to expect that from them.

A few years ago I knew a teacher who was having a hard time. She took a leave of absence for several months during the school year. When she came back, she told me something I never forgot. She said when things get hard, she reminds herself they’re just kids. It’s so simple, but it’s so true. She wrote “TJK” on a brick next to the clock. Anytime she looks at the clock she is reminded, they’re just kids. That was an AHA moment for me. To this day, I remind myself constantly they’re just kids. Instantly my blood pressure goes down!

After 7 years of teaching I feel pretty good about my classroom management. Over time, and after addressing things over and over, I learned new techniques and tips to streamline my classroom. I put in a lot of work to do research and learn strategies. I had to or else my students would drive me nuts!

If you’re like, Oh my gosh, I came upon this blog post because I’m really struggling with Classroom Management right now and I need help. Been there. You are definitely not alone! I know new and experienced teachers who struggled at some point. It gets easier. And it gets more fun. Some of the strategies in this blog post can be implemented right away, and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

What are some of your best classroom management strategies? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you! Check out my blog posts below to read more about me and my classroom.

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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