How To Improve Classroom Behavior In One Lesson

I’d like to share with you a uniquely powerful classroom management strategy, one that, when used correctly, stands above the rest. This particular strategy never fails to make an impression and can be used as often as you wish.

And the best part is, you will see immediate improvement in your students.

I call it the “how not” strategy. It’s a close but rebellious cousin of detailed modeling. If you’re not familiar with detailed modeling, read the linked article. If you’re interested in a complete explanation, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to it in my book, Dream Class.

The “How Not” Strategy

The “how not” strategy is so powerful because it clarifies for students exactly what unacceptable behavior looks like, and they’ll immediately recognize it. In fact, when you use this strategy, you’ll find your students laughing and nodding their heads knowingly.

Some of its power comes from its entertaining qualities. When you use the “how not” strategy, your students will be fully engaged. They may even clamor for you to teach it again.

How It Works

After using detailed modeling to demonstrate a specific part of your plan, or a certain classroom procedure, model how not to do it. For example, let’s say you’re teaching your students how to line up for lunch. After showing them how to do it properly, you would then model for them how not to do it.

If you’ve been teaching even for a short time, you can predict the most common ways students line up incorrectly. For example:

  • Leaving chair out
  • Talking in line
  • Cutting in line
  • Pushing

To use this method, you would pretend to be a student lining up while engaging in one or more of these behaviors. Choose a few students to be extras in your mini-sketch and have them waiting in line the correct way. Choose another student to play the part of the teacher, giving you the signal to line up.

Start the modeling session by sitting at a student’s desk, waiting for the line-up signal. When the teacher—acting student—gives the signal, line up how you’ve seen your students doing it improperly. Except, ham it up and have fun with it.

The more you exaggerate the unwanted behavior, the more memorable it will be for your students.

In fact, they’ll never forget it. And few will behave in the way you modeled ever again. They’ll be embarrassed to. The “how not” strategy works so well because it points out the absurdity of poor behavior.

Poor Behavior Is Absurd

As much as possible, create a classroom environment where poor behavior is looked upon as absurd.

I was at a museum in Europe several years ago, waiting in line to see an exhibit, and a man and a woman cut in line, positioning themselves near the front. Those of us behind were astounded at their rudeness and demanded they go to the end of the line. Given the environment, their behavior was absurd.

The reverence toward learning in your classroom must be held in the same regard as art is viewed in a museum. That isn’t to say that students must always be silent or speak in hushed tones. Fun, after all, is an important element of a successful classroom. But learning must always be held in the highest regard.

The “how not” strategy effectively gets this message across to students.

Seeing things from a different perspective changes the way students view their world. Allow your students to see what their poor behavior looks like and how it affects others, and it will hit home like no other classroom management strategy.

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12 Responses to How To Improve Classroom Behavior In One Lesson

  1. Tania September 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I like all this strategies, they sound logical and effective. I have a class management problem, with 3rd grade Primary School. I teach them ESL. The main problem I feel I have, is the lack of communication. I feel and know the kids don’t understand what I say. They might understand like 25% of everything I say. 4 students for sure understand the whole thing, they are the well behaved ones, and the advanced ones. The rest of the class is a mess. They are talking, getting up, playing, not interested in the class, etc. It’s a nightmare… I’m about to get fired. I have a week to fix them or I’m out!. The question is how can I implement all this, if when I talk to them, they don’t understand??
    How can I speak about rules, about how ridiculous they’re behavior is, etc etc… how? I’m not allowed to speak L1 (Spanish). At first I did, but the principal gave me a hard time for doing it and now im under strict supervision because she thinks I give the whole class in Spanish, which I don’t. I only do that to call them of, or ask them to be quiet, sit or behave….
    I’m desparate, I dont know what to do?!

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2011 at 6:56 am #

      Hi Tania,

      I’d be surprised if your students are misbehaving because they don’t understand the rules. Third graders can tell right and wrong and can see from your reaction what is acceptable. However, regardless of the reason, you must reteach your classroom management plan. If you feel language is a hindrance, then teach your plan in both English and Spanish. I would guess the strict supervision is more to do with your class being out of control than it is speaking Spanish. Spend one morning teaching and modeling your plan in whatever way your class understands, then go back to full-time English. I don’t speak anything but English, but have never had a problem modeling and demonstrating classroom rules and procedures to students with zero English.


  2. Rose October 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Visual prompts can be useful too e.g. symbols and photos.

  3. Shekar November 24, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    Hi, I am doing a research on classroom management and student behavior….hope I get some information…

  4. Wagner February 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Very good article. I love all you write.

    • Michael Linsin February 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      Thanks Wagner!


  5. Jeff Sandberg February 28, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Hi, Michael:

    I’ve been reading your posts for about 2 years now. I teach middle school choir (grades 5-7). I do think there is a lot to what you say. My main issue is regarding boredom. Now, personally, I think that boredom is due to one of two reasons: 1) I’m afraid I’ll fail, and 2) I don’t want to be here. I believe those who are afraid to fail are afraid to partly because of the students who don’t want to be there. It’s also likely my classroom management plan is a failure. However, I also read the part of one of your blogs about maintaining good relationships, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot, too.

    I have students that spend 3 years with me, and some of those classes end up doing reteaching from a couple of years ago because my 7th grade classes get filled up with students who’ve never been in choir before, and, frankly, don’t want to. I’ve thought about resorting to abandoning my curriculum and just doing karaoke and rote singing for the rest of the year…

    Is there a way to get these newer students to buy into my program, still teach what I need to and have kids that enjoy my program without abandoning what I know is the right thing to teach?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Michael Linsin February 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

      Hi Jeff,

      I’m glad to hear you’re a regular reader. It comes down to finding the one thing you do really well, and enhancing that one thing to a level where all of your students–new, uninterested, or otherwise–look forward to coming to your class. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about your personality or your ability to build rapport, but it must be something. There must be a compelling reason to want to want to be part of choir. Maybe it’s the trips you take or the fun you have or the remarkable way you make singing come to life. It must be special somehow, a privilege to be a member of your class. You want students who are new to the school to talk about how much they want to be part of Mr. Sandberg’s class. You have to sell it.

      And here’s the wonderful thing: Not only will classroom management then become a lot easier, but you’ll enjoy your job so much more–and be able to have a greater impact on your students’ future.


  6. mahmood April 7, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Thanks a lot,
    I am suffering so much by class management problems with my Grade 2 student. Now I feel this will help me a lot.

    • Michael Linsin April 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

      You’re welcome, Mahmood!


  7. Daniel October 26, 2013 at 5:37 am #


    Every article, including your book “Dream Class” has changed my views on teaching dramatically. I’ve been a martial arts instructor for 2+ years… My boss and I had a disagreement on how to get the Dragon class (4-6 years old) to sit down quietly during the our three minute mat chat. My boss also teaches the class as well, I assist. I went along with his idea about having the students sit on dots so it would look more organized, sort of like a seating chart. The idea failed. The students were not listening, they were throwing dots around, it was a diaster. After classes were over, during a meeting, I asked my boss what he did and he pretty much just asked the kids to sit down on the dots and be quiet.

    Since this was a new procedure and the students have not sat in this matter before, I tried suggesting how we should’ve used ” detailed modeling” to show the class what to do and what not to do, set an expectation and let them know what the consequences are. My boss replied ” the students know what it means to sit down and be quiet, plus I don’t have time to show them.” The Dragon class only lasts for about 30 minutes, so I can sort of oblige to this.
    My question is, if an instructor/teacher wants the best from their students, should there always be time to set an expectation?

    Again, “Dream Class” has changed my views on teaching, and has inspired me to go back to school to become a teacher. Thank you for taking time and putting effort in helping the teaching community.


    • Michael Linsin October 26, 2013 at 7:26 am #

      Hi Daniel,

      I’m glad you like Dream Class and the website! To answer your question, yes, you’re right on the money. If you take time in the beginning to set your expectations and model what you want, then you save time thereafter. In the long run you provide much more and better quality instruction.