Should Your First Consequence Be A Warning?

I’m frequently asked whether I recommend giving a warning as a first consequence.

My answer is an emphatic yes.

Giving a warning eliminates the need for three commonly used strategies that make classroom management more difficult.

Teachers who struggle with classroom management tend to lean on one or more of them.

What about you? Do you do any of the following?


The teacher reminds students when they don’t follow classroom rules.

Example: Mrs. Fowler asks a question during a lesson. Eric calls out an answer. Mrs. Fowler says, “Good answer, Eric, but next time raise your hand.”

Mrs. Fowler often reminds her students to follow classroom rules. Predictably, they break them often.


The teacher glares at students when they don’t follow classroom rules.

Example: Mr. Penn sees Michelle and Elsa giggling during writers’ workshop. He positions himself where they can see him and then, with arms crossed and eyebrows raised, gives them “the look” until they get back to work.

Mr. Penn is proud of his ability to stop misbehavior in its tracks with his well-practiced “look” but has grown tired of the constant battles to get students to follow his rules and focus on their work.


The teacher corrects students when they don’t follow classroom rules.

Example: The class is lined up for lunch. But one boy, Terrence, is out of line and acting up. Frustrated, Mr. Stallings barks, “Terrence, close your mouth and get in line!”

Mr. Stallings is a ball of stress at the end of each day. The burden of having to command students to do this and don’t do that is causing him to reevaluate his career choice.

Giving A Simple Warning Is Easy

Instead of the stress and frustration of reminding, glaring, and correcting, all three teachers could save themselves a lot of trouble by giving a simple warning.

A warning works best as a first consequence because…

It’s easy to be consistent.

When you have a classroom management plan that includes a warning, it takes the guesswork out of handling initial misbehavior. Student breaks rule…teacher gives warning. It’s as easy as that.

It’s not personal.

By consistently giving a warning whenever a student breaks a rule (for the first violation), you avoid the drama that can result from a direct and personal confrontation.

It builds trust.

Doing exactly what you say you will do builds your students’ trust in you, which makes it easier to influence behavior.

It’s quick and easy.

There is no interruption when giving a warning. You just give it and move on without a second thought.

It’s stress free.

You don’t have to rely on persuasion or intimidation to stop misbehavior. You don’t have to yell, remind, glare, or use any of the other stress inducing methods so many teachers feel trapped into using.

It makes sense to students.

When you follow your classroom management plan exactly as stated—which includes a warning—there is no confusion for students. They know exactly what to expect, which gives them a sense of safety and frees them to be their best selves.

Note: A warning is only effective when backed by a strong, take-action consequence.

Next week we are going to continue with the same theme. The topic will be how to give a warning so it has the greatest effect on student behavior.

Thanks for reading.

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18 Responses to Should Your First Consequence Be A Warning?

  1. R Water August 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Last year I was a clueless first year high school teacher, and this upcoming school year I’m adopting many lessons learned from Dream Class and this website (THANK YOU). This year I’m using your 3-step consequence plan, but am struggling with how best to deliver warnings without them sounding like threats, and without leaving room for the student to attempt to argue with me. (“I wasn’t ____!” or “I’m not ____!”)
    I’ve heard of using “behavior cards” as warnings before, and am considering adopting them this year for my high school classes. The idea is to drop an index card with a message (“your present behavior is not acceptable” etc) as a formal warning. The idea appeals to me because it doesn’t require me pausing during class to say something to a student – I can just continue explaining an idea and drop one on a student’s desk. It’s also a physical/visual reminder of the student – “Hey, I just got a warning a few minutes ago for speaking out of turn, I need to watch out.”

    What are your thoughts on using behavior cards as warnings?

    I was also wondering if you had any recommendations for arguing or complaining students? Obviously the answer is “don’t argue back” but is the best solution to simply ignore it? I’ve read nearly every article on here, and Dream class, and haven’t quite seen that exact issue addressed. I know your experience is mostly k-8 and I’m high school, but any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin August 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

      Hi R Water,

      The problem with index cards is that it won’t always be obvious to the student why he or she has been given a warning. Explaining why is an important part of the consequence. Read again through the articles in the Rules & Consequences category of the archive. There are several that address this topic. One in particular has ‘Power Word’ in the title. Also, read the article Why You Should Never Argue With Students; And How To Avoid It and if you have any specific questions about it, let me know. I’m happy to help!


  2. roseanne August 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    So, when you give a warning, do you actually say to the student “warning”. I have tried to give warning, and then students will sometimes say – I didn’t do anything or why didn’t you give a warning to ( person’s name)? Is there a specific kind of letter that we send home for parents to understand
    why their child was given the consequence?

    • Michael Linsin August 12, 2012 at 6:32 am #

      Hi Roseanne,

      Please read through the articles in the Rules & Consequences and the Classroom Management Plan categories of the archive. You’ll find all of your questions answered there.


  3. Cindi August 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    Love your website! I am a 7th grade math teacher. I am going to implement a program called “my classroom ecomony” to teach financial literacy and other real-world examples that can be applied to my curriculum. Students are paid a salary and bonuses for specific classroom jobs or accomplishments and they must pay rent for their desk, taxes, fines, etc. Anyway, one of the components includes fines for behaviors like dishonesty, disrespect, off-task behavior, tardiness, etc. What are your thoughts about losing class “money” as a consequence for breaking a class rule? Could this be part of the “warning”?

    • Michael Linsin August 19, 2012 at 7:01 am #

      Hi Cindi,

      I see the value in using this system in your math class, but I don’t think behavior should be part of it—for too many reasons to address here. This is a topic I’ll be writing about in the future. Stay tuned!


  4. Naima Oummih August 20, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you for the wonderful information. I just have one question. Would you put into practice the ‘warning and consequence’ on college students? Please let me know.

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Hi Naima,

      I would not–at least not publicly. College students are adults paying for their education. If you have a problem with one or more students disrupting your class, I’d give them perhaps one warning, delivered in private after class. If they continue to interfere with the rights of the rest of the students, then I would take whatever steps you need to drop them from the course. Of course, you would want to clearly communicate this process on the first day of class. I would also put it in writing and include it as part of your schedule/syllabus.


  5. Margaret Hawkins August 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Thanks for putting things into perspective for me also as a college instructor. It makes sense to apply the rules and consequences of behaviors via the syllabus. We have adopted AVID in our college, to help our students be more successful. One suggestion given in the AVID courses is to make the “class contract” with students in much the same way you do. After reading your comment to Naima, I don’t agree with posting the contract on the wall, but in the syllabus and letting them read it for themselves. Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin August 27, 2012 at 6:48 am #

      You’re welcome, Margaret!

  6. MJ February 3, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    I’m new. I’ll soon be teaching seventh grade in an inner city, low-income, high-needs school where more than half of students are non-native English speakers. I’m challenged to implement a discipline plan, which meets my principal’s and my grad school instructors’ expectations (I’m getting a grad degree while teaching).

    My instructors say don’t give warnings because that shows students that a small amount of disobedience will be tolerated. They say have scaled interventions and scaled consequences.

    According to their suggested book:
    – Scaled interventions include (in order, first to last): nonverbal > positive group > anonymous individual > private individual > lightning-quick public correction.

    – Nonverbal interventions include gesturing at or eye contact with the student.
    (I’d say that equates to what you call “giving students the look.”)

    – The ideal is to solve noncompliance quickly and with the least possible disruption so instruction is not disrupted.

    – They also suggest scaling/tailoring consequences for each student.

    – And my principal/school require students to complete “reflection sheets” * if they continue to misbehave after repeated interventions/warnings. (* What I did/What I could have done/What I’ll do next time).

    I like your behavior management program. Here’s how I might apply/amend it:

    1. Non-verbal intervention (not frown/scowl). Examples: use hand gesture to show sit down, raise your hand, eyes on me.

    2. Warning. I’m considering numbering the desks and numbering your rules: R1-R4. If the student in desk 30 swatted at another student, I’d write 30-R3 on the board (next to the Class Rules poster. R3 = keep hands to self).

    3. Time Out — with Time Out chairs placed back/side/front of room. (For some students, it’s effective to be nearer to me, others to be at the back of class).

    4. Letter home and reflection sheet (double-sided). The student would be asked to complete the reflection sheet. Spanish-version. Parent signature required.

    What do you think of my variations? In your experience, would they work? Can you suggest something different?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Michael Linsin February 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Hi MJ,

      I think it sounds fine (although your number one is a warning). Remember, your classroom management plan is only a small part of classroom management. It’s everything else (see this week’s article) that makes the difference. As for my own suggestions, I don’t have anything to add to the plan I recommend. Good luck. You’ll do great!


  7. Allison Rapp August 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm #


    What I love about your management plan is the removal of guesswork. But I am confused about how many warnings are given throughout the day? Do you suggest giving one warning at the beginning of the consequence list and that’s it for that day or do you give one warning per rule violation per child? Also, if so, how do you keep track mentally of who broke what rule and whether they need a consequence or a warning–I know you advocate simple and that’s what I want, so I was just wondering how to keep that simple or if you do something different. I also want it to be streamlined so that I’m not letting some kids have more warnings than others (unless they have IEP needs, etc.)

    • Michael Linsin August 20, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      Hi Allison,

      I recommend one warning throughout the day, regardless of what rule was broken. As for keeping track, it’s up to you. You can keep a clipboard, write names and check marks on a whiteboard, or simply keep track in your head.


  8. Rebecca June 7, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    What are some consequences that can be given to pupils in an elementary school? For example for a pupils who is continuously speaking out of turn without raising his hand.

    • Michael Linsin June 7, 2014 at 6:59 am #

      Hi Rebecca,

      Here is an article that explains our recommendations: A Classroom . . . We also have articles in our archive addressing your specific question.


  9. Donya November 29, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    I will be teaching year 8 students. I agree that classroom management is essential. The problem is that for the time out, there isn’t any space to place chairs at the back of the room nor at the side. I believe if I put them in the front , not there is much space there either, the student might act even sillier?

  10. Tiredgirlteaching January 29, 2016 at 1:52 am #

    This is my first year teaching. I was hired in the middle of the school year and work at a charter school. I feel overwhelmed. I had what I thought was a great management plan. Students had to write sentences about being disruptive. I told them the third sentence assignment would =a write up. However one of the little kids who always feels like he is never wrong cried to the AP and told her about the sentence writing and how I’m always picking on him. She had the director tell me that I could not do this anymore after it has been working great. Now, I have moved to silent lunch and she agreed that this was OK. My management plan is now not consistent bc of this. Now the kids are more rowdy and I am evaluated and pulled in the office all the time. I will be so happy when the school year is over. I would like to start fresh with a new school year. I will never work at another charter school ever again. I am so lost with their crazy policies and procedures. I have tried every management technique and have even tried making it a game. It works for some and not for others, and I’m so tired of spending money on treats. It really seems like the kids and the school doesnt appreciate me after all that I have done. I have bought some kids notebooks, called some parents, gave extra credit. I am not a quitter, so I am hanging in there, but they can fire me if they want. It will be a great relief.