How To Give A Warning That Curbs Misbehavior

Smart Classroom Management: How To Give A Warning That Curbs MisbehaviorA warning is a courtesy you provide your students.

It’s a declaration of free grace you offer by letting them know that you are aware a rule has been broken.

But that no real consequence is forthcoming.

It’s a consequence only in the sense that they are one step away from being sent to time-out and removed from participating in the classroom they enjoy being part of.

Beyond your acknowledgement, nothing else happens.

If they proceed through the rest of the day without breaking another rule, then the warning is forgotten—wiped away the moment the dismissal bell rings.

Done correctly, your students will see it this way too. They’ll be grateful to receive a simple warning and be eager to tread carefully the rest of the day. In this way, the warning will do its intended job and curb future misbehavior.

The mistake teachers make when giving warnings is that it doesn’t look or feel anything like this.

Their warning is more of a threat than a courtesy. It’s the heavy hand of the law meted out with a glare and an air of intimidation. It’s given in the false belief that fear must be part of the equation or it won’t work.

But the opposite is true.

An authoritarian approach inspires resentment and a desire to misbehave behind your back. It’s a clash of opposing forces. It’s antagonistic, distrustful, and ineffective.

What follows are three simple guidelines that will ensure your warning acts as a powerful incentive to behave, while at the same time safeguarding a positive, respectful, and influential relationship with your students.

Be calm.

When you first notice a rule being broken, approach the offending student as soon as you’re able to deliver your warning. Stand in front of him or her from a noticeable distance and speak in a calm voice. Refrain from betraying any anger or disappointment.

Remember, you’re providing a service. What they do with the information is up to them. This is key to getting your students to take responsibility for their misbehavior. Don’t wait for a response. After giving your warning, turn and be on your way.

Be clear.

It’s important that your students understand what rule was broken. Sometimes you’ll need to be specific: “You have a warning because you broke rule number one and ran instead of walked to your seat.” Other times, however, the infraction will be so obvious that “You have a warning” will suffice.

Although calm, your delivery should have an official quality to it, so your students clearly understand that they have received the first consequence of your classroom management plan. It isn’t a warning from you per se, but rather an indicator that they are one step away from time-out.

Be consistent.

Being consistent in the way you give a warning makes a monumental difference in how the warning is received. When delivered calmly and clearly, responsibility will land squarely upon the offender’s shoulders, because you’ve left no room for resentment, animosity, or anyone to blame but themselves.

Equally important is your consistency in enforcing a consequence every time a rule is broken. This message of fairness cuts way down on arguing, lying, and angry outbursts. Further, a warning loses its punch and effectiveness if it isn’t backed by time-out and a letter home.

A Statement Of Grace

A warning from you is like a red light that pops up on the dashboard of your car.

It’s a courtesy that lets you know that there could be a problem if you don’t take action. It’s a consequence in name only. In reality, it’s a glowing light on a dashboard, nothing more.

Done right, a warning is a statement of grace that acknowledges that we all make mistakes. It’s a second-chance opportunity for your students to learn from their missteps and choose of their own accord to turn toward the behavior that is required for success in school.

Therefore, it must be defined as such for your students.

When you’re first teaching your classroom management plan—or reteaching it as you come back from winter break—be sure your students understand that receiving a warning does not mean they are in trouble.

This is a critical linchpin of understanding that helps make the rest of your classroom management plan work. It opens the eyes of your students and allows them to see that your rules and consequences aren’t negative. They aren’t meant to ruin their fun or rain on their parade.

Rather, they are the very thing that protects their freedom to learn and laugh and enjoy the rewards of being a valued member of your classroom.

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22 Responses to How To Give A Warning That Curbs Misbehavior

  1. Emily January 5, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    I used the term reminder for a first offense; it was just a conference with the student telling him/her that a rule had been broken and that better behavior was expected. The warning was for a repeated rule-breaking; in the warning I would always state that I would call home if the problem was not resolved. That would solve many problems. I rarely had to proceed to step three (the call home) and step four (administration referral) unless there was any kind of verbal or physical abuse in the classroom–three times in my 37 year high school teaching career.

  2. Chuck January 5, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Thanks for this post Michael. I’ve been having issues lately, and one of the problems could be the way I’m giving warnings. As much as I can I do my best to walk over to the student and give him a private warning with an explanation for why he is getting a warning, but I added a procedure in my class because sometimes I don’t want to stop teaching long enough or draw that much attention to a student if I have to stop in the middle of a discussion.

    For instance, if I’m giving a lesson and someone interrupts. I will stop the lesson, look calmly at them, and simply give them a count of one using my index finger. I meant it to be a silent quick way to give someone a warning, but without the voice (and the tone of understanding) or the explanation, students came to resent being given a count, sometimes mocking it soon afterwards.

    Ideally I will just pause, look at the student, and then once my lesson is done, come around and inform the students who have gotten a warning, but when I look and don’t immediately do something about it, I’m afraid other students would take that as lack of accountability, and if I don’t remember to come around and give them their warnings, then it is a lack of accountability. Also by the time the lesson is finished the student has forgotten what they’ve done, and as soon as the warning is awarded they’ll start up with “WHAT? I didn’t SAY anything!” And if I turn and leave at that point, they might turn to their friends and complain about the unfairness of it all to sympathetic ears (regardless of the fact that I specifically witnessed and heard him talking as did everyone at his table).

    I think the way I’m giving the warning is part of it, but I think though my consistency has improved by leaps and bounds from last year, there are probably a few things here and there that I’m missing which might be the other more important part of the equation.

    • Michael Linsin January 6, 2014 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Chuck,

      I think it’s okay for you to give a quick verbal warning while you’re teaching. If a student needs more explanation later, then talk to him/her then.


  3. Greg January 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I am a relatively experienced Australian teacher. Unfortunately I have always struggled to implement effective behaviour management (following through and maintaining consistency). I have a great relationship with my students and I have always been very well liked. I know that if I had the classroom control you discuss so brilliantly in your articles I could be a truly great teacher. I thank you for creating such a straight forward and valuable resource.
    I am taking a year 6 class this year and am really looking forward to consistently following all of your suggestions. I just wanted to get your opinion on softening the consequences slightly.
    Do you think the plan would still be effective with the following steps?
    1. Reminder (very subtle verbal or non-verbal)
    2. Warning
    3. Time out
    4. Letter home
    Thanks again for your insightful articles. I find them truly inspiring.

    • Michael Linsin January 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi Greg,

      Yes, I think it would be effective. I also think it’s a good idea to have an extra step like yours if you’re using a classroom management plan earnestly for the first time. You may find, however, that in time you won’t need it anymore.


  4. June March 4, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Hello Michael,

    Up until now I have used a pocket chart with students’ names and different colored paper markers corresponding to the different stages of consequences to keep track of my 29 Kindergarten and 1st Grade students’ behavior. Is it productive to have a visual reminder that the students all can see to see who has misbehaved and to what level? Can you suggest a more effective way for a teacher to keep track of behavior?
    Thanks! 🙂

    • Michael Linsin March 5, 2014 at 7:30 am #

      Hi June,

      I’ll write more about this in a future article, but how you keep track (as it relates to behavior) is for the most part unimportant. The way you’re doing it now is perfectly fine.


  5. Jen April 9, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Your posts on cm are amazingly simple and refreshing, especially after all the complicated systems I’ve seen online recently. I am a new teacher, taking over a half time subbing position with only 2 months to go in the school year (I will have the class 2-3 days a week, other teacher has them the opposite days, so I don’t see her really, other than 2 training days). Do you think it is realistic to implement a new cm plan at this point, that I can use the days I am teaching? The previous sub worked for 6 weeks with these 3rd-5th graders, and didn’t work out because of cm issues (there’s a very difficult ADHD student with aggressive tendencies that tends to rile up the whole class throughout the day, along with the typical class clowns, talkers, tattlers, day dreamers). I’ve only been in the classroom for 3 days, and find myself being grumpy and glaring a lot because I’m worried the students will walk all over me like the previous sub, but I’m already feeling resentment from students, which really bothers me–I really want us to shave a fun 2 months together! The other half time teacher does not have any specific plan set up that I can see, other than the students know what expectations are since she’s been with them all year. I’m just wondering if it is realistic to expect these students to respond to a new cm plan after so many transitions between teachers and with only 2 months to go. Any advice would be hugely appreciated!!! Thanks again for this amazing website, ordering the book today!

    • Michael Linsin April 9, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Jen,

      Yes, yes, and yes. It’s not only realistic, but an absolute must if you’re going to have the fun, well-behaved class you want. It will never happen on its own.


  6. E April 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    How do you hold a student accountable who breaks a second rule right before dismissal? Would the time out then carry over to the next day, or would the rule breaking be forgotten? Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin April 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Hi E,

      A warning and letter home wouldn’t be any different. If it’s a time-out I recommend keeping the student a minute or two after dismissal.


  7. J. Yeh May 17, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    I am a day to day substitute teacher. Over the 10 years I’ve been working, I’ve learned many of the points and tips you share on your site. Thank you for your wonderful and valuable insight. My question for you is the following: how do I implement the classroom management plan in a 1 day setting? I do many of the things you suggest, but I feel that I might be overstepping my boundaries and creating more problems for the classroom teacher, with whom I am also trying to establish a rapport. I would be very interested in your suggestions via email so that you can elaborate.

    • Michael Linsin May 18, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      Hi J.Yeh,

      This is an involved question that requires a lengthy answer. There are many variables. In the future I hope to create a booklet or ebook resource for substitute teachers. I’ll keep your question in mind.


  8. Douglas August 6, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Your website and advice have completely changed the way I deal with behavior. It is wonderful!

    I’m trying to implement this philosophy of classroom management within my middle school teaching team. One question some of the teachers have is whether or not consequences should follow a student from class to class (since we switch classes at the middle school level) or give the student a fresh start in each class.

    Additionally, I was wondering if adding a teacher-held detention with the letter home is appropriate for a third offense or is the letter home consequence enough for a middle school student? We don’t have recess to take away from them, and our administration wants to see a teacher-held detention as a behavior intervention at some point, so I’m wondering when a detention is appropriate.

    Thanks again for helping transform my classroom!

    • Michael Linsin August 6, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      Hi Douglas,

      I’m glad the website has been helpful to you! I don’t think consequences should follow students from room to room. Every new class and new teacher should be a fresh start. Having said that, I think it’s an excellent idea to add an additional consequence with a letter home for any student who reaches the third consequence within one class period.


  9. Rebecca August 14, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Hi Michael
    One more week unit school
    begins I am still unsure of my system! The teachers from the previous grade use a clip chart and I was hoping to be consistent with their plan. However, students are able to clip up if their behavior improves. So if they get a warning, and they improve, the warning gets taken away. Also, students can continue to clip up levels if they are being really good. So at the end of the day, some students will have reached the top and they receive a star. It doesn’t feel right to me and it goes against two of your tips. Don’t reward for positive behavior and don’t take away the warning! What do you think? Also, I am struggling with how to keep track of warnings. What do you do?

    • Michael Linsin August 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Rebecca,

      It sounds like you’re familiar with the classroom management plan I recommend and how it works. For many, many reasons I believe this is the best way to go. As for how to keep track of warnings, it’s personal preference. You can place a check mark next to a name on a roster. You can jot it down in a small notebook. Some teachers prefer to write names on a whiteboard.


  10. stubbornly idealistic February 24, 2016 at 9:29 pm #

    Thanks for your site. I’ve taught 11th grade for 12 years, until 2 years ago, when I switched to middle school. I have always had weak classroom management but great relationships with students, so I was able to somehow make it work at the high school level. Middle school is breaking me. My students hate me and are out of control. I can not believe this is happening. They make up stories about me, band together, and basically present me as an idiot to myself and others. I almost quit my job, then stumbled across your site. I’m not stupid, and I’m working on my master’s degree. I just have no consistency or understanding even of why they don’t act right! I decided to give it one last try, posted your expectations, created a discipline plan, sent home a parent letter, and stuck to the plan. They ridiculed me, but I sent home 4 parent notes for discipline. Question- what if more than 3/4 of the students are at any one time on infraction 4 or 5? All I do I give warnings, reminders, etc., and it is still chaos. HELP! I have to figure this out, or I might as well walk out on my career. Did I mention they are gifted middle school students?

    • Michael Linsin February 25, 2016 at 8:12 am #

      Hi Stubbornly idealistic,

      It’s a huge question, and I wish I could give just a few tips to fix it. I just don’t have enough information nor the time and space to address your situation here. Somewhere along the line you have lost their respect, as well as control of the class. This would be something we would have to unpack first. Though I believe we have all your answers for you right here on the website, you may want to consider personal coaching.


  11. Peace December 17, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

    Hi Micheal,
    Thanks for this post.I have a group of 4 students out of 27 that are constantly holding detailed conversation during instruction and always laughing out loud.They do not do any work and do not care about anything.I always came around to remind then to get back to work. They just don’t care.Do you think it will be worse if I call their parents.They are in 7th grade.

    • Michael Linsin December 17, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

      Hi Peace,

      No, it definitely won’t get worse and it’s never a mistake to call parents when students misbehave. After all, they have a right to know.