Are You Giving Out Lots Of Warnings? Here’s How To Fix It

Giving Out Lots Of WarningsHere at SCM we maintain a long list of article requests.

We don’t, however, typically choose from the top of that list.

The way it works is that when we receive a request, we first check to see if anyone has made a similar one.

If so, we place a check mark next to that topic on the list.

The topics with the most check marks get covered first. However, it’s important to point out that we don’t write solely based on article requests.

We feel an obligation to provide an A-to-Z education in effective classroom management.

We view our website and free email membership as a continuing course in the principles and strategies that make for an exceptionally well-behaved classroom.

Therefore, we also choose article topics with this goal in mind.

This week’s article fits both criteria. It had the greatest number of requests of any topic we had yet to cover, and its proper use is a key component of an effective classroom management plan.

Over and over readers asked us what they could do to limit the number of warnings they’re giving out.

The good news is, as strange as it may seem, it can be an indication that things are going well in your classroom.

Providing that the great majority of your students are heeding this initial consequence and not progressing to the next, it’s an indication that they’re taking your warnings as they’re intended.

It’s an indication that consistently following your classroom management plan is working and that your students enjoy being in your classroom.

Now, it’s natural to be concerned of students taking advantage of the grace a warning offers.

It’s natural to conclude that perhaps the reason you’re giving out so many warnings is because your students realize that there is no real consequence attached to it.

In other words, they see it as a freebie, as a way of getting away with one act of misbehavior a day.

But this is scarcely the case. If you were to take a close look at their motivations for misbehaving, you’d discover this concern to be unfounded—particularly among elementary-age students.

The truth is, it never occurs to them.

The reason you’re giving out so many warnings is not because your students are taking advantage of them. The reason is because the purpose of the rule being broken isn’t embedded deep enough.

For example, no matter how many times you’ve said that raising your hand is important, they still don’t quite get it. They know they’re supposed to raise their hand, but they don’t understand it emotionally.

They don’t appreciate the critical importance of it.

The first step to correcting the problem is to determine which rule or rules are triggering your warnings most often.

Once you’ve determined the problem area, you must set about correcting it by modeling and reteaching that particular rule (or rules) in a much more detailed way.

You have to put them in your shoes while you’re trying to teach a lesson. You have to put them in their classmate’s shoes while they’re trying to listen or line up or enjoy their school day.

You have to create an experience through which they can feel the frustration of being on the receiving end of their disruptions. You have to open their eyes to how their behavior affects everyone around them and why the rule is so doggone important.

Only by seeing themselves as others see them will things change. Only by identifying with the exasperation of others will they understand the true purpose of the rule. Only through the lens of empathy will they view the rule as you do.

Once they grasp that receiving a warning is less about them and more about the rights of their classmates to learn and enjoy school, their behavior will change.

But you must paint a vivid picture. You must model an explicit and compelling scene.

You must evoke the depth of understanding, the empathetic view outside of themselves, the ah-ha moment that illuminates the truth that a warning isn’t just a courtesy you offer them.

But a way to protect the fun and peaceful classroom they love being part of.

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


16 Responses to Are You Giving Out Lots Of Warnings? Here’s How To Fix It

  1. Emily Morris February 28, 2015 at 11:39 am #

    Excellent article that addresses something recently on my mind.

  2. Mrs. Anna Nichols February 28, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    Hi, Michael!

    This article answers some questions that have been raised regarding your classroom management philosophy – it absolutely makes sense that if you are giving lots of warnings it might mean that the kids are oblivious to how their behavior is affecting others. In middle school, however, the kids will definitely take advantage of the “free grace” of a warning; I have found myself skipping the individual warning after I have given a whole class warning and will issue an immediate consequence. For example, I would go ahead and issue a consequence to a student who continues to talk after I have asked the class to be quiet.

    Do you agree that the older the child, the less “warnings” they need? (If I taught elementary school, I might give several warnings before issuing a consequence due to their young age.)

    Thank you for another brilliant and enlightening article!

    Mrs. Anna Nichols
    Visual Art Instructor, grades 6, 7, 8
    Alabama Art Education Association Mentoring Co-Chair
    editor, founder,

    • Michael Linsin February 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      Hi Anna,

      No, I think giving a warning is best for both elementary and middle school students.


  3. Kelly February 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi. I read regularly, and would just like to comment that I’d really appreciate it if SCM referenced high school-aged students as well as elementary/intermediate. Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin February 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      We’ll do our best, Kelly!


  4. Carol February 28, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    As a “specials” teacher who sees all the students once a week, I have to have a quick & efficient classroom management plan that all of your advice has helped me develop.

    I have numbered 5 rules, posted, explaining what the rule is and why I have it. If a student breaks a rule I give a warning & mark it on a spreadsheet with a check mark and the number of the rule that was broken. If the student does not change a behavior, I put a slash through the check & either circle the repeated behavior or write the number of the new infraction. I also say, “You have broken rule # __ & so I must record it.” Or I’ll make eye contact with a student & hold up fingers & point to the poster to indicate a rule breakage.

    If behavior does not change, the student is moved within the room & an “m” is written. If I have to ask the student to leave, I write “k-o” for kicked-out. The student’s grade goes down 1 point (of 4) for every negative behavior-once the slash is marked. By coding behaviors this way, I can tell a student or a parent which rule was broken, how many times in a marking period, on what date, and the action I took.

    Happily I also have data that I can use to make adjustments as well. For example, I discovered that rule # 3 was broken only twice this year. I can omit it next year. The #1 rule that is broken is talking while I am giving directions. I have been known to put away art supplies if I did not get to teach what I wanted to teach.The next time I try to teach the lesson, the peer pressure to listen gets intense.

    By coding behaviors, I can easily see who the “frequent fliers” are in rule breaking and I can write notes in the margins. I have discovered that some kids have trouble adjusting after a long vacation, when they sit near a certain person, or when they don’t have experience/confidence in a new artistic technique. That way I can I can be proactive & pre-empt any negative behaviors.

    The other piece, and you mention this frequently, is to make the class interesting enough that students will be too busy to get into trouble! A challenge to be sure, but a tried and true strategy.

    At lunch & the end of the day, I enter the points in my electronic grade book that (unfortunately) calibrates them to a letter grade.

    Thanks for your down to earth advice. Even though I am an old-timer (36 years in the profession) I still want to learn how to make the best experiences for my students.

    • Michael Linsin February 28, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      Hi Carol,

      It sounds to me like you’ve got an excellent system. Way to go! I’ll bet your students spend a remarkable percentage of their time with you fully engaged, attentive, and on-task. Keep up the great work!


  5. B Cook March 3, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    I like the idea of witholding a desired avtivity during the school day, especially for middle school students. I have practiced it on several occasions and it does work well once students have been forewarned accordingly. Thanks!

  6. barbara jones December 12, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    I appreciate all the articles. It is a lfe-saver. (my life).

    • Michael Linsin December 12, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

      Glad to hear it, Barbara.


  7. TF Jenssen February 3, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

    Thanks Michael for all your great help and insight. Have read three of your books and tried to implement a classroom management plan. It does help but I find it very hard some times to give out the consequences, as most of my groups are chatty and LARGE. I am not a robot, and cant always tell who is breaking the rule when there are several pupils across the room misbehaving simultaneously (making little silly noises, annoying a classmate or similarly disruptive stuff). I certainly notice the ones nearer to me, but not so much the ones at the back etc. This can seem unfair to students, obviously.

    What can one do in this situation? Any piece of advice would be most welcome!

  8. MrsH May 2, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    I found your site tonight and have spent a couple hours reading everything I could. I don’t think I have seen anything addressing this question: Does the warning last for the entire day? That is, if a student receives a warning for talking out early in the day, and behaves appropriately until toward the end of the day, would that second infraction still be a time-out? I guess another way to put it would be: Do warnings expire?

    • Michael Linsin May 3, 2016 at 6:42 am #

      Hi MrsH,

      No, they do not expire until the day ends.


  9. 6th teacher June 27, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I have, just like Mrs. H, just come across your website and have spent the last couple of hours reading your articles. I am very excited to start this system in my classroom at the beginning of the school year! I just have two questions that I’d appreciate if you could answer.
    1. I will have a special needs assistant working in the classroom also who is assigned to a student with emotional and behavioural issues. Should she have authority to also issue warnings or it solely be me?
    2. I have a rewards system that has proven successful over the last few years points are earned or lost depending in behaviour and there is a whole class reward when they have worked cooperatively to reach a specific number of points. Would such a reward system need to be dropped or could it work in conjunction with the three step system?

    Many thanks,

    • Michael Linsin June 28, 2016 at 7:53 am #

      Hi 6th Teacher,

      1. Only you.

      2. I feel strongly that rewards systems are bad for students because, among other things, they sap their intrinsic motivation. I encourage you to read more about this topic here on the site as well as in The Happy Teacher Habits and The Classroom Management Secret. However, having said that, you have to make that determination. You certainly can use the classroom management plan I recommend with a rewards system.