“The best discipline plans strive to limit the need for punishments and negative consequences by having a preventive emphasis.”

–   Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton, The Educator’s Guide
to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems

Negative consequences are necessary when other approaches to problem behaviour are unsuccessful. However, they are not effective when overused.

Establish consequences to inappropriate behaviours ahead of time; for example:

  • owing time at recess, lunch or after school to make up for time lost in class
  • loss of free choice or other classroom privileges
  • moving the student’s desk away from peers.

The most effective consequences are:

  • immediate (but not disruptive or intensive)
  • reasonable (and not embarrassing or frustrating)
  • well-planned (but flexible)
  • practical and easy to implement.

Since the goal is to reduce the incidence of a specific problem behaviour, teachers have to monitor the effectiveness of negative consequences, and adapt and change them as needed.

Focus on the behaviour

Disapprove of the behaviour, not the student. Use words and/or actions that focus on the problem behaviour. This approach tells the student that the adult believes he or she is capable of behaving in positive ways. It also reduces power struggles that can create a negative atmosphere in the classroom.

Begin with low-key responses


Both verbal and nonverbal feedback are effective responses to problem behaviour. For example, say the student’s name out loud with an accompanying gesture such as fingers over lips. Or use just one or two words such as, “Jordan, chair” when a student is rocking back on two chair legs.

Actions, not words

When possible, use actions rather than words. For example, if two students are whispering during a lesson, stop talking and wait patiently for them to stop. Then continue the lesson without a reprimand. If a student is bouncing a ball in the gym while instructions are being given, simply walk over and collect the ball until the instructions are finished. Return the ball when the activity starts. Talking less and acting more can often bring about positive classroom change without paying an excessive amount of attention to problem behaviour. Taking action also communicates that learning and teaching are important and need to be the focus.


Send a quiet and effective message about behavioural expectations by moving around the classroom while teaching and stopping for a moment near specific students. Standing near a student who is engaged in disruptive and/or attention-seeking behaviour is often enough to end the behaviour. This technique communicates, even without eye contact, that the teacher knows what is happening in the classroom and expects positive behaviour.

Hurdle helping

Offer encouragement, support and assistance to prevent students from becoming frustrated with learning activities. This kind of help can take many forms, from enlisting a peer for support to supplying additional information and hints that will help the student complete the learning task successfully.

Eye contact

Eye contact lets students know the teacher is aware of what they are doing. Eye contact with a smile that says “thank you” will often stop problem behaviour and allow learning to continue without disruption.

Students’ names

Using students’ names intentionally and positively lets them know they are not anonymous. (This is particularly important at the secondary level.)

To deal with low-level problem behaviour, try including a student’s name with the information or instructions being delivered. This technique gets the student’s attention and lets him or her know that the teacher has noticed the behaviour.

Be aware that a name can be spoken in any number of ways, with different intonations that communicate different messages.


Simple hand or face movements can communicate a message. For example, a nod of the head means “yes,” and a smile can communicate “thank you.” A teacher of younger students might hold up four fingers to tell a student to keep four chair legs on the floor.

A brief touch on a student’s desk or chair is a low-key way of communicating about the need to stop inappropriate behaviour. It is not always necessary to make eye contact, and the touch can be light and quick enough that other students are not likely to notice it.

Gestures can be effectively combined with proximity, eye contact and using the student’s name.


Sometimes simply redirecting a student from one area or activity to another area or activity will stop a problem behaviour. Redirecting can be done to:

  • create a diversion (e.g., “Time for a break, go and get a drink of water”)
  • introduce a more appropriate replacement behaviour (e.g., “Please take your library book to the reading corner. You can talk with your friend about it there”)
  • remove the context that is triggering a problem behaviour (e.g., “Time to put away the math blocks”).

Pausing and waiting

A pause can effectively draw students’ attention back to the task at hand. If after four or five seconds the pause has not helped the students refocus, try other strategies.

Planned ignoring

Ignoring students who engage in attention-seeking behaviour but are not interfering with teaching or learning usually causes the behaviour to stop. Carry on as if nothing has happened and avoid any indication of annoyance or frustration, which would give the student the attention he or she is seeking.

Planned ignoring behaviour is challenging, as the inappropriate behaviour often increases before it decreases. Methods of planned ignoring include breaking eye contact, moving to another area of the classroom and engaging in another activity. Use this strategy for minor inappropriate behaviours that do not compromise the safety or well-being of others.

In some cases, it may be necessary to coach other students on how to support this strategy by either removing themselves as an audience or following the teacher’s cue to ignore a certain behaviour.