Providing Structure, Preventing Problems

by Carolyn Ito

Teachers who design well-managed classrooms prevent most discipline problems.  Well-managed classrooms are task-oriented and predictable with high levels of student involvement and little wasted time, confusion or disruption (Wong & Wong, 1998).  You can begin to create a well-managed classroom and enjoy the year teaching by carefully considering the following factors: procedures, routines, rules, rewards, and consequences.

"The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline; it is the lack of procedures and routines," (Wong & Wong, 1998, p. 167).  Procedures and routines specify how things are done.  Without them would we not know how to check out of a supermarket, have our cars inspected, use an ATM, draft an IEP, or create a lesson.  Teachers develop and teach procedures and routines so that students know how things done in their classrooms.  Examples of procedures include how to enter and exit the classroom, come to attention, get help, and work in a group.  (See the Routines and Rules Checklist insert for more examples.)  In addition to individual classroom procedures, it is necessary to create and teach school-wide procedures for cafeteria, bus, assembly, hall, and playground use.  Staff members develop procedures for the library, music rooms, gym, art room, clinic, technology lab, and office.  There is a lot for students to learn about how things are done.  Procedures need to be taught until the students perform them routinely.  Generally, students are not penalized or rewarded for following procedures.

Rules are the expectations for appropriate student behavior.  Rules need to have rewards (e.g., praise, privileges, increased self-esteem) and consequences or penalties (e.g., private talk with teacher, parent conference, loss of group reward).  Rules should be developed by the teacher and comply with school and district policies.  Positively stated rules generally tell students what to do.  Students will remember rules better when there are five or fewer.  See the samples below:

Elementary Rules
Middle or High
School Rules

Follow directions the first time given.

B on time.

Do your own work.

B prepared.

Be polite and helpful to others.

B on task.

Keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself.

B respectful

Routines, rules, and consequences must be taught like any other subject.  They are explained, modeled, demonstrated, practiced and tested during the first few weeks of school and throughout the year.  For instance, when teaching a respect rule, you decide what respect looks like, sounds like, and means in your classroom.  You might describe respect in terms appropriate voice volume, vocabulary choice, body language, and eye contact.  Post your rules and consequences in your classroom.  Send the rules home for parents to sign and return to school.

Use the Routines and Rules Checklist inserted in this newsletter to identify areas you may need to change for more effective classroom management.  Most changes will require few resources.  Time spent creating, teaching, and reinforcing routines and rules will pay off all through the year.


Wong, H. & Wong, R., (1998). How to be an effective teacher: The first days of school. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Date: September-October 1998