Research indicates that when teachers use the 5-to-1 ratio approach in their classrooms, student behavior and engagement improve. The strategy is also proactive for preventing problems.
What Is the 5-to-1 Ratio?
During the school day, students and teachers share a number of interactions. For example, they discuss academic concepts and content and teachers provide feedback to students.
Research supports the idea that having five positive interactions to every one negative interaction best supports and sustains constructive student-teacher relationships. This is known as the 5-to-1 ratio. Positive interactions may include friendly conversations, specific praise or positive feedback, nonverbal acknowledgment, etc. Negative interactions may include criticism, reprimands, etc.
How Does the 5-to-1 Ratio Help Students?
The 5-to-1 ratio is meant to improve students’ feelings of connectedness and positivity in order to facilitate the classroom experience. The 5-to-1 ratio can improve academic engagement and reduce classroom disruptions, simply because the classroom has a more positive climate.
Creating positive interactions in the classroom helps students invest in the value and purpose of classroom instruction. Students have a stronger sense of belonging and feel more connected to their teachers, which naturally leads to improved behavior and engagement. When students feel connected and have a sense of belonging they’re naturally more motivated to achieve.
How Does the 5-to-1 Ratio Work?
The 5 to 1 ratio includes two aspects.
The first aspect is that teachers intentionally increase positive interactions and minimize negative interactions to try to accomplish the 5-to-1 ratio.
Second, teachers track their interactions with students to ensure they are achieving the ratio. Tracking interactions with all students is overwhelming and too time-consuming. Some suggestions to make tracking positive interactions easily manageable include:
- limiting tracking to a few students a day
- having another staff member observe for a brief period of time to keep count for you
Here are Some Suggestions for Incorporating More Positive Interactions into Your School Day or Classroom Environment!
- Give specific positive feedback/praise (e.g., “You worked really hard on that! “Thanks for getting your homework turned in! “Great work!” “It took a lot of courage to try that really difficult question!” “Thank you so much for helping clean up!”)
- Use positive greetings in the morning or after breaks (e.g., “Welcome back!” “I’m excited to work with you guys again!” “So nice to see everyone!”)
- Take a moment to check in with students (e.g., “How was your weekend? “How is your family?”)
- Ask about a student’s hobbies or interests (e.g., “I heard you had your orchestra concert last night. How did it go?”)
- Use positive body language such as smiling, thumbs up, or nodding to acknowledge students’ good choices, effort, etc.
The 5-to-1 ratio strategy is meant to be used with each and every student, including the ones that are most challenging. If it is difficult to find five positive interactions for every one negative interaction, think of it as a work in progress and just keep trying each day.
Teachers Sometimes Raise Concerns with Utilizing the 5-to-1 Ratio
For instance, some teachers say that it takes too much effort. The 5-to-1 ratio may be tough to use consistently at first. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect right away, just as you would not expect a student to be perfect with a new concept right away.
The concept behind the 5-to-1 ratio is to bring attention and awareness to positive interactions. Keeping the ratio in mind and trying to re-frame comments or interactions in a more positive way, will slowly help you build the ratio further toward the positive side. You will see that relationships with students and the classroom atmosphere will reflect the effort.
Some teachers have noted that for some students it is just really difficult to find ways to interact positively or to find positive things to say. For the most difficult students, the 5-to-1 ratio definitely may be a challenge at first. You can start with the most basic action and build from there.
For example, if the student came to class you can say “it’s great to see you here today!” If they haven’t been in for a few days you can say “I’m glad to see you back.” If they make even the tiniest effort you can say “I am proud of the effort you are putting in right now.” If they listen to something you have to say, you can say “thanks for listening.” Work to notice something positive no matter how small it may seem.
Sometimes teachers state that students don’t like praise and will actually give the opposite reaction or feeling embarrassed when given praise. If giving specific positive feedback or praise is part of the classroom climate and the teacher is doing this with all students, it will become routine and students generally won’t feel singled out and embarrassed by it.
If you have a particular student that is clearly having a negative reaction to outward praise you can try doing it in a more confidential way through positive body language, a note, or a short statement at the end of class as the student is walking out.
Research studies indicate that it is worth it to use the 5-to-1 ratio because it:
- helps students feel appreciated and important in the classroom
- reduces disruptive behavior
- increases academic engagement
- leads to more positive and caring students and a positive classroom climate
Final Thoughts and Questions About the 5-to-1 Ratio
What is your current ratio for positive to negative interactions? Do you think you might incorporate this in your classroom if you are not doing so already? Once you do this all the time, you will become a natural at it and you won’t need to keep track or worry if your ratio is correct.
Video Presentation About the 5-to-1 Ratio:
- Evaluating the Impact of Increasing General Education Teachers’ Ratio of Positive-to-Negative Interactions on Students’ Classroom Behavior
- Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing
The 5-to-1 ratio is one way to improve behavior and engagement. For more strategies see:
- 10 Simple Ways to Improve Children’s Behavior (Home and School)
- How to Motivate Your Students and Get Them to Listen to You (39 Effective Strategies for Classroom Management)
- Printable Classroom Rules with Matching Visuals
- 8 Major Principals of Positive Behavior Support
Education and Behavior, a free resource for parents, caregivers, educators, and counselors! Keeping us on the same page with academic, behavioral, and social-emotional support for children!
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.”