How To Handle Whole-Class Misbehavior

It’s a question I get a lot.

What do you do when most of your class is misbehaving?

Say you notice twelve, fifteen, or more students talking and goofing around during a lesson or in the middle of a transition.

How should you handle it?

Should you start furiously writing names on the board or turning behavior cards over? “You have a warning! And you have a warning! And you have a warning! And…”

Should you raise your voice and remind them of what they should be doing? “I said to get out your writing journals quietly! That means no talking.”

The truth is, when more than a few students are misbehaving at the same time, warnings and reminders aren’t going to cut it.

To fix the problem, you have to go back to the beginning.

Here’s how.

Step 1: Observe.

Resist the urge to jump in and stop the misbehavior right away. Instead, take a step back and observe. Give yourself 30 seconds or more to upload into your memory the unwanted behavior taking place.

Step 2: Stop the activity.

Stop the activity by signaling for your students’ attention. If they don’t give it to you right away, then you know this is something else you have to work on. It’s important to your effectiveness as a teacher to be able to get your students’ attention any time you need it.

Step 3: Wait.

Stand in one place and wait another 30 seconds. Let their misbehavior hang in the air and settle before speaking. Let them feel the weight of it. Give your students an opportunity to understand what they did wrong all on their own.

Step 4: Send them back.

After your pause, send your students back to their seats or ask them to clear their desks and put their materials away. Refrain from lecturing or expressing disappointment. It may make you feel better, but it doesn’t help. The focus now is on doing things the right way.

Step 5: Replay.

Model for your students the misbehavior you observed, showing how it wasted time and disrupted learning. Modeling how not to behave is a powerful strategy that allows students to view—and really understand—their actions from a different perspective.

Step 6: Reteach

Now model how the activity or transition should be done. If it was a transition, sit at a student’s desk and go through the steps you expect your students to take whenever they transition from one activity to another.

If it was during independent work, literature circles, centers, or whatever, model what you expect during that particular activity.

Step 7: Practice.

Use the power of one strategy to begin practicing the activity with your class. After a few students do it correctly, then get everyone involved. As soon as you’re happy with how they’re performing, move on with your day.

Step 8: Prove it.

Within a day or two, give your students another opportunity to prove they can perform the same, or similar, activity the correct way. When the activity is over, don’t make a big fuss, but be sure and acknowledge the good work. “Now that’s how to do it!”

Step 9: Standardize.

As much as possible, standardize each activity and transition for your students. In other words, they should know the routine for successfully conducting a pair-share activity or for turning in homework or entering the classroom or anything else you do again and again.

Everything that can have a routine, should have a routine.

Back It Up With Action

In nearly all cases of whole-class misbehavior, the students simply don’t know well enough or exact enough what is expected of them.

This underscores the importance of well-taught routines and procedures. And, although you never—or rarely—have to revisit them again during the year, they do need to be backed up with action.

One of the keys of effective classroom management is to never move on unless your students are giving you what you want. So the moment you notice your class going off the rails, stop them in their tracks.

Return them to the beginning.

And have them do it again.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

, , ,

67 Responses to How To Handle Whole-Class Misbehavior

  1. Rose October 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I’d be interested to hear your tips for approaching this as a sub. I often have classes where the pupils do not seem to have routines in place from their regular teacher. I think the idea of getting them to put their things away and then watch you model is good.

    However I have had some classes in which you would not have been able to achieve that without some kids throwing the objects they’re meant to be putting away and others making farting noises, swearing, hitting each other, going under the tables etc.

    When you have 10 kids doing that it’s pretty difficult to handle as a sub. You can’t send out 10 children and often no one such as a principal is available to remove extremely disruptive children or help you. (The vast majority of classes I have are nothing like this, but I have had a couple that were, in which my regular classroom management isn’t enough.)

    • Michael Linsin October 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      Hi Rose,

      Although this website can be helpful to substitute teachers, it is primarily a site for full-time classroom teachers. I would like to write an article about substitute teaching, and I do have specific ideas, but only as a guest on another website. If I do, I’ll be sure to link to it.


  2. Bill Alexander October 16, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Hi Michael,

    A useful post full of your customary common sense.
    No one wants to lose the focus of the lesson by spending more time on dealing with poor behaviour than on the teaching and learning, but neither can we as teachers allow lessons to be hijacked. There are some battles we simply have to win by shutting things down and starting over.
    Your post reminds us of the value of consistent routines that are persistently reinforced.

    Thank you,


    • Michael Linsin October 16, 2011 at 9:49 am #

      Thanks Bill!

  3. Deborah October 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    I just found your blog and love it! I am an elementary school librarian and see every class in the school (550 students) one time per week for 45 minutes. I am struggling with whole class behavior. I do many of the things you suggest, but I have trouble with consequences. I am not permitted to have consequences outside of my 45 minute period. Any ideas?

    • Michael Linsin October 27, 2011 at 7:01 am #

      Hi Deborah,

      I’m working on an article for teachers like yourself who only see their students only once a week. It will be published on another website in a few weeks. I’ll let readers know and will link to the article when it gets posted.


  4. Nancy Smith November 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Hey Michael,

    I am the teacher who is taking 9th grade English classes from a state ‘Teacher of the Year.’ What a joke. They are completely out of control. She even bolted out of the classroom yesterday because they were so out of control, leaving me, an observer, wondering how I’m going to do anything with this class that I have the rest of the year. Imagine your worst class. This is it. I took over today, did exactly what I am supposed to do after reading your articles over and over. I spent the class period explaining my class management plan and I did modeling (very funny and detailed and exaggerated) for
    ‘how to sit in your chair during class.’ It was exhausting however. All I need right now is an encouraging word to keep doing what works. Rules and consequences. Tell me that eventually, if I keep doing exactly what you’ve advised, that I’ll have my dream class. I’m an very likable teacher who has been ‘my favorite teacher’ for hundreds of students. I’m hoping that despite my new methods, I’ll still be likable, but with a dream class. I am just exhausted by my first day’s efforts – and if you had been in my classroom, you would probably have approved of everything I did. But this completely out of control class is a challenge I’ve never faced before. I need a word.

    Nancy S.

    • Michael Linsin December 1, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Hi Nancy,

      Yes, yes, yes. You can do this! You’re on the right track. It’s normal for you to be exhausted the first few days of taking over a class midyear. However, it should only be because of the excitement and nervousness of wanting to do well. Remember, effective classroom management shouldn’t feel hard. If you’re stressed you’re going to bring tension into the classroom. Take your time, proceed slowly, and be exceedingly clear. It’s okay to have fun with your new group but don’t overdo it. It sounds like that part of it comes naturally to you, so don’t concern yourself too much about it in the beginning. They’re just getting to know you. Be calm, smile, pause a lot, wait a lot, keep it simple. Don’t move on until they’re giving you what you want. The classroom management principles and strategies on this website will work for you. No doubt about it. I promise! 🙂


  5. Nancy Smith December 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Okay. Thank you very, very much. I guess the exhaustion comes from not being sure it will work with such an out of control class, but I know that if I’m consistent and clear and relax, it will. I read the articles like they are my raft in the middle of a storm. I have a steel resolve but a fun way of doing things, so I think I have the right combination. I’ve never had an adversarial relationship with a student because I know it’s counterproductive to what I want to do in the classroom, but my class management hasn’t been tight enough in the past. Thank you. I’m going to keep reading the articles every day like they are my only hope. I guess that after nine years in the classroom, I know how right you are. Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin December 2, 2011 at 7:41 am #

      You’re going to do great, Nancy!

  6. Nancy Smith December 3, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for all your help. I am formulating a plan, but on my second time in my new class that I’m taking over from the teacher who had no structure and no rules, all heck broke loose. About half the class was unruly, but three had a complete mutinous meltdown just because they didn’t think they’d be held accountable, since I had not had enough time to get to the consequences of rule breaking, and because I didn’t ever rise to the disrespect and obvious attempts to rattle me. So, when the class left I contacted the principal and the parents and later in the day conferenced with the outgoing teacher and the students who were embarrased and ready to be given another chance. Any suggestions for Monday, when the rest of the class WILL see me skip ahead to parent contact as a consequence of a whole class mutiny. I was ready to quit after ten years of teaching. I’ve never had such an open and hostile display of behavior.


    • Michael Linsin December 3, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      Hi Nancy,

      Can you please email me? I want to be sure I understand both your situation and the specifics of your question.


  7. Nancy Smith December 3, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Hey Michael,

    I sent an email.


  8. Erica June 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi – I am excited to start this fall thinking of your writings. I feel like for the first time, your teachings will have a real and beneficial long term effect on my ability to be a better classroom manger.Thank you!

    In terms of my questions – I would say I have a wonderful group of students (all 550 of them, as I am a specialist). I think my biggest problem, is keeping noise level at a reasonable level during work/studio time. Do you believe the same advice (as above) applies to noise levels? Or do you think there is a different strategy that needs to be applied since it is a very subjective request? Thanks in advance for your reply!

    • Michael Linsin June 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Hi Erica,

      Managing noise levels during independent/group work is a topic on my future articles list. I hope to get to it soon. In the meantime, yes, I think the above strategy will help. Also, be clear with your students regarding the noise/talk level you expect, then model and practice thoroughly.


  9. Shirlene Baker August 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    I would like to receive classroom management tips but I can’t get the link to work.

    • Michael Linsin August 19, 2012 at 6:50 am #

      Hi Shirlene,

      The link works on our end. The issue is probably a firewall or a security feature, not uncommon for school district email or internet use. Try using a personal rather than a work email and that should solve the problem.


  10. Amy October 16, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    Dear Michael,
    I’ve been reading your site for a while now and I’ve found it very useful. I am a teaching assistant who sees each class in a school once a week. Although there is another teacher in the classroom for most lessons, as I am a language teacher I am expected to take a leading role in the classroom, which includes classroom management. I have the problem that my students are used to being talked over by teachers, many of whom use a microphone, and that some of my co-teachers will even talk over them in my lessons. This causes problems because I am not prepared to do the same but the students feel they are being unjustly punished if I try to – for example – ask them to be quiet for a minute. They don’t even seem to understand that talking over others is wrong. Do you have any advice?


    • Michael Linsin October 16, 2012 at 6:38 am #

      Hi Amy,

      That’s just it. You have to show them it’s wrong to talk over others. You have to teach, model, and practice what you expect when you’re doing the teaching. Your students have to recognize that when your teaching, the expectations are different. Yes, this is more difficult with another teacher in the room and with students who have developed bad habits. But you can do it. And your students will adjust. Also, when they know why you’re doing what your doing, it won’t feel like a punishment.


  11. Amy November 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your reply. It was helpful.

    I wondered if you could pass on the link to the article for teachers who only see their classes once a week. I feel as though as my lessons are short and weekly, for one class they have become all about behaviour as much as anything else!


    • Michael Linsin November 15, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Hi Amy,

      If I understand what you’re asking, I wrote an article for art, music, and PE teachers on The Art Of Education website. You can find the article in the classroom management section. Here’s the link: The Art Of Ed.

  12. Tracey December 1, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I truly empathize with Nancy. I too have one of those “out of control” classes. I currently teach 3 sections of biology and 2 sections of anatomy. For months I’ve been researching strategies to help me gain control of one ninth grade biology class. It’s always the same advice; practice routines and procedures. As I go down the lists, I check off all the things that I’m doing and find that I’ve done them all. When I started teaching eight years ago I became a Harry Wong fanatic, taking cues and advice from his books. For the most part, they have served me well. Thank you Dr. Wong. But over the years I always seem to have at least one class where his advice just doesn’t help at all. My problem class this year is full of students with IEP’s and documented behavioral issues. Many of them have not been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD but exhibit most of the signs. Over the last few months it has become evident that the students in this class know what is expected of them but just fail to follow through. I go over routines and procedures on a daily basis and model desired behavior.They even tell me the correct procedures and routines! I use the “count 5 method” to get attention when the class is moving in the wrong direction — they understand because they count with me, move to their seats, and get quiet but not even one minute later they’re talking over me, begin random roaming around the room, throwing things, harassing other students, breaking classroom supplies on purpose, etc. I am contacting parents on a routine basis and have pulled in the ninth grade administrator. One day while we were discussing the class she finally admitted to me that I was given all the lowest performing and most behaviorally challenged ninth grade students in one classroom (hum, really?). I know 24 isn’t a large number as far as class sizes go but in this particular case it’s a nightmare. I’ve tried everything I can think of and nothing is working. Threats of going to see the administrator work for a little while but wear off soon after they’ve forgotten about it. Our high school is on an AB schedule with most students alternating days of classes but this particular class I see for 1.5 hours a day every day of the week (in hopes of improving their test scores and giving them two credits of science to keep them out of the other upper level science classes later on in their academic careers). I have them 3rd block, right after lunch when they are all hyped up. It’s enough to drive one mad. I’m at the point of considering going to the doctor for medication. I’ve never felt this way before. And to make matters worse, our state is considering the notion of paying teachers based on standardized test scores. I am so overwhelmed. I became a teacher because I wanted to and I stay a teacher because I love what I do. I spend hours of free time thinking of strategies and lessons and improving the ones I have. I absolutely love it! And my students, I simply adore them. It’s classes like these though that drive me to the edge of insanity and make me question my career choice. I don’t know where to turn or what to do next. 🙁

  13. KB December 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Sorry, but I work as a substitute teacher, and I have NO IDEA how to get control of some of the classes whose teachers I sit in for. I can’t really call the class to order, because they tend to ignore my signals, and I can’t make lessons more interesting, because I’m not extremely familiar with the regular teacher’s lesson plan, and, sometimes, I don’t know the subject matter being taught. The misbehavior I encounter as a sub, though, is discouraging. I don’t want it any more than the regular teachers do, yet my plea for training, real lesson plans, and authentic activities is mostly ignored. I know I didn’t go to college just to wind up as a glorified babysitter. Some of the experiences I’ve had make teaching look like one of the worst jobs a person could have, but I know it could be different. I just wish I knew what I was missing. I’m willing to do the work required, but I’m given very limited options when students misbehave; it really consists of calling administration and letting them deal with it, and it sounds pretty silly when I say, “well, Johnny was out of his seat. I want him taken out of the classroom.” Of course, though, about half of the class would be considered guilty of willful disobedience if I had a regular classroom teacher’s position, because I have a rule about getting up without permission. Instead, though, I routinely face situations where I feel more like I’m a referee than an educator. It really feels like the students and I are considered equals, and it’s the word of one against the others. I wish I had a solution to this.

    • Michael Linsin December 2, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Hi KB,

      I hope to one day write extensively about substitute teaching, because it really is a different animal. You don’t have the time to build rapport and leverage like a regular education teacher, making things much more difficult. You’re also at the mercy of the regular teacher and how effective they are. Although I don’t recommend “do this and get that” incentives or rewards for regular education teachers, I do for subs. The best subs I know have a short outside or learning game in their back pockets that they know students will love. They talk it up first thing in the morning (or period) and save it until the end. This is where you can get your leverage–especially after you cement a reputation with the students at a particular school. Only students who follow the rules of the day (given by you) are allowed to play. Done right, and with experience, this type of incentive can be very effective.


  14. Emily DelGiorno February 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Dear Michael,

    I’ve been reading through your articles, and they’ve all been very informative. I would appreciate, however, some insight into my classroom. I’m starting mid-year for four students who were pulled from their original classroom into my self-contained first grade classroom. When I try modeling behavior, it seems like it doesn’t even faze them. I feel pressure to push forward with the curriculum and they’re continually being pulled for their additional services that I don’t have the time to model much because they have limited stamina to do anything on their own. They function around a Pre-Kindergarten level with a lot of getting into each other’s business and whining. How can I break these bad habit and get these students to function independently?

    • Michael Linsin February 14, 2013 at 8:04 am #

      Hi Emily,

      This isn’t an uncommon scenario, but it’s one I haven’t written about yet. Hold tight. It’s on the list of future topics.


  15. Jessie May 6, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    I so appreciate your common sense and realistic advice. The but? It’s May, and I feel like a failure. I don’t know how to stop the constant talking, singing, rapping, pinching, giggling, seat-dancing, etc. I had 13 assigned lunch detention today and 4 write ups. Obviously I’m a big joke. I’ve lost confidence that I can do any better. I guess I just need to keep trying, keep reading, keep praying, keep calling parents. I’m beginning to doubt that starting over in August will be a new beginning. However, I am convinced now that behavior just deteriorates — and I need to be super strict at the beginning. You know how you say to be quiet, let them feel the weight of the silence? They don’t give a d*%$#. They aren’t bothered by it. Fortunately, I’ve just read some posts by D.C. inner city teachers, and my kids are only mild shadows of their students — but still wildly out of the norm range for “other” classrooms. I guess the “other” is dwindling and the inner city behavior is the norm. Oh, and did I mention it’s now 6:40 and I’m nowhere near finished preparing for tomorrow? Yes, I got your article on don’t stay after school. As a “basically” first-year teacher, staying after school isn’t to prove I’m better than anybody else, it’s to survive. I KNOW I’m not better than anybody else. Thank you so much for your site. You give me hope. Well, the Lord gives me hope, but you do a pretty good job, too.

    • Michael Linsin May 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Hi Jessie,

      Hang in there. The longer I teach the more I’m convinced that anyone can do this, that there is a set of skills that when applied will allow you to effectively manage any classroom. With the struggles you’re having, however, there is a lot to learn. Email me your address and I’ll send you a copy of my new book. I think it will set you on the right track.


  16. Ebo September 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm #


    I feel like I have no control in my classroom I work in a transfer high school and most of the kids are unruly. They swear, talk back and never do their work. I’m new to teaching and feel like all the things I learned in graduate school is not working. I’ve read your articles and did all the things you said not to do. So how now do I reverse it? Is it too late. It’s just the beginning of the school year and I feel like I will never get control of my classroom or be taken seriously.

    • Michael Linsin September 17, 2013 at 6:23 am #

      Hi Ebo,

      You must have a classroom management plan. Read through that category of the archive, along with the Procedures & Routines, and then go from there. This should give you the base you need to regain control.


  17. Mike October 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    I wish you would have answered Tracy’s comment above because that sounds like my 6th period class. They know what is expected, but they simply do not care.

    • Michael Linsin October 5, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      Hi Mike,

      Questions that boil down to how one manages an unruly classroom are addressed in the 230+ articles on the website. It is precisely what we are about and why we exist. If you have specific questions, please email me. I’m happy to help!


  18. Nikki December 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Hi, I just landed a new teaching job in 3rd grade. Yes, in December. This class had a teacher for about 6 weeks, then he left and they had a sub for a few, then they got another teacher, but he left after a few weeks, then another sub, then they got me. This is only my second week with them, but I am already extremely frustrated with them. They are constantly talking when they shouldn’t, they don’t come in and sit down and do their work that is listed for them to do on the board, etc. They have “think about it” sheets they much fill out each time they change their color (the school’s system) and a lot of them have had to do these. I have already called several parents during school and talked to them and had them talk with the kids. I have taken time away from recess or cancelled it completely, and am now taking time away from their holiday party they are supposed to have later this week. They don’t seem to respond to anything. How would you handle this situation?

    • Michael Linsin December 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi Nikki,

      I’d start over. Here is an article that explains how: Losing Control . . .. Effective classroom management is knowledge based. In other words, it’s something you can learn to do well IF you have the right strategies. I recommend spending time in the archive. Start in the Classroom Management Plan category and go from there.


  19. Z June 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm #


    What do you do if you notice misbehavior coming from one side of the room and you know it’s one of two or three students who are responsible, but you don’t know which? I’m returning to the classroom this year, and that’s the major “game” that students would run on me before: “Not me, it was him! No it wasn’t: It was him! I just asked him to stop.” Etc., etc. It feels impossible to give out a fair (logical, of course) consequence, and the students are counting on that. If you go ahead and give a consequence to EVERYONE in the area, then the cry is “Foul! You are UNFAIR!” If you do nothing and try to wait and pinpoint better (if it occurs again), that’s what they were counting on! Victory, they feel. They have gotten over on you, dumb teacher! (Sigh.) It’s been part of their testing phase for me, and I’ve really struggled there. I’ve tried announcing during the first week, “If I can’t tell, too bad. The whole area just has to suffer if the perp won’t be honest.” That hasn’t worked too well: They just gang up to make it work in their favor. It’s only a handful (the majority of the class loves focusing on learning), but it’s enough!

    Thank you in advance for your help, and thank you for your website and books. I purchased Dream Class and will read it before starting the school year. Take care!

    • Michael Linsin June 7, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      Hi Z,

      It’s an excellent question, and I know I’ve addressed it to some degree in the past (can’t recall the article(s)). But I’ll be sure to cover it more specifically in a future article. There are more than a few strategies at work, so we don’t have the time and space to unpack it here. If you don’t mind, can you send me an email or comment below and let me know what grade level you teach?


  20. Lauren September 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    I have read both your books and many of your articles and it has saved me a lot in my classroom,but I have so many quick questions for you! Is there a way I can email you for help, I would really appreciate it more than anything!


    • Michael Linsin September 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Hi Lauren,

      I sure wish I had the time. Answering questions from readers is something I enjoy. We’re currently considering offering personal coaching, but because I’m still teaching full time it’s not yet in the works.