High School Classroom Management Strategies

Instructor: Sarah Wilson

Sarah has taught college composition and high school English. A PhD Candidate (English), she has an MA (English) and an MAT (secondary English ed).

Explore how good behavior modeling, consistent classroom patterns, directed small group work, and specific question formats can help you manage high school students' behaviors in your courses.

Secondary Classroom Management Strategies

High school students come to you with years of distinct educational experiences. By the time they reach your classroom, they have had many teachers, all of whom have emphasized and rewarded (or disciplined) different classroom behaviors. There is a hidden benefit to these varied experiences: high school students are used to adjusting to new classroom environments and expectations. This means that, by implementing a few key strategies, you can set, model, and reinforce the student behaviors you want in your classroom, behaviors that allow your students to reach their educational goals more quickly and easily.

A teacher helps two students in her classroom.
A teacher and two students

Modeling Good Behavior

From the first moment of class, your preferred classroom behavior is present in two places: your own behavior and that of your students.

First, how you act in the classroom is the most obvious source from which your students draw behavior lessons. You should aim to model (to demonstrate desired actions) your own best slightly formal behavior: look students in the eye, listen attentively, respond directly to their questions/statements, and ignore distractions from within/outside the classroom. While your students will pick up on and imitate your behavior patterns, to solidify these patterns even further, you can also briefly 'think aloud' about some of your behavior choices to help students understand why you are making them.

Of course, you are just one person in your classroom, and that space is dominated by students. As such, use their good behavior as another set of models for the rest of the class. Routinely, publicly, and quickly praise students who do something you want their peers to emulate: 'I so appreciate how you took notes on that new vocabulary word, Chevaun,' or, 'Mr. Smith, you handled your disagreement with Ms. Warren's understanding of that concept very respectfully.' Praise various students, and do not focus all of your positive attention on any particular student. Similarly, praise students who struggle to maintain good behavior whenever they make an unusually positive behavior choice. Whether that praise is made publicly or privately depends upon the student and the situation.

Setting Classroom Patterns

Another great strategy for classroom management is to set clear patterns to guide your class meetings. The key to any pattern is its consistent application.

How do your students turn in homework? How do you take attendance? How do you assign homework? How do students ask permission to leave the room? Do you generally lecture or have conversations with your students? Whatever patterns you decide to implement in your classroom, make sure the expectations are clear and then follow them consistently. Once the patterns are firmly established, a well-chosen moment wherein you purposefully 'break' a pattern can even help you deliver and emphasize a particular lesson.

Integrating Small Group Work

Small group work, in which students learn together in groups from two to five students, can help students understand class materials at deeper levels than traditional lecturing or whole class discussions. There are many ways to set up small group work, but the key to successful group work is to provide clear expectations and guidelines.

Students often learn best when they work together in small groups.
Students working in a group

First, give specific instructions for group formation. You can have students count off to form random groups, allow students to group themselves, or predetermine the groups in order to mix up skill levels and personalities. Second, describe (and, if you want to control them, assign) group roles. While specific roles are not required for successful group work, they can help students thrive: leader, note-taker/secretary, researcher, presenter, etc... Third, identify a timeline, which can range anywhere from five minutes to multiple class sessions. Fourth, establish the expected outcomes for the group's work. For example, groups may need to present something to the class as a whole or to turn in a completed worksheet/assignment; alternatively, students can turn in individual assignments. Lastly, you are there to support groups throughout their activity, so move from group to group to check on progress, answer questions that arise, and push groups to deeper levels of critical thinking.

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