How To Gain Control Of An Out-Of-Control Class

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of starting over from scratch when you feel yourself losing control of your class.

Smart Classroom Management: How To Gain Control Of An Out-Of-Control ClassBut what if you can’t even get your students’ attention?

What if they act as if you don’t exist?

What if you stop your lesson to wait . . .

And they don’t care one whit?

It’s the ultimate teacher frustration.

It can make you feel helpless, insignificant, and thoroughly disrespected.

After waiting in vain for several minutes, it’s only natural to get angry.

With no other option, it’s only natural to threaten and raise your voice to try to reel them in.

And although you may—may—finally get their attention, it’s a heavy price to pay.

Because when there is friction between you and your students, everything is more difficult—rapport, attentiveness, learning, behavior, you name it.

Ah, but there is a better way.

There is a way to gain control long enough to start over without undermining your relationship with your class.

It can take a bit of time depending on how far out of control they’ve gotten, but done right, it’s a rock-solid, proven method.

The way it works is that the moment you realize that waiting isn’t working, you’re going to begin using what I call the reciprocation strategy.

Bear in mind, though, that at this point you’re in survival mode.

Thus, you’re going to ignore for the time being your classroom management plan and all of the procedures and expectations you’ve previously communicated to your class.

Instead, you’re going to work your way around the room while politely steering your students to their seats and drawing their attention back to you.

You must put all frustration aside and appeal to the law of reciprocation, which states that if you’re nice to someone, they’ll want to be nice right back.

They’ll want to return the favor and do what you ask.

It’s an extremely powerful desire built into each one of us. So powerful that virtually no one can resist its charm, even the most disagreeable students.

As you’re moving throughout every corner of your classroom, it’s important to be friendly and personable. It’s important to smile, make small talk, and even share a laugh with your students.

Hey, I like those shoes.”

How are you today?”

Please have a seat.”

Thank you!”

Good to see you.”

Please have a seat.”

Hello there!”

Yes, thank you.”

Okay, have a seat.”

Thank you, thank you.”

Have a seat.”

Thank you. I appreciate it.”

Good game yesterday!”

I really liked your essay.”

Good to see you.”

Please have a seat.”

Thank you.”

I appreciate it.”

Thank you.”

Thank you.”

Thank you.”

The friendlier and more easygoing you are, the better and faster the strategy will work. Eventually, as you feel yourself gaining control, you’re going to work your way back to the front of the room.

You’ll continue to thank your students for following your directions until you are standing in one place and have everyone’s attention.

At this point, however, it’s critical to immediately dive into reteaching your rules, expectations, procedures, etc. as if it’s the first day of school.

Because the window won’t last long.

The reciprocation strategy is merely a means to gain a few vital moments from which you can begin the process of getting your class back on track.

It isn’t a strategy you can rely on every week or even every month.

It’s a one-time, survival-mode method to re-engage a class that you’ve lost and can’t get back without yelling, threatening, and driving a wedge through your relationship.

It gives you an opportunity, nothing more.

So you must seize it.

And never lose control again.

PS – For more on the power of reciprocation, check out The Happy Teacher Habits.

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19 Responses to How To Gain Control Of An Out-Of-Control Class

  1. Terrie Vargas October 1, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    I teach unruly 4 and 5 year olds. Can you give some advice for working with this age? Many of the things you have written sound wonderful but I am not sure how to scale them to this age group. Any helps?

    • Gary16 November 30, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

      One thing with 4 and 5 year olds is to break the language down, simplify it. For walking in lines I use ‘Go’ ‘Stop’ only two words. Each time they stop they reform the lines. pretty soon they have it. Avoid lectures and long winded feedback, sarcasm etc.

      Modelling physically is essential. Limiting talk time to a few minutes. If you read
      Linsin at length plenty of stuff works.

  2. Glenn October 2, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this, thank you so much. I teacher art in a very large title 1 elementary building (700t students), with large class sizes of 32-35 students and behavior problems are more the rule than the exception. I can’t wait to try this, this week.

    • Michael Linsin October 2, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      You’re welcome, Glenn. Have fun, but be sure and immediately reteach what you expect it.


  3. Miksy October 2, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    I can attest to the effectiveness of this strategy. Often, we perpetuate this idea that you have to take a “tough” meaning aggressive approach with unruly students. But young people, especially teenagers are wise enough not to respond to fear and intimidation. They do appreciate a soft gentle respectful approach at times. Classroom management takes time, but we must remember that we are dealing with independent thinking people who are rightly testing the boundaries. So yeah, thumbs up on this article.

    • Michael Linsin October 2, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Miksy.


  4. Zane Hesting October 2, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Great post for a teacher in training who worries about this aspect more than anything. I appreciate any “concrete” methods that are shared for creating a responsive classroom. It’s important to know that chaos can still be reined in and controlled through genuine acts of kindness. Thank You.

    • Michael Linsin October 2, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Zane. Thanks for commenting.


  5. Maru October 3, 2016 at 6:52 am #

    Hello Michael,

    I’ m delighted with your classroom plan management because it looked to work. However, today my class was a mess!. They arrived late, quite disrupting to class. I started reminding them the rules but after that, i had to interrup the class every 10 min because there was no silence.

    In the end, there were 10 with first warning, 2 coping the rules and the rest of the students stopped talking when I give warning to someone but in 20 min many of them started talking.


    • Michael Linsin October 3, 2016 at 7:58 am #

      Hi Maru,

      There is definitely a problem somewhere, and I sure wish I could give you a few quick suggestions, but I would have to speak to you and learn a lot more about your classroom before offering accurate advice. There is a cost involved, but we do offer personal coaching.


  6. Maru October 3, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Ok…How much is the cost?

  7. Tyler Ochsner October 3, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you so much for all of the great strategies and the clear classroom management plan that you have shared! I have really enjoyed implementing these ideas into my classroom management plan.

    I teach three 6th grade Humanities blocks. For two of my classes, the classroom management plan has worked really well. Students are responding to my consistent and firmness in terms of going through the steps. However, in one of my class blocks, I have about 5-7 students that continue to test me everyday. I am in week five of the school year, and I have literally sent behavioral letters home for some of these kids almost everyday. They are consistently getting to step 3.

    Do you have any advice or insights on what to do if it is about 5-7 students in one class that are continuing to test the boundaries after 4 or 5 weeks?

    Thank you in advance,


  8. Shira October 28, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I work with teachers to train them and help them with classroom management. I use your blog regularly and all of your books.

    I have one teacher who has absolutely no control of her class and I would like to suggest the above strategy (reciprocation) to her so that she can get her student to sit in their seats so that she can reteach her classroom management plan. I am afraid however that once she begins teaching her classroom management plan the students will immediately start jumping out of their seats, yelling and everything else that is going on.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Michael Linsin October 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi Shira,

      The whole idea of the reciprocation strategy is that the students reciprocate the kindness by giving the teacher a window of opportunity to start over. If the teacher loses control again, it’s not because of the strategy. It’s because of a separate issue or mistake the teacher is doing—which I would only be able to determine by observing the teacher.


  9. Matt November 8, 2016 at 10:01 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Two questions:
    1.What do you think about having a video that you play about the classroom management plan and expectations of routines and procedures? I would play this at the beginning of the year and when/if a classroom is spiraling out of control. If this is a good idea, should I have student actors or I act it out?
    2. Recently heard you on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. Do you have any favorite podcasts about education?

    • Michael Linsin November 8, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

      Hi Matt,

      1. You and your personality and passion will always be more effective than a video.

      2. I’m sorry, I don’t listen to education podcasts. I don’t want to influence my thinking beyond what I see and experience in the classroom.