How Best To Inform Students Of A Consequence

How you give a consequence matters.

How you speak to your students, what you say to them, and how you react emotionally and with your body language after they break a classroom rule goes a long way toward curbing misbehavior.

Whether you’re giving a warning, a time-out, or a letter to take home, the key is to inform them in a way that takes the focus off you—the mere deliverer of the news—and places the responsibility solely with them.

Your students must feel the burden of behaving poorly.

Because if they don’t, if they don’t feel a sense of regret and a greater desire to follow your classroom rules, then your consequences will be ineffective.

What follows are a few guidelines to help you inform your students of a consequence in a way that tugs on their conscience, causes them to reflect on their mistakes, and lets accountability do its good work.

Tell them why.

When a student breaks a classroom rule, tell him (or her) clearly and concisely why he’s been given a consequence. Say, “Danny, you have a warning because you broke rule number two and didn’t raise your hand before speaking.” Telling them why leaves no room for debate, disagreement, misunderstanding, or anyone to blame but themselves.

Keep your thoughts, opinions, and comments to yourself.

Let your agreed-upon consequence be the only consequence. Refrain from adding a talking-to, a scolding, or your two-cents worth. By causing resentment, these methods sabotage accountability. So instead of taking a reflective look at themselves and their misbehavior, your students will grumble under their breath and seethe in anger toward you.

Do not escort to time-out.

If the consequence calls for time-out, don’t escort them there. Getting up and walking to time-out is an important part of the accountability process. It acts as a statement, or an acknowledgement of sorts, that they indeed broke a classroom rule and are ready to take responsibility for it. Also, escorting them can make them less motivated to go.

Behave matter-of-factly.

A matter-of-fact tone and body language enables you to hold students accountable without causing friction. Most teachers make a fuss out of misbehavior—reacting angrily, showing disappointment, sighing, rolling eyes. But this can be humiliating for students in front of their classmates, causing them to dislike you and undermining the critical rapport-building relationship.

Be more like a referee, less like judge.

A referee’s job is to enforce rules, not mediate disagreements—which makes being fair, consistent, and composed a lot easier. Thinking like a referee, rather than a judge, also helps students see that your consequences aren’t personal, but something you must do to protect their right to learn and enjoy school without interference.

Safeguard your influence.

An influential relationship with students gives you the leverage you need to change behavior. And so anything you do that threatens that relationship—yelling, scolding, lecturing, using sarcasm, etc—should be avoided. Simply tell your students like it is, follow your classroom management plan, and let accountability do the rest.

Move on.

As soon as you’ve informed the misbehaving student what rule was broken and the consequence, turn your attention back to what you were doing without skipping a beat. The burden of responsibility then shifts in total from you, the deliverer of the consequence, to the student. The interaction should take no longer than 10-15 seconds.

Note: Your students must know exactly what their responsibilities are upon receiving a consequence. Thus, it’s critical to teach, model, and practice your classroom management plan thoroughly before putting it into practice.

Your Students Decide, Not You

Small, seemingly insignificant details—often glossed over, ignored, or deemed too nit-picky to care about—can make a big difference.

How you inform your students of a consequence is a small part of classroom management, to be sure, a bit player in the theater of your classroom.

But it’s an important part, requiring Oscar-level performance.

Despite how much an act of misbehavior may get under your skin, or how much you’d like to express your frustrations, you have to stay in character.

Because if after receiving a consequence your students blame you, or become angry with you, then the consequence will be ineffective. They must see that they alone bear the responsibility for their misbehavior.

After all, you don’t decide when or if to enforce a consequence.

Your students do.

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14 Responses to How Best To Inform Students Of A Consequence

  1. Mark Minton March 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Good Article! I started a substitute teacher’s club recently and have asked all to subscribe to your newsletter. Please let us know how to continually improve our services.


    • Michael Linsin March 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

      Hi Mark,

      A substitute teachers good is a great idea. I wish you all the best of luck!


  2. Kenny Robinson March 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi Michael. I am a huge fan of your work. I love your book. Quick question. What happens if the student doesn’t move to the “time-out” area when prompted, or do whatever the consequence requires? Thanks again for helping to make my job as a teacher easy. Now if I only can learn to cook popcorn without burning it during Friday Funday. 🙂

    • Michael Linsin March 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

      Hi Kenny,

      This is a common question that I hope to tackle in an article in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!


  3. Louise March 18, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    Thanks for this great article. This is the time of year when student behavior and teacher patience starts breaking down. I am guilty of heavy sighs and eye rolls – thanks for reminding me to stick to the plan and not take it personally!

    • Michael Linsin March 18, 2012 at 11:41 am #

      You’re welcome, Louise!

  4. Dominique Cosper March 22, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Dear Mr. Linsin,

    My question ties in to another comment posted. What do you suggest for students who argue with you, even going on and on about it even if you do not respond or argue with them about it. I have several students who will constantly say “I wasn’t doing..insert problem behavior here…!” And then continue to argue loudly by themselves about it even if getting no response and I try to continue class. I have noticed an increasing number of students doing this in many different classrooms, and it honestly puts me at a loss.

    I love your articles and book and recommend you to everyone I talk to about teaching! Please keep these wonderful insights coming!

  5. Chuck March 19, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    Hey Mike,

    I love your blog btw, and I frequently visit it. It’s really changed the way I remain consistent. With some of my classes it’s gone over well, and with one or two of them, I think they’re still in the stage where they think it’s unfair that I’m enforcing my rules.

    Anyway, what do you do if you give a consequence to a student, and they immediately talk-back? Like shrugging and saying “I don’t care!” or “Oh my goood!” or “Seriously?” in the middle of class. I don’t know whether to issue another consequence, because it seems like two consequences in quick succession like that doesn’t seem fair because the child is heated up. I also don’t really know what rule it would be breaking, either calling out in class during instruction, or being disrespectful to the teacher?

    Should I immediately follow a consequence with another one or should I allow some wait time for them to cool down?

    • Michael Linsin March 19, 2013 at 7:10 am #

      Hi Chuck,

      Good question! Probably worth its own article topic. The short answer is to ignore it. Don’t react in any way. By the time it’s said, you’ve moved on.


  6. Victoria September 3, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    I was wondering what you do if a different rule is broke. Would you start with a warning for breaking a specific rule and then give another warning if a different rule is broken? Also, what if there first warning happens during reading in the morning and their next infraction happens in the afternoon during math? Does it start over or are the three consequences cut and dry? These are the problems in running into.

    • Michael Linsin September 4, 2015 at 6:44 am #

      Hi Victoria,

      You follow the progression of consequences regardless of which rules were broken and regardless of the time of day. Every student starts fresh the next day.


  7. Melissa December 2, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    I like the part about set saying in character and not expressing your frustration, I guess it comes down to having a meaningful and clear agreement, in the form of the rules. It seems like this applies to all relationships.