How to Motivate Your Students and Get Them to Listen to You (39 Effective Strategies for Classroom Management)
This article (and video presentation which you will find at the end) gives you 39 effective classroom management strategies to help you get your students motivated to complete their work and follow the classroom rules and expectations.
These strategies may not be what you are used to and might require changes on your part. While there is no perfect method for eliminating all challenging behaviors, these are the methods that I endorse and believe in as being the most effective for creating a positive classroom climate, based on my own experience, research, and training.
Some of these strategies are more practical for elementary-age classrooms, but many of these ideas can be used for all students from preschool to high school.
This was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strategies need to be considered in the context of a virtual learning environment when applicable. Comments referencing virtual learning were added in on 12/23/20.
If you cannot get a student to follow rules, complete work, or be kind to other students after you have consistently implemented the strategies in this article, talk to your school team (administrators, guidance counselor, etc.) to determine what else can be done to help this student.
The school team may need to meet with the child’s parents and additional strategies may need to be put in place like an individualized behavior plan and/or support from professionals like the guidance counselor, school psychologist, or principal.
39 Effective Strategies For Classroom Management
1. Say “Hello” and greet your students with a smile every day.
If possible, stand in the doorway and say hello to each student by name as they enter the classroom; or say hi to them on camera, Show them that you are happy to see them.
2. Make time to hear your students’ thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
Take a genuine interest in what your students share with you, and give a response that shows you care.
3. Use redirection.
For example, say “keep working on writing your sentence” instead of “stop talking” or “look up here” instead of “stop looking out the window.”.
Nonverbal redirection, like tapping the student’s paper or book in the spot where they should be (as a reminder to get back on task) is often effective as well.
4. Tell your students what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.
For example, say:
- “quiet in the hallway” instead of “no talking in the hallway”
- “keep your hands to yourself” instead of “no hitting”
Children respond better when you tell them what to do instead of what not to do.
5. Leave out extraneous comments about behavior.
Examples of extraneous comments:
- “No one else is doing that; why are you?”
- “I don’t know how you act at home, but you are not going to act like that here.”
- “Lower your voice, no one else wants to hear you.”
These kinds of comments often lead to other students chiming in with negative comments, embarrassment for the student, and an opening for the student to talk back to you. The same goes for negative comments about learning such as “How do you not get this? We already went over it three times!” Stay calm and re-explain it.
6. Show empathy to your students.
(e.g., “You seem frustrated. Let me see how I can help you.”)
7. Give choices to your students.
Examples of choices can include:
- Read a book of your choice and do a book report on it
- After you read this paragraph, draw a picture or write a few sentences to summarize what you read
- For homework, make a poster or write a poem about your favorite activity
- Write or type your essay
8. Teach your students to treat others nicely, use kind words, and be tolerant of differences.
When you see students being helpful or kind, let them know that you are proud of them, and that they can be proud of themselves too.
Remind your students of class rules such as: be respectful and speak nicely to peers.
Report any bullying or cyberbulling to your school team and be aware and follow your school’s protocol for bullying.
Check out How to End Bullying Part 1: 19 Tips for Parents and Teachers and How to End Bullying Part 2: 15 Tips for Kids
9. For younger students, teach them how to share with each other.
For example, if a child snatches a toy out of another child’s hand and that other child hits the child who took the toy, teach them and model how to appropriately ask for a toy (e.g., “Can I have a turn playing with that please?”) and how to respond if the other child says “No, I am playing with it.” (e.g., show them how to find another toy to play with).
Teach the child who hit to use their words (e.g., “I do not like when you snatch a toy from my hand, I was playing with this”). Teach the children to ask for help from an adult if they cannot work it out on their own.
Also, encourage children to share, and set limits for how long your students can play with a particular toy before they must let another child have a turn. Give appropriate praise when you see nice sharing among students (“I love how you shared the cars with Brian today! Keep up the good work!”).
10. Allow your students to have opportunities for movement throughout the day (other than recess).
Examples of movement activities include:
- getting up and stretching
- doing jumping jacks or running in place
- dancing to music
- passing out or collecting papers
- going to the bathroom
- getting drinks at the water fountain
- running an errand
- taking the class outside on a nice day
- incorporating academics into a movement activity (e.g., you can do a counting activity while you do jumping jacks)
Related Article: How to Use Exercise to Help Kids with Autism and ADHD!
11. Do not take away recess as a punishment.
Children need to move and get energy out to be effective learners.
How can we incorporate movement and hands-on activities into virtual learning?
Check out Please Don’t Take Away My Recess: A Poem About ADHD
12. Have a class routine that pretty much follows the same schedule every day (this pertains more to Preschool and Elementary School, but can be done at any grade if needed).
Routines are helpful for students who have trouble transitioning from one activity to another or for students who have anxiety about what is coming up next. Have the routine posted in written form and in picture form for students who have trouble reading or understanding language.
13. Have some changes in the routine on certain days to teach flexibility. If you have students that struggle with change in routine, prepare them for upcoming changes. For example, change the schedule for that day to reflect the change, remind the students when the change is coming (e.g, after math we are watching a science video today), and point to the schedule when you remind them of this change. Use pictures for students with trouble understanding language.
14. Give students reminders that they will soon be transitioning from one activity to the next. (e.g., in five minutes we will turn off the computers and start a writing assignment for science). See the article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for using timers to facilitate transitions and using visual timers with children who have trouble understanding the concept of time. Point to the timer as the activity is winding down to the end.
15. Give students jobs in the classroom.
Examples of jobs include:
- passing out papers
- collecting papers
- running errands to the office
- being a monitor for a younger classroom
- reading to students in a younger classroom
- peer tutor
- erasing the board
Rotate jobs. You may choose to give more responsibility to students who consistently follow the rules, complete their work, and treat others with respect. What might virtual jobs look like for students?
16. Have a box and allow students to write down topics they want to learn about and put them in the box (or have them email their ideas). Pick a certain time each week to teach about one of the topics from the box.
17. Use random selection to call on students to encourage everyone’s participation. For example, write each student’s name on a Popsicle stick, and pull sticks out of a cup to call on students. Put the stick back in the cup after you call on a student, so they know they can be called on again.
18. Randomly say students’ names during instruction to keep their attention.
19. Walk around while you teach so you are in close proximity to all students, rather than standing in the front of the room and being far away from the students in the back. Some teachers like to put their students in a half semi-circle so it is easier to be close to all of them and they can all see you easily.
What do you think of this seating arrangement? Virtual learning may give us more leeway for flexible seating options.
20. Randomly check students comprehension (e.g., call on someone to summarize what you said, have a student show an example on the board of something you just taught, or ask students to write a paragraph about what they just learned). If you frequently check comprehension and students never know when you might do a random check, it will help keep them on their toes.
21. Teach students how to use graphic organizers during lectures to take notes on important points. See our article How to Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Reading Comprehension, Writing, Listening, Note Taking, and Study Skills for more on this topic.
22. For children who have trouble with language, give them a chance to show their skills receptively (e.g., pointing to the correct answer rather than saying the correct answer). For example, if you are a kindergarten teacher and you are asking children to name letters, show a child with language difficulties four choices and ask him to point to the letter you want them to identify. (“Point to the letter A”).
23. Utilize various teaching modalities to keep students engaged. This means to have lessons that encourage participation with different senses. Use visuals, allow students to participate in hands-on activities, and explain things verbally. Music and movement is also a great way to keep students engaged.
Related Article: Research Supports the Use of a Hands-on/Multi-Sensory Approach to Learn Reading, Writing, and Math
24. Praise individual students for making an effort (e.g., “You worked really hard on that math assignment, Brian!” “Great participation during science today, Maria!”). Again, use positive body language, at times, to show your approval (e.g., smiling, giving thumbs up, nodding in approval).
25. Make an effort to have communication with your students’ parents. Let them know how their child is doing in your class. Parents are thrilled to hear good things about their children, so let parents know when their child is following the rules, being kind to others, completing their work, participating, and/or making progress. Also be open with parents when children need to make improvements in a certain area. Tell the parents exactly what their child needs to do to improve.
Related Article: Calling Parents About Student Misbehavior in School
26. Hold class meetings once a week or once every two weeks (in person or virtually) to talk about the things that your class is doing well with and the areas that need improvement. Allow students to ask questions, make suggestions, or express concerns at that time.
27. If possible, meet with students individually (monthly, every other month, quarterly-whatever you can make time for) to discuss student’s strengths, areas that need improvement if any, and allow the student to ask questions, give input, or express concerns at that time.
28. Keep a calm demeanor. Do not let your students see you get worked up or bothered by their behavior. Some students enjoy seeing you get frustrated and this can lead to an increase in inappropriate behavior.
29. Have a sense of humor with your students. Smile often, make up silly bonus questions on tests, say quirky things, sing something you might normally say, allow time for jokes, etc. See the article written by Maurice Elias, Professor at Rutgers University Psychology Department, called Using Humor in the Classroom for more ideas.
30. Say goodbye to your students at the end of every day (if possible, stand in the doorway and say goodbye to each student as they leave the classroom).
THIS NEXT SECTION SPECIFICALLY ADDRESSES HOW TO IMPLEMENT RULES IN THE CLASSROOM (great for elementary teachers or teachers who work with children with behavioral needs)
1. Post rules where everyone can see them and phrase rules in the positive. (I personally like to call them expectations rather than rules, but that is up to you).
Examples of class rules phrased in the positive:
- Follow class routine
- Complete assignments
- Show respect to others (e.g., hands and feet to self, use kind words, ask to borrow belongings)
For children who have language-based difficulties, post pictures of rules. Talk to your school administrators about resources for obtaining visual aids (pictures).
If your school does not have any resources for obtaining visual aids, see How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior and Printable Classroom Rules with Matching Visuals for suggestions on creating visuals for your students.
2. Have each child sign a contract in the beginning of the year agreeing to follow the rules.
3. Review your rules every morning until everyone in the class is following them regularly. Go back to reviewing them every morning if any student stops following the rules on a regular basis.
4. Use verbal praise to reinforce rules (e.g., “You guys worked so quietly today and completed all your work! Nice job!”). Also use positive body language, at times, to show your approval (e.g., smiling, giving thumbs up, nodding in approval).
5. When a rule is broken, point to the rule, make eye contact with the student or students who broke the rule, and restate it using a neutral, business like tone (we raise our hands in class, we remain quiet while working, etc.).
Eliminate the word can (e.g., “can you raise your hand?” “can you be quiet?”). It is not up to them. It is a directive from you that they are expected to follow. Some children respond well to a simple visual gesture to remind them of the rule, rather than stating it verbally. A visual gesture could be raising your own hand (to remind the student to raise his hand) or pointing to the area where the student is supposed to be, for example.
6. Allow students to earn privileges (fun activities) for completing work and following class rules. Depending on your classes’ age, developmental level, frustration tolerance, and ability to sustain attention for long periods of time, you may want to have them work to earn fun activities two times a day (e.g., once before lunch and once at the end of the day) rather than just one time at the end of the day. Some classes may even benefit from earning fun activities three times a day. You have to assess what type of schedule will benefit your classroom.
Some ideas for privileges include:
- 15 minutes of “talk with peers” time
- half hour game time
- watching a special video
- half hour of sitting quietly at their desks while doing an activity of their choice (e.g., reading a book of choice, drawing)
Remind students that they are working towards privileges (e.g., we have to remain quiet and complete our work to earn game time) rather than threatening that you will take away privileges (e.g., if you don’t stop talking you are not having game time). This type of negative phrasing leaves more room for students to argue with you and defy you (e.g. I wasn’t talking! Take away game time, I don’t care!).
For More Privilege Ideas Check-Out: 18 Privilege/Break Ideas to Increase Student Motivation
7. Do not threaten students with a different person in authority (e.g., “Do you want me to call your mother?” or “Am I going to have to get the principal?”). This takes away from your authority and tells the child that you need to get someone else because you can’t get them to follow the rules or listen to you.
8. Do not yell at your students. People often think that some kids only listen when they get yelled at. It may work in the short term. The child may sit quietly after you yell at him, but inside he may feel embarrassed, angry, upset, or anxious. When a child feels this way inside he/she cannot effectively listen and put forth his/her best effort.
Children who are repeatedly yelled at over time could end up with ongoing anxious feelings, making learning and work completion difficult or even impossible. Also, yelling at one child could actually cause anxiety for another child who is doing the right thing.
9. Use logical consequences as much as possible. Logical consequences are consequences that directly coincide with the broken rule or inappropriate behavior. For example, if your student throws pens on the floor, a logical consequence would be to have him pick up the pens. An illogical consequence would be to take away recess while you pick up the pens.
Children who are angry or in the middle of a tantrum probably will not pick up the items right away. If this is the case, wait until the child is calm and then tell him/her to pick up the pens (or whatever it is they need to do). If the items thrown on the floor present a trip hazard for other students, move them over so they’re out of the way, but still have the student pick them up once they are calm. Make sure they pick them up before joining a fun activity (e.g., pick up the pens and then you can join game time).
Here is another example of using logical consequences:
Two students are talking during language arts and not working on their written assignment. You point to and restate your class rules “Quiet While Working” and “Complete Assignments.” The students continue to talk. You ask the students if they need help with the assignment. They say no and still continue to talk. You go over to them and ensure they understand the task and are capable of completing it. You ask them to get started and they still continue to talk.
Scenarios of Imposing Logical Consequences:
Scenario 1: You tell the students that if they continue to talk you will separate them. The students stop talking and return to their work.
Scenario 2: Even after telling the students that you will separate them, they continue to talk. As a result you separate them.
Scenario 3: When language arts is over, you notice these two students did not complete their assignment. You tell them that they need to complete the assignment when the rest of the class is participating in one of the earned privileges. Once the assignment is completed they can join the rest of the group.
You may need to send the students to a quieter location in the building (they should be separated in the quiet location) to complete the assignment if the rest of your class is engaged in a noisy activity such as “talk to peers” time.
I invite you to share your own effective strategies for classroom management in the traditional and virtual learning environments. Please comment below.
For more behavior strategies check out the articles:
14 Effective Strategies for Children with ADHD
How to Handle Temper Tantrums
15 Behavior Strategies to Help Children with Autism (great strategies for kids with and without autism)
10 Simple Ways to Improve Children’s Behavior (Home and School)
VIDEO PRESENTATION: GREAT FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT DAY
How to Motivate your Students and get them to Listen to You: Part 1
How to Motivate your Students and get them to Listen to You: Part 2
How to Motivate your Students and get them to Listen to You: Part 3
How to Motivate your Students and get them to Listen to You: Part 4
How to Motivate your Students and get them to Listen to You (All Parts-Not in Same Order as Article)
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Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”
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