A Classroom Management Plan That Works

In his book, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys To Creativity, Hugh MacLeod points out that Abraham Lincoln penned the Gettysburg Address on borrowed stationary.

Hemingway wrote with a simple fountain pen.a cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

Van Gogh rarely used more than six colors on his palate.

And MacLeod, himself an artist, sketches cartoons on the back of business cards.

His point is that there is zero correlation between creative talent and the materials and equipment used.

The same can be said about an effective classroom management plan.

A simple set of rules and consequences hand-printed on ordinary poster board is all you need.

You see…

There is no magic in the plan itself. It has no power to influence behavior.

Only you have the power to influence behavior by creating a classroom your students want to be part of and then strictly—obsessively—holding them accountable.

Therefore your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate, complex, or involved.

It just needs to be followed.

A Classroom Management Plan Is A Contract

A classroom management plan is a contract you make with your students that promises you will protect their right to learn and enjoy school without interference.

And once it’s presented to your class, you’re bound by this contract to follow it every minute of every day and without exception.

Otherwise, if you don’t, you’re breaking your word—and your students’ trust.

A classroom management plan has two, and only two, purposes:

1. To state the rules of the classroom.

2. To state exactly what will happen if those rules are broken.

That’s it.

Some will tell you that you need to include a system of rewards and incentives. But to really change behavior, to create the class you really want, you have to let go of this idea.

The “do this and get that” mentality is a short-term solution that may get you through the day, and thus is a good strategy for substitute teachers, but it won’t actually change behavior.

It won’t transform your students into the class you really want.

A Classroom Management Plan I Recommend

I recommend the following plan because the rules cover every behavior that could potentially interfere with the learning and enjoyment of your students, and the consequences, when carried out correctly, teach valuable life lessons.

It’s proven to work regardless of where you teach or who is in your classroom.


1. Listen and follow directions.

2. Raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat.

3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.

4. Respect your classmates and your teacher.


1st time a rule is broken: Warning

2nd time a rule is broken: Time-Out

3rd time a rule is broken: Letter Home


*For information on warnings and how they can be effective, see the articles Should A Warning Be Your First Consequence and How To Give A Warning That Improves Behavior.

*For information on time-out, see How To Get Students To Stay Seated And Quiet In Time-Out and 10 Ways To Make Time-Out More Effective.

*For information on sending a letter home, see the article Why A Letter Home Is An Effective Consequence.

A Small Role, But A High Priority

A common mistake teachers make is assuming that a classroom management plan is able to do more than its intended—and quite narrow—purpose (see above).

On its own, it provides little motivation for students to behave.

Its usefulness comes from how it’s implemented, enforced, and carried out, from how you communicate with your students, from how much leverage you have with them, and from how much they enjoy being part of your classroom.

Your classroom should be exciting and creative. Your classroom management plan, however, shouldn’t be.

Avoid cutesy and colorful designs. Even kindergarteners need to know that your classroom management plan and the rules by which it governs are sacred, serious.

Let it have a look worthy of its utilitarian purpose.

Two large pieces of poster board or construction paper—rules on one, consequences on the other—will do. Put them up on your wall, prominently, so everyone who enters your classroom will know that behaving in a manner that is most conducive to learning is a priority in your classroom.

Then honor the contract you made with your students by following it exactly as it’s written.

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130 Responses to A Classroom Management Plan That Works

  1. lisa June 26, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    I don’t get it. So what is the consequence, a letter home. And do you expect the parents to do something? Oh sure, they will “talk” to them, but what difference will it make?

    • Michael Linsin June 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

      Hi Lisa,

      The article on why and how a letter home is an effective final consequence is forthcoming. The kind of note I’m referring to doesn’t ask anything of parents. Why it’s effective has nothing to do with parents talking to the student. Whether they do or not doesn’t make a difference to this particular consequence and its effectiveness. If you don’t want to wait for the article, you can read about such a letter in the book Dream Class.


  2. Rachael July 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    I was wondering, where should I document the consequences? I don’t like the idea of writing names on the board, can I just keep it on a clipboard? Or does there need to be some visual cue to the student each time they get a warning? If they get a warning for breaking 1 rule and then 5 minutes into the same activity break another rule should they go to time out since it would be the 2nd consequence? Thanks so much! I’m really enjoying reading everything on your site!

    • Michael Linsin July 9, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

      Hi Rachael,

      As long as you notify the student, there doesn’t have to be public documentation. A clipboard is fine. However, a visual reminder for the student–name on the board, for example–isn’t such a bad thing and may even provide, for some students, a little extra incentive to follow rules. Also, if it’s clear what rule was broken, it’s nice to be able to put the student’s name up or turn his or her card over without saying a word.

      And yes, if a student breaks a second rule, whether five minutes later or five hours later, he or she goes to time-out.

      Glad you’re enjoying the site, Rachael!


  3. Danielle August 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I am in the process of applying for a position teaching math at a middle school. All of my experience, up until this point, has been in an elementary school setting, and I feel confident that I could successfully apply your plan in an elementary school classroom. Would you use this plan exactly as is for older students? Are there any ideas/tips you have that are specific for middle school?

    Thank you! I have learned so much from your book and your website!

    – Danielle

    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2010 at 8:27 am #

      Hi Danielle,

      Yes, I would use the same plan for middle school students. There are obvious differences in how you speak and interact with older students, and some routines are different. But handling behavior remains the same. Other than minor age-related adjustments, there is no particular strategy I recommend that is exclusive to middle school students.


  4. joli October 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    So how do you suggest that you do a time out in middle school?

    • Michael Linsin October 31, 2010 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Joli,

      The recommendations I make are for both elementary and middle school students, with some minor variations. Send me an email with your specific concerns/questions regarding time-out. I’m happy to answer them!


  5. Kirsten November 6, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    I like your plan, and it makes a lot of sense as I sit here and read it. However, I anticipate that some of my students with major behavior problems (ED and some that aren’t) will make it to letter home 10 minutes in to the day at first. Then what happens when they keep breaking rules?

  6. cindy February 18, 2011 at 5:19 am #

    I was wondering how to use the time out strategy with middle school students. Do i really put them in time out and where in the classroom would I do that? Thank you

    • Michael Linsin February 18, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      Hi Cindy,

      Yes, I would use the time-out strategy with middle school students. Just set aside a desk or two for this purpose anywhere in your room. As far away from the rest of the class is best, but anywhere that allows for a physical separation, even if only a few feet, will do.


  7. June April 6, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I’m a trainer at a medium sized call center organization. Due to restructuring, we’ve experienced a decline in morale over the past 6 months, and it is manifesting itself in our mandatory employee training classes.

    It’s unfortunate that I even have to consider this, but do you think a Classroom Management Plan is appropriate and/or adaptable for adults?

    I think I’d be able to tailor the Rules for our purposes, but I’m unsure about the Consequences. Would a warning be laughable? Of course I’d have to take into account what I’m permitted to do within my organization, but what might be effective consequences for adults at a mandatory training?


    • Michael Linsin April 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi June,

      I think it’s a good idea to set guidelines (rather than rules) regarding employee behavior during your classes. Think of the behaviors you see that waste time and interrupt learning, and create your guidelines based on those behaviors. Or, better yet, you can create them together with your employees during class. Be positive when presenting them and emphasize that having guidelines makes it easier, more efficient, and more pleasant to learn. I’d make sure that they are given plenty of opportunities to share their ideas and questions during class and to move around and work together. And there is nothing wrong with sharing a good laugh. Establishing a system of consequences in an environment with declining morale may not be a good idea. My experience with adults is that they’ll readily accept and follow guidelines that make things better for them–as long as they feel like they’re benefiting from your instruction.


  8. Roderick Woodard April 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm #


    I am in the process of ordering your book Dream Class. I am studying to be an elementary school teacher and I currently work as a paraprofessional for middle school students. I have a question about severe disruptions of the classroom environment. When students cause severe disruptions to the classroom environment or when they cause harm to other students and to the teacher, are there any additional consequences for dealing with this kind of behavior or can I read about in your book? I’m really enjoying this website because I’ve been putting the material being presented before me to good use! I especially enjoy the article about not arguing with students and I definitely agree with you on this because it doesn’t solve anything, it only makes things even more difficult. Thank you once again!

    Roderick Woodard

    • Michael Linsin April 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      Hi Roderick,

      Read the article, How To Handle An Angry, Verbally Aggressive Student. It should answer your question. However, if a student causes physical harm, then you’re obligated to document the behavior by involving an administrator. As you’ll read in Dream Class, I don’t recommend sending students to the principal unless there is dangerous behavior. In the case of a student physically assaulting a teacher or another student, then you definitely should call in the principal ASAP.


  9. Roderick Woodard April 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm #


    Thank you so much for answering my question. But I have another one for you. I’ve read your article “A Classroom Management Plan that works” and at first I was a little skepical about using both rules # 3-Respect Your Classmates and Your Teacher and #4-Keep Hands, Feet, and Objects to Yourself because I always thought that both of those rules followed under the same guidelines of respect. But then I placed both rules in a different categorization of each other and I found out that they are most definitely different. I’ve spent years trying to come up with rules that focused strictly on behavior and your website has truly helped me out a lot and has given me 4 rules that are truly going to help me when I first start my teaching career. I will put all 4 of them into good use. Before I came across this website, I was one of those paraprofessionals who yelled and screamed all the time at students, and got into shouting matches with students. But once I read about not arguing with students, and also not yelling at them, I’ve become such a better individual and at the rate I’m going, I hope to become an effective teacher as a result. Thank you so much!

    • Michael Linsin April 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

      Always glad to help, Roderick!


  10. Jessica April 26, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I am just curious about the “raise your hand before speaking rule” and how I can more consistently enforce this. I work with fifteen different classes (I am an elementary Spanish teacher), and with about twelve of my classes, this classroom rule is not an issue. However, for some of my older classes, they struggle with side-talking during certain activities. I do not really mind them talking quietly to a neighbor during an activity, but technically this would be breaking the “raise your hand before speaking” rule. I am just unsure whether I should inflict the consequence for breaking this rule in a “side-talking” situation if they are talking quietly or have a question about something. Sometimes I feel that I am too strict or unlikable if I require students to raise their hand every time they want to state something or ask a question. If you could just help me in this area, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin April 26, 2011 at 9:34 am #

      Hi Jessica,

      If you don’t mind your students talking quietly during certain times and activities, just be clear about when those times are. They need to know when it’s okay to talk and when it isn’t. You decide where the boundaries are. If your students cross those boundaries though, then enforce a consequence without giving it a thought. Oh, and as long as you don’t lecture. scold, show frustration, etc, while enforcing rules, they won’t see you as unlikeable. When you protect their right to learn and enjoy school, they’ll love you for it.


  11. Teresa July 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    I just finished your book, and I wanted to thank you. I have been teaching for 20 years, but the last few years I’ve let my classroom management slip. I desperately needed to be reminded of the 15 keys. Now I am truly excited to start a new year with my “dream class.”

    • Michael Linsin July 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      You’re welcome Teresa! Thanks for sharing. I know you’re going to have a great year!


  12. Stacey July 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I have really been enjoying your advice and ideas on classroom management. I have a pretty specific question for you. This fall I will have the pleasure of teaching the same group of students for the third year. I have known these students for four years, having met them when they were in the eighth grade. They will be juniors this fall, and you can imagine how they, and I, have changed. My dilemma is that I need a more specific procedure and classroom management plan for myself. I am a traveling teacher for the third year, and my organizational abilities are suffering. I am naturally a laid-back person and teacher.

    How do I go into the first day in August and be successful in classroom management with a group of students who know me as easy-going?

    Thanks for your thoughts on this matter.


    • Michael Linsin July 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

      Hi Stacy,

      I have a few thoughts:

      1. You can still be easygoing And stick to your CM plan, demand more out of your students, be well-organized, etc.
      2. Be honest and direct with your students. Example: “You’re older now and things are going to be different. Here’s how…” Make it as simple as that.
      3. Just do it. Decide what is best for your students and that’s the way it’s going to be.
      4. They’ll adjust quickly to the still easygoing but more effective you.

      If you have further questions on this, email me. I’m happy to help.


  13. Dana July 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I teach Kindergarten. I like everything I have read in your articles but I am wandering if it works the same for students of this age.

    • Michael Linsin July 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

      Hi Dana,

      Yes, it does!

      🙂 Michael

  14. Lisa Uccello August 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I was wondering how you handle students who have recieved a letter for the third consequence and continue misbehavior/disruptions if the letter is received early in the day. Thanks for all your tips, they are awesome!!


    • Michael Linsin August 3, 2011 at 7:05 am #

      Hi Lisa,

      A student who continues to misbehave after three consequences is showing a high level of disrespect to you and his or her classmates and therefore will stay in time-out the rest of the day. You may also want to read the article series How To Turn Around Difficult Students.


  15. Patricia August 26, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I just finished reading your book. I absolutely loved it!! I have taught first grade for the past two years, and I am moving to Kindergarten for this upcoming year. I was wondering how long would you recommend a student stay in time-out for?

    • Michael Linsin August 27, 2011 at 8:03 am #

      Hi Patricia,

      I recommend 15 minutes.


  16. Tania September 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    When you say time out, what exactly do you mean? You send a child to a corner or special seat or out of the classroom? I don’t think that is allowed in my Private school. Over here, anything could be a”psychological damage” to child! So that leaves me little options.

    • Michael Linsin September 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Tania,

      Read through the Time-Out category of the archive. The articles you find there should answer all of your questions.


  17. David December 18, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Mike, I just discovered your site a week ago and I have to say it’s given me hope. I teach French as a Second Language and the behaviours we face are significantly more challenging than those in the regular classroom. However, I think the strategies you advocate will work in any situation. I have a question about consequences. In some schools, when a student gets to a fourth or fifth step on the plan, he or she is sent to the office. In other schools, the student is sent to a “buddy classroom” to work independently. Older students are sent to younger grades and vice versa. The advantage is that the disruptive student is removed and other students can get on with their learning. What do you think of time-out in another classroom?

    • Michael Linsin December 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi David,

      In general I think it’s best for students to remain in the classroom for time-out–particularly for regular ed., self-contained classrooms. However, for your situation, where you’re not with the same students all day, a time-out in another classroom–after first having the opportunity to take care of the behavior with an in-class time-out–I think it’s a good idea.


  18. N March 4, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I teach ballet and between the exercises the kids age 10-12 start being silly talking running and being silly and I understand now its late to pull them back in but I have too help,,,, !!!!!

  19. Jillian March 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I am planning to “start over” with my classroom management plan tomorrow. I teach 7th grade and have been way too lax on management and come home frustrated quite often. I am excited about starting over, but I have one main concern. Instead of calling it “time out” I will be calling the consequence “separation from peers.” However, there are some students that have refused to move seats when I ask them. They say “no” I won’t move and then glare at me. What should I do then?
    Thanks so much,

    • Michael Linsin March 5, 2012 at 7:44 am #

      Hi Jillian,

      You go on to the next consequence–a letter home.


  20. Sam April 23, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    hi there, I know this is an old article…. next year I will be teaching for my first year…. 3rd grade.
    I am trying to work out a discipline plan for the class. I like the simple plan that you have here, but I have just one question.
    What do you mean by time out? I can only think of a timeout where the student sits out of recess etc…. but what does a timeout look like within a classroom?
    (this may be a stupid question)

    • Michael Linsin April 23, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Sam,

      Time-out is a place, a desk set aside in your classroom to use as a consequence. I recommend reading the articles in the Time-Out, Rules & Consequences, and Classroom Management categories of the archive.