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Teachers’ top 10 classroom discipline tricks

Student and teacher
Does every homework session end in tears and tantrums? Or are you losing sleep over getting your child to learn their spellings? Lucy Dimbylow asked the people who manage 30 children at a time (gulp!) – teachers and teaching assistants – to share their tried and tested tricks.

1. Use incentives

“When I’m doing group work with children I always have a box of tricks with me, including stickers for neat work, good listening, sitting nicely, and so on. We also award house points for good behaviour. The challenge of earning a reward really helps to focus children on their work.”
Caren, year 6 teaching assistant

2. Set manageable goals

“If a child is complaining that his work is too hard, too boring or taking too long, I’ll set a short-term goal; for example, I’ll put a dot on his page for where he should write to in the next five minutes.”
Lou, year 6 teacher

3. Be hands-on

“When a child physically drifts away from a task, I’ll go up to her, take her by the shoulders and gently steer her back to where she should be. This works even if she hasn’t left the table; just putting a hand on her shoulder lets her know that I’m watching her.”
Tina, year 4 teacher

4. Make time to listen

“When children are moaning about their work, often the main issue is the fear of failure, rather than the fact that they actually can’t do it. Rather than dismissing their worries, I give them time to speak about what the problem is; generally, just a few seconds of listening works wonders.”

5. Give a hard stare

“I use subtle strategies when children are messing about and distracting each other. Often, I’ll just pause, raise my eyebrows and stare at the child until she realises that I’ve spotted her, or weave her name into the middle of a sentence – much more effective than shouting.”

6. Model good behaviour

“The key to promoting good behaviour is to be a positive role model. Be polite, approach arguments calmly and don’t get drawn into losing your cool. Speak quietly, be considerate and expect the children to do the same.”
Becky, year 1 and 2 teacher

7. Use a timer

“I often use a sand timer to show children how long I expect them to stay on task for. The concept of ‘five minutes’ is beyond some children, but seeing the sand passing through the timer makes it easier to see how much longer they have to work for.”
Victoria, special educational needs coordinator

8. Be supportive

“Problems often arise when children don’t know what is expected of them. Before I begin a task with the class or a group, I’ll spend a few minutes talking it through to make sure they understand it. If they’re struggling, I’ll use prompts such as pictures, or give them a few key words to start them off, so I’m supporting them without doing the work for them.”

9. Use sanctions

“If behaviour is getting out of hand, I’ll use sanctions such as removing computer time or free play time, but only ever after giving at least one warning.”

10. Praise, praise, praise

“Whenever a child is unhappy about having to work, I bolster his self esteem by pointing out all the good things he has done so far. It takes 20 positive comments to outweigh one negative, so praising children is essential – there is no substitute for encouragement.”

Read more expert advice from teachers and tutors on helping your child with homework, learning to spell or memorising times tables.

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