10 Ways To Make Time-Out More Effective

Your classroom management plan doesn’t have to be complex to be effective. Four rules and three consequences will usually do the trick. Indeed, there is no magic in the plan itself.

It’s the stuff in between, the strategery (see Will Ferrell), that determines whether classroom management is successful or not.

Time-out is an excellent example. Undoubtedly the most commonly used consequence, time-out can be incredibly effective or a waste of time depending on how it’s carried out. As teachers, we’re often overly focused on what to do rather than on how to do it.

The power is in the how.

How your students fulfill time-out decides its effectiveness. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to make time-out more effective.

1. Model it. Detailed modeling is a powerful teaching strategy and is especially effective for teaching classroom management procedures. Model your time-out procedure by playing the part of a misbehaving student. Show your students exactly what is expected of them if they’re sent to time-out. Understanding the realities of your classroom management plan will reinforce the importance of following rules.

2. Never waver. Resolve that you will follow through every time and for every rule violation, regardless of what is happening at the time. You might be in the middle of a superb lesson, but if a student breaks a rule and your plan calls for a time-out, send them immediately.

3. Tell them why. Whenever you enforce a classroom rule that requires a time-out, it’s important to tell the student why he or she is being separated from the rest of the class. Be brief and to the point. It’s not a two-way conversation. Simply state the rule that was broken and what the student did to violate the rule.

4. Don’t lecture students on the way to, or while they’re in, time-out. Let the time-out be the only consequence. Otherwise, you run the risk of breaking your agreement (i.e., your classroom management plan) in the eyes of your students, thereby causing resentment. Creating friction between you and your students is counterproductive and will hurt your classroom management effectiveness.

5. Don’t give them anything to do. If the time-out is in your classroom, they should be required to follow along with your lessons and complete any work the rest of the students are doing. But if you send them for a recess time-out, they should sit silently with nothing to do. Not only is this easier for you, but it works better.

6. Supervise. Time-out doesn’t work well unless you’re supervising your students yourself. I realize this can be tough to do during a recess time-out. But it’s worth it. It sends the message that your rules are important enough for you to make sacrifices. And students appreciate it. It’s meaningful to them. Children are perceptive and will pick up on how much you care.

7. Ignore. When students are sent to time-out, they’re not part of your classroom until they return. Don’t speak to them, even if you’re supervising them during recess. The rest of your class should ignore them as well, but know that after the time-out is over, any returning student is once again a valued member of the class.

8. Let the student decide when he or she is ready to come back(note: only for in-class time-out). For students who have a proclivity for misbehavior, this can be especially effective. Simply say, “Let me know when you’re ready to be part of the class again.” After twenty minutes, if the student did what he or she was supposed to—as defined by the time-out procedures—and is sitting quietly with his or her hand raised, walk over and say, “Yes?” If the student is remorseful, then invite him or her to return.

9. Don’t hold a grudge. After the time-out is over, it’s over. The student has paid the fine and is therefore a class member in good standing. Holding grudges and taking behavior personally will result in more bad behavior.

10. Have fun. For time-out to be effective, your students must feel like they’re missing something. If your classroom is an exciting and interesting place to be, they will always feel like they’re missing something. However, there is nothing wrong with reminding them. Placing a student in time-out is the perfect time to start a learning game or a fun activity.

There you have it. Ten ways I’m certain will result in a stronger and more effective time-out consequence.

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28 Responses to 10 Ways To Make Time-Out More Effective

  1. Muniba October 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    What if an in-class time out is resulting in behavior that disrupts the other students, such as being loud or crawling under the tables? (This question is for a Kindergarten environment.) Advice is welcome!

    • Michael Linsin October 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks for your question. I sat down to respond and kept writing and writing. So I’ve decided to use your question as a prompt for my next article. It will be posted on Saturday afternoon (10/31/09).


  2. Donna August 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    My principal and assistant principal have criticized me for sending students to a “buddy teacher,” although they distributed a “buddy teacher” form to faculty to use “once in a while.” Students call out, “Bye! See you later!” to the students I send out and it has not improved their behavior. As a result, I have decided to send out NO students this year, but I need a plan to help cope with disruptive students in the meantime. Any suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin August 2, 2010 at 8:43 am #

      Hi Donna,

      I recommend an in-class timeout. My suggestions on how to do this can be found in the article above and in the time-out, rules & consequences, and difficult students categories along the bottom right side bar.


  3. Victoria August 5, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    I am preparing to revise my classroom management plan for the upcoming school year and want to incorporate your ideas. I have a few questions.

    How to deal with the space requirement of having more than one student in time-out at the same time. Do you recommend moving their desk? Our space is limited.
    Also, I am envisioning having one student in an all-day time-out, needing the time-out desk, and having other student(s) needing to go to time-out. How do you deal with this situation?
    Thanks so much.

    • Michael Linsin August 5, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

      Hi Victoria,

      It can happen, especially in the beginning of the school year, that more than one student needs to go to time-out. For an all-day time-out, definitely move the desk. Otherwise, if you don’t have room for two time-out desks, then you can have one student sit at your guided reading table or computer desk or anywhere that provides some table/writing space for the student to follow your lessons. Moving a desk for a brief 15-45 minute time-out would be a last option.


  4. Shawn August 25, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    I love your website and your book. Would you please explain how the 3rd consequence works? I understand the warning and the basic time-out (I do 10 minutes). But the third step is a form letter, right? And are the students in “extended time-out” until the letter is returned? What does that extended time-out look like? I assume the student is in your classroom but separated from the rest of the class. They are still responsible for doing the work but cannot join in any class activities. Is that right? Thanks for any clarification you can provide!


    • Michael Linsin August 26, 2010 at 8:11 am #

      Hi Shawn,

      For detailed information about the third consequence see the article Why A Letter Home Is An Effective Consequence. There is also a link in that article to an article about extended time-out. Both articles will answer your questions with more detail than I can give here.


  5. Marie August 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    I am in my second year of teaching and am using your plan in full. So, far it is a much, much better year. Every class, except one, is a “dream class” that I look forward to teaching. One class is tougher, though. It is crammed full of 34 kids with very little space to spare. I have 3 students in all day time-out and haven’t returned their letters. They have started talking to each other and are enjoying time-out. I ignore them, but my other students can’t. I failed to model going to time-out as often and thoroughly as my other procedures right from the start. What do I do? Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

    • Michael Linsin August 27, 2010 at 8:22 am #

      Hi Marie,

      Three students is a lot to have in extended time-out, but that’s okay. Stay the course. Do what you said you would and it will pay off. If you’re unhappy with how you modeled time-out, then do it now. That goes for everything classroom management related. Anytime you begin seeing something you don’t like, stop everything and teach/reteach.

      Stay calm with these three students, hand them a copy of the letter each day, and follow with a phone call home. Leaving a voice mail is fine. Inform/remind the parents or family to ask for the letter and sign it. One at a time you’ll get the letters back. Stick with it, make sure you’re having fun with the rest of your class, and those three will come around.

      Email me in a few days and let me know how it goes.


  6. Jessica Balsley December 5, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    Hi Michael,

    In our district we are not allowed to remove a student from instructional opportunities for behavior. For example, I previously had a time out where the student sat in the class, as you have described. By not allowing them to work on their artwork and participate in the activity, I am going against district policy of not allowing the student the instructional opportunities during their allotted art time.

    My new plan is basically to pull the student aside with their artwork, and work on their own, however, this defeats the purpose of missing out on something and having time for reflection.

    Any suggestions?

    • Michael Linsin December 5, 2010 at 10:54 am #

      Hi Jessica,

      The power and effectiveness of time-out doesn’t come from missing an activity–and the academic work that comes with it– per se, it comes from being separated and held apart from the classroom students love being a part of–which comes from your ability to create leverage. I suggest you separate the student while still allowing him/her to do the same work as everyone else. I would limit, however, direct participation in lessons, fun activities, group work, etc. If your district says that you can’t have in-class time-out at all, then you must hold your students accountable via time-out of another sort and at another time–recess, after school, or lunch.


  7. deb buttner July 25, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    Just wanted to say thanks. Everything I read is right on point, clear and helpful in a practical sense. I have purchased your book and am looking forward to reading it. Thank you for your insights.

    • Michael Linsin July 25, 2011 at 6:41 am #

      Your welcome, Deb! Thanks for sharing.


  8. Allison R. July 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    What insightful articles you have here! I plan on implementing these techniques in my 5th grade classroom this upcoming year, but I do have a question about implementing a timeout towards the end of a class period. If there is only, let’s say, 5 minutes left in the class before the students must change classes, how do you suggest dealing with a timeout? I’m assuming one would have the student go directly to the timeout desk and remain there until time to switch? Thank you so much for your help!

    • Michael Linsin July 29, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      Hi Allison,

      Yes, you’re right. It’s as simple as having the student sit in time-out until the switch. Although it’s not optimum, the time-out separation is still symbolic of the misbehavior, it still holds the student accountable, and therefore it’s still effective.


  9. Michael October 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I implemented your classroom management plan late in the year last year, and despite it not being an optimal time to introduce it, the results were very encouraging. I did already have rapport on my side though, and that helped considerably.

    This year, I am only in the class (new school) for two days a week, and I have two students who, just today refused to go to the time-out desk. I told them if they did not go, they will get a letter home. They did not go, and I gave them the letter, but they are still at their desk. Not wanting to argue or let it phase me, I left them there. At lunch time, I moved their desks away from the rest of the class and they did stay in them for the remainder of the day.
    Any suggestions on how to best handle students who either refuse to go to time out, or who get out of the time-out desk to wander the room?

    • Michael Linsin October 9, 2011 at 7:11 am #

      Hi Michael,

      This is one of the problems with not seeing the same students everyday and/or being at a new school. Until you know the students very well, these things can happen and you will be tested more. I think you handled it well. The key is to stick with it and see the accountability through. The other is to model what happens when they are given a time-out, including what happens if they refuse to go or leave the time-out desk (they don’t leave time-out). After you’ve proven that you’ll do exactly what you say you would do, the testing will go away.


  10. Michael Campsall October 9, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Thanks for the prompt reply Michael, I will reteach and model what a time-out should look like, and put particular emphasis on the rest of the class’s responsibility while someone is in time-out.

    Also, I will continue to follow through with the letter home.

    I should add that the students I mentioned above were much better the next day, after receiving a letter home. It was that next day however, that another student was wondering the room when he should have been in time-out. As this was on Friday, I will not see the result until next week.

    Thanks again,


    • Michael Linsin October 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Stick to your plan, stick to your convictions. You’ll turn them around.


  11. celia November 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Michael, Can you give me some examples of your fun activities and learning games to use as leverage? Thanks

    • Michael Linsin November 28, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Celia,

      Somewhere among the 140 articles or so I’ve given some examples, but will give more in the future. Stay tuned! Also, be sure and read the article, How To Have A Fun Classroom Without Extra Planning.


  12. Jerica February 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Hello, Michael.

    I read your posts with great interest.

    I haven’t tried your three consequences yet but am seriously considering it. Thus I have two questions.

    Is it possible that the system would be effective with only the first two consequences, warning and time out? I am somehow not convinced that writing a letter is such a good idea because I teach high school students.
    Thanks for your answer.

    • Michael Linsin February 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

      Hi Jerica,

      Yes, it can be effective using only the first two consequences.


  13. sarah April 13, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    Actually, i tried time-out and it worked amazingly with me and with my students. i still have with the same problem Muniba talked about. I have a studen who’s stubborn and want to provoke my anger. Once a time I told him ‘if you didn’t sit in your time-out seat properly, I’ll send you to another class and it worked but the mother disagreed. He’s v. stubborn, hyperactive, angry and seems that there’s something wrong with him that i don’t understand.

    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2013 at 8:34 am #

      Hi Sarah,

      Please read through the Difficult Students category of the archive. You should find the answers you’re looking for there.


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