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Classroom Management


How to Keep Students on Task

Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts that may help you out in managing the classroom, particularly during those parts of the lesson where you require all students to be focused on your instruction.


DO wait until you have the majority of students’ attention before you begin. It is not necessary to wait for them all, but use quick verbal cues, eye contact, proximity and peer modelling to assist you in bringing those remaining on task.

DO use the ripple effect to help bring the children on task. Your verbal cues should be firm and clear. For example, “Grade 1s, all eyes on me, please. Jeremy, please put the pen down and look this way.” “Sit up in a comfortable listening position. That’s excellent! Thank you, class.” “I’d like everyone to be listening just like Leslie and Devon.”

  • DO use verbal cues to motivate and raise attention levels (often referred to as teasers).
    “This next question may end up in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
    “Here's something that may interest the hockey crowd.”
    “If you like to learn about creepy-crawlies, tune in to this!”
    “What we’re about to learn was once classified material, for your ears only.”

DO use nonverbal cues that rely on proximity and sight more than sound. A smile can work just as effectively as a frown to bring a student back on task.

  • DO display energy and enthusiasm and awareness in bringing the students back on task.

DO be prepared with a backup activity (plan B) if your current plan is going sideways.

  • Short activators will often give you time to settle the class down and regroup.

DO use laughter when appropriate. If you can see humour in a situation it can not only draw in the group, but also relieve some tension. If students perceive that you can laugh at yourself, they will laugh with you, not at you.

DO keep moving during activity time. Proximity is a key management strategy.


DON’T lecture the students once you have their attention, or you risk losing it again. You've accomplished your purpose, so get on with teaching.

DON’T mix housekeeping or administrivia (for example, money collections, attendance, lost materials) with your lesson. At the very least, get the students working and then take care of these tasks.

DON’T overuse your signalling techniques, but do vary the approach used from time to time. Lights on/off, hand clapping, songs, hands raised and so on are all effective if the students are familiar with your expectations and the signals are not overused.

DON’T get too worked up about the situation. If it’s Friday afternoon right after recess and it has been a busy week, your students may not be capable of focusing on auxiliary verbs or comparing and contrasting nationalism and imperialism. Again, have a back-up activity to offer if your lesson is just not working. Effective teachers do this all the time.

Many good teachers would have difficulty putting names to many of the techniques they use to maintain momentum and on-task behaviour in their teaching. What is important is that you become aware of any behaviour on your part that is interfering with the smooth flow of the lesson, the transition to another activity or the focus on the task at hand.

If you must discipline a student, do it with dignity for the child and respect for the group. Avoid confrontations and put-downs, sarcasm and anger. There is no need to feel intimidated by students. You hold all the cards (rewards and consequences), so you can afford to be just a little more tolerant and understanding.

Remember: correct behaviour is a learned skill, just like multiplication or the layup in basketball, and your job is teaching.


Many teachers experience their greatest management problems during transitions. You can improve your transitions by

  • having props ready. Props can be defined as artifacts needed to teach the lesson (handouts, YouTube clips, decimal chart, and so on). Make sure you have everything you need before you begin the lesson;
  • alerting the students to an upcoming transition—for example, “You have about five minutes left to finish your story on your Chromebooks”;
  • smoothing the transition with songs (younger children).

Other Impediments

Using closure. In our rush to get on with the next activity we deny students the opportunity to reflect (remember that word) on the learning that has just taken place. Contrast these two examples:

  1. “That's it, class. Put your stories away and take out your Chromebooks please. Quickly!”
  2. “Okay. It looks like everyone is pretty well finished writing. Is your story going well? Would you like some more time this afternoon to finish it? How many will be ready to share by tomorrow? Does anyone have a best-seller in the works? That’s great, Harper, you can be first to read tomorrow. Don’t forget to remind me. You’ve all done well today. Can you get your Chromebooks out now, please. I think you’re going to like this next activity.”

Avoiding Flip-Flops

Once they’re into the math, don’t move back to language arts. For example, “Now, are you all ready? We’re going to talk about fractions today. Who remembers the first rule of fractions? Alex? Good job in the writing workshop today. I noticed you made use of strong alliteration. Who else used figurative language? Now where were we?” Once the students are under way (that is, they have momentum), don’t distract them from the task at hand.