Behavior Management Strategies For the Primary Classroom

Behavior management can be a tricky topic in the primary classroom. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start with setting up an effective plan for managing behavior. If you’re looking for new ways to manage your classroom and encourage positive behavior, you’ve come to the right place! Today, I’ll be sharing all of my tips on how to implement behavior management strategies and keep your classroom running smoothly.

As a long-time first-grade teacher, I feel like I have tried it all when it comes to behavior management! There were some great systems out there, while others actually seemed to make behavior management more difficult. Over the years I discovered that much of “what works” will depend on your current group of students and daily rhythm. You’ll need to experiment with different systems and strategies to find what works best for you!

To help get you started though, I am going to discuss my own approach to this topic. I think no matter what system you use for behavior management, using a general framework for mapping it out will make all the difference!

First Off, Discuss Expectations

As teachers, we all know children tend to do much better with clear boundaries and expectations. To ensure your behavior management system will work, you’ll need to make sure your students have a firm grasp on what is expected of them.

When I was still in the classroom, I always made a point to spend the first few weeks of school going over our rules regularly. I liked to introduce classroom rules one by one and have an open discussion about them. I liked to ask kiddos to provide input on the rules such as what they think it means to “take care of class materials” or “to be kind and respectful”. Taking this time to chat with students and asking them to provide examples is a great way to help your students learn the rules.

Another helpful thing to discuss is the WHY behind your rules. Helping children understand why you are asking them to do specific things is often very effective in maintaining compliance with the rules. On the other hand, “because I said so” will not produce such positive results! Instead, be honest with your students and help them understand that following the rules will help the classroom run more smoothly and strengthen your community.

After you’ve spent some time at the beginning of the year learning the rules, make a point of weaving them into your day-to-day. When you notice great behavior, make sure to point it out by referencing the rules. It might sound something like this: “Boys and girls I really liked how you walked to lunch today. You really followed our class rule. Great job!”

You can grab these helpful Classroom Rules Editable Posters in the FunTimes in First store!

Use Tools For Behavior Management

There are a few tools that I found to be especially helpful over the years when it came to behavior management. These were “tried and true” tools that I always returned to year after year:

1. Doorbell

This one will save your voice. I loved being able to press the doorbell and my students knew exactly how to respond. This is a great way to grab everyone’s attention quickly and effectively without ever having to raise your voice above the classroom chatter.

Use nonverbal communication like hand signals for a calmer and more independent classroom.

Teach students what you’d like them to do when they hear the doorbell chime. I always liked the “freeze” approach. Freeze your body, then look at the teacher. It is a great way to get everyone’s attention quickly and makes transitions so much easier.

2. Hand Signals

Using hand signals is a great way to cut down on interruptions and help your students get their needs met quickly. I loved using these in my classroom!

Students use the hand signal to show what they need. It’s so easy to give them a nod without ever stopping what you are doing. Using hand signals not only cut down on class interruptions but it dramatically decreased interruptions during small group time too!

3. Classroom Jobs

One of the easiest ways to help students grow in personal responsibility and independence is through the use of classroom jobs. I found that giving my students an opportunity to have a job of their own in the classroom grew their confidence and in turn promoted better behavior.

These tools are a great starting point if you’re brand new to behavior management systems or just need a fresh start! Using these items collectively will help your students work toward positive behavior and keep the classroom running smoothly.

Use Incentives for Behavior Management

Once you’re all settled in with your rules and systems, it’s a great idea to incorporate some motivation to follow them with incentive programs. Incentive programs give students something to work towards and help them to feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. There are many different options out there to try but I always liked using a blend of both group and individual incentives.

Group Incentives

Group incentives will come in handy when you are trying to help your students learn to work collectively. I love group incentives because the whole class can celebrate as a team when they reach the finish line. These can take a bit longer to achieve since you’ll need to rely on the whole group to be able to reward your students. In turn, they will help teach teamwork and cooperation – both highly valuable skills in the primary classroom!

Some fun ideas for group incentives include the following:

  • Group Games: This is a good reward to encourage students in short-term situations. You can offer to play a group game for the last 20 minutes of the day if students all comply with another task. This is a good one for the beginning of the year as a way to learn routines.
  • Fun Friday Party: Offering a monthly pizza party, popcorn party, or ice cream party is a highly motivating incentive to young students! A party is a great prize to use for larger-scale behavior goals that will take longer to achieve.

Individual Incentives

Individual incentives are also very useful because they provide an opportunity for personal accountability. I like using these in addition to group incentives so that students have the opportunity to earn rewards based solely on their own actions. While it’s important to learn how to function as a group, I also like to give students a chance to see that their own choices will impact their results!

My favorite individual incentive program is the use of coupons and a classroom “store”. I used to pass out coupons daily for students who stayed in the preferred area of the behavior clip chart. At the end of the month, students could “cash in” on their coupons at the classroom store. The prizes in my store consisted of fun items from the dollar store. Prizes like chalk, bubbles, books, coloring books, art supplies, and small games are always a hit. Each item was “priced” at a different number of coupons.

While it’s certainly a little bit of investment to set up a classroom store, I always found it to be quite worth it. My students were highly motivated by this. And, they really did try their best when they knew classroom store coupons were on the line! To keep costs low, I recommend snagging art supply items during back-to-school sales to stock up your store! You can also ask parents to donate any unused toys, books or Happy Meal toys.

There are also lots of great rewards that don’t cost you a thing. Rewards like ‘bring a stuffed animal to school’, ‘shoes off day’, or ‘be a special helper’ are all free items that your students will love to work for!

Consider Consequences

Deciding on appropriate consequences is by far the least appealing part of any behavior management system. But, it is important for success. When it came to consequences, my rule of thumb was always to keep it logical. What I mean by this is that the consequence should match the offense and help students learn from their mistakes. For example:

  • Students who break something or deliberately make a mess will help to fix it or clean it up.
  • Students who say something hurtful to a friend will help them feel better.
  • Students who interrupt an activity repeatedly will sit out of another activity and make up their work.

Using logical consequences will help your students reflect on what went wrong. Then, they can consider how to adjust their behavior in the future. I always found that giving them this opportunity to correct their behavior helps to get them back on the right track. Then they can take a step in the right direction.

When it comes to group reflection, I am a fan of writing prompts. If your whole class is really out of sorts and just having a hard time, it’s a wonderful idea to make it into a learning opportunity. I liked to ask students to reflect on the issue we are having. Then, brainstorm ideas for how we can correct it moving forward. Then I might call on a few volunteers to share their suggestions with the class. This is a great way to take a negative situation and put your children in charge of making it right!

Communicate The Behavior Management Plan To Parents

A crucial step in making any behavior management system effective is parent communication and involvement. It’s important to keep families in the loop on the expectations in your classroom so that they can offer support.

The simplest way to do this is to cover it on Back-to-School Night while most parents are present. While you definitely don’t want your whole presentation to be about behavior expectations and consequences, I do think it’s a good idea to touch on it! I liked to have a detailed letter typed up in advance and tucked away in their information folder.

Then, I would provide a short, verbal explanation of the rules and systems we use. This gave parents a broad overview and helped to ensure everyone was on the same page.

It’s also a good idea to have some kind of check-in for your behavior management system. I sent out monthly notes to parents that gave a summary of how their student was doing in class. This doesn’t need to be complicated or long-winded. Just a simple note with a sentence or two on the status and possible improvements is enough to keep the line of communication open. For students who are struggling with behavior, I recommend making this check-in occur on a weekly basis until behaviors return to a more manageable level.

Don’t Be Afraid To Mix Up The Behavior Management System

Above all, don’t be afraid to switch things up! As I mentioned before, behavior management systems will vary greatly depending on the students you are working with. One year a clip chart might work great and the next it just doesn’t seem to provide the same results. In this case, you might need to try something new! Don’t be afraid to make adjustments until you find something that works.

You might also find that certain times of the year call for a little change in the classroom plan. The weeks leading up to Christmas are one of those times. It’s okay to introduce a special incentive or plan during those times.

A great behavior management system should encourage your students, provide opportunities for growth, and frame missteps as a chance to make new, more positive choices! At the end of the day, you want a system that helps the day run more smoothly and leaves you and your students feeling great!

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