New Classroom Essentials

I have just set up my simple classroom for the new year and thought I would share the joy thus far:

Rules/ Mantra

This saves you having a lesson based around your rules. It is simple. You work hard and you are nice. I went to a talk by a man who worked in a KIPP school in America and this was their school’s motto. I have used it for the decade since that talk. They had it all over the walls and their uniform was this slogan on a T-shirt. (I’ve just gone for laminating some A4 sheets.) I say vaguely the same thing every time: “If you do not work hard or you are not nice, I will tell you and so, hopefully, will your partner. If I keep telling you and you are not listening, I will tell your parents but you will have plenty of warning – the only time I will speak negatively to them is if I cannot speak to you.” On the other side, I say: “Usually you will be working hard and being nice and if you do something that is particularly brilliant then I will shout it from the hills. I will call your parents and tell them what a wonderful human being you are and I will copy your work and put it on the Wall of Brilliance” which leads me to…

Praise Wall

For a while, people had levelled work on the wall but it was usually too small for students to read and gain value from so now I am just going for copying and enlarging small pieces of work (probably just a sentence). I’ve put the school’s slips in the envelope in the top left to remind me to give them out and link what I do in my room with the whole school policy.

Teacher and Big Picture Helpers

Big Board

My name is there because I like to be called Mrs Forbes because students always spell it ‘Thorbes’. There is a small behaviour board for logging good and bad when needed. This room was started pre-class lists so I will have laminated names (different classes on different colours) that I can move and then I can use the cupboard doors as a behaviour board. I am lucky that I only teach grammar in this room so at the top of the board I have the six key parts of A06 from the English Language criteria. They are moveable so I move them down depending on which one is being focused in the lesson. This is the start of my big picture. A simple what are we learning? and why? gives me a space for the LO. Then there’s reminders because I had a baby and now can’t remember to take a register or send year 10 for their jabs. The left side of the board is dedicated to the tutor group who share the room.

Half Term Overview and Plenary Helper

What have we learnt?

This may change as the classes progress but this board shows students what we are doing each week. All of KS3 are following the same grammar course so this is easy for me but, in other rooms, you could add columns for the year groups; in primary, for the subjects. The right hand side of the board, helps me log and remind students of key things we have learnt. I like a big, colourful collection of things at the end of half term.

Resource Pots and Mistake Books

Pen pots are controversial because if pens are provided, students may not take responsibility for their own equipment and lives in general. Sometimes I come to a meeting without a pen and someone always gives me one. They don’t stop the meeting and make me exchange a pen for a shoe. Anyway, I have pen pots and the students are responsible for collecting everything in at the end and returning them to me. My tables are named after local shops so I can address them quickly without using a student’s name and singling them out. I can also set up competition in class and across year groups. This year I am trialling adding ‘mistake books’ to the pots:

 My hope is that after feedback or during the plenary, students can add in any mistakes/ questions/ ideas which will give me a better insight into how they are learning. We will see how it goes.

Geeky Organisation

I know that learning is messy but I think classrooms should be tidy to suggest that we know what is going on, (even if sometimes we don’t). I end up with lots of left over resources so they go here. I tidy my desk before I go home. This is geeky but I think it helps.

As always, not rocket science but, if you are setting up a classroom for the first time, this may be of use. Let me know.


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Thanks for reading.


Five Communication Rules to Motivate Students to Behave (and Learn!)

Five Communications Rules to Motivate Students to Behave (and Learn!)

Five Communications Rules to Motivate Students to Behave (and Learn!)

I’m so pleased to be leading four sessions at this year’s colossal TeachFirst Impact Conference in Leeds. Here are the key take home points for delegates:

  • The five rules are a flexible toolkit – draw upon different ones for different situations
  • When going into any interaction with students think: “why are they behaving this way?” and respond appropriately
  • Planning lessons thoroughly is important but thinking about how you will facilitate the lessons with your interpersonal and communication skills is also crucial
  • Before September, think about these five areas and how they are shown in your classroom, your routines and rituals and your planning, as well as in your communication with students

Model: Show them how you want them to behave

  • Think about the key skills you want to see in your learners (e.g. politeness) and model them
  • Your teacher-self is a sieved version of yourself – any self-interest, impatience, negativity, bias, etc. gets caught in the sieve
  • Be yourself (even if it is a version) – do not say things you think a teacher should say – say what you would say

Being a model does not mean being perfect – this can be unachievable and intimidating – model being wrong, making mistakes and apologising

Catch: Find something to praise as soon as it happens

  • Focus on the small, important things (e.g. saying “thank you”)
  • Pre-emptive praise creates a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Early success builds resilience
  • Fresh starts every time
  • Treat everybody equally – do not just praise the naughty one because you are so pleased they are not being naughty!
  • Personalise your praise –personal or public?
  • Be as genuine as you can to avoid unintentional patronising

Praise liberally; sanction begrudgingly

Empathise: Show that you understand how it feels to be a learner (and a child)

  • Pre-empt how individual students will feel during your lessons and plan for it
  • Do not expect from the students what you would not expect from yourself
  • If you are learning your subject for the first time, you have an advantage as you know how it feels to be your students – if not, make sure you do the lesson tasks before the students
  • Talk to students about what they are experiencing – let them know that it is okay to feel that way (e.g. find something hard and get angry), other people have felt that way before and you are all in it together
  • You cannot change their response but you can plan for it, understand it and respond to it

Empathise does not mean excuse or collude

Clarify: Make everything clear and explain where needed

  • With instructions: Explain once. Explain again. Student explains. Check. Go
  • Pre-empt questions and actions in your explanations (e.g. “There is a sheet in the middle of your desk. Do not touch it yet.”)
  • Limit the words you use and slow down
  • Adapt the complexity of your language to suit your audience
  • Explain the reasons why “We are going to…because…if…then…”
  • Decide clear, uncomplicated rules, rewards and sanctions and stick with them
  • Repeat and refer to key words and objectives throughout the lesson
  • Make a show of fairness

Boundaries stay the same – how you implement them can vary

Diffuse and Deflect: Keep calm and re-direct back onto positivity and learning

  • Give them time and space
  • Get them engaged in something they can succeed at
  • Find the positive in the situation (e.g. “It is wonderful that you are so concerned about your friend.”)
  • Don’t get into the angry/ off task space with them
  • Provide a delayed solution to the problem (e.g. “I’m going to speak to your form tutor at break. Let’s get on with this for now and we’ll go together after the lesson.”)
  • Where there is anger – there is fear; what are they scared of? How can you help?

Deflect but do not dismiss

 As promised, here is the filled in handout. This is just one set of things you could say – we went through many more in the session but hopefully useful as a guide…

Five Communication Rules Filled In Handout


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How do I reduce my marking load and still ensure progress?

Useful for: Planning for September. Planning for new specifications. Planning revision lessons. Fodder for Summer Term staff training. Revising marking policies.



  • Marking comes before planning
  • Students should be marking more than you
  • The process of passing over marking power is labour-intensive at the start
  • Everything feeds from a clear big picture and accessible criteria
  • The better you know the complexities of your subject, the simpler you can make it for students

It’s exam season so I’ll make this as bullet pointy as possible. Any questions, please comment or email me. For printable copies of any resources, email me and I’ll send. 

I do not like sitting still. I especially do not like sitting still and marking. I would sit still and mark if I thought my marking was changing students’ futures but, in the past, it was not. Sometimes I was marking because a student had put particular effort into a piece of work and shoved it in my hand or because there was a parents’ evening approaching or because I had organised a work scrutiny. Not the right reasons and not the right marking. This means that over-time I have adapted my lessons to ensure that students do as much meaningful marking as possible, leaving me to reflect on their marking, add mine and create more lessons based on both.

I’ll pivot this post around the lesson plan pro forma below. You can take it as it is or use the notes below to guide you. I originally developed it for a ‘Planning for Progress’ session with the Teach First South Coasters and then, after chats with Assistant Head (and my long-suffering mentor) Charli Napier, and through developing a session for her colleagues at Strood Academy on the ‘Joys of Marking’, it has become this colourful creation. The purple and the green are because, at their school, teachers mark in green and students mark in purple. Adapt accordingly.

Okay, let the bullet points begin…

Planning for Progress

The Flow Chart

  • Basic summary of what lessons aim to do – close the gap between what is known and what needs to be known
  • The purple boxes are led by the students; so you are free to take charge of the gap
  • In order for the students to lead the purple bits, you need to put in some initial graft (outlined below)
  • The more defined the gap is, the easier it can be filled and the quicker progress will be

What Needs to Known/ Understood

Blog 1

Know how everything fits into the big picture

  • You and your students need to have a clear big picture – this is literally a big picture
  • It is completely accessible by students, parents and other non-specialists
  • It outlines the year or the key stage in a pretty way
  • It shows students where they are at and where they are going
  • It also shows the milestones, time scales and hoops to jump through
  • The better you know your curriculum, the simpler you can make it for your students

In practice:

  • Give your current big picture to a non-specialist – do they have all the information they need?
  • Set up a 45 minute twilight session where all subjects bring and discuss their draft big pictures
  • Display the big picture at the start of every lesson across subject teachers and in your classrooms – maybe with a big ‘we are here!’ arrow
  • Send a copy home to parents and have it visible on parents’ evenings

Understand the criteria

  • Your criteria (what needs to be known/ understood) needs to feed directly from the big picture
  • Keep it simple – criteria can be the same as lesson objectives which can be the same as lesson titles which can be the same as the headings on your Excel spreadsheet, etc.
  • The criteria needs to be able to be read by the students – level 1 criteria for Geography needs to be able to be read by a level 1 student
  • Any key words used in the criteria need to be defined with examples (the word ‘evidence’ in History criteria may mean something different from the word ‘evidence’ in English criteria)
  • Make sure that if you are using any sort of scale to rate your criteria (RAG, 123, abc, etc.) that these are standardised across students and teachers – an R for one person, may be an A for another

In practice:

  • Use your starter to help students to gain an understanding of the criteria
  • Decide whether you split your criteria by knowledge and skills
  • Agree across the team what key words mean and what they look like in a piece of work – maybe make a booklet of these for students to use in lesson
  • Get together as a team with all your AfL resources and ditch any that do not match the big pic/ criteria

What is known/ understood

Blog 2

Accurately use the criteria

  • You need to train your students to mark their work using the criteria (see modelling and standardising in the lesson plan)
  • This process is repeated in most lessons so the students get used to marking
  • The use of a ‘model’ piece to start with, separates the work from the students (de-personalises it) and therefore gets them used to criticising without being criticised
  • ‘Model’ does not mean perfect – it can also show students what mistakes and common misconceptions looks like and prepares them for making their own mistakes

In practice:

  • This may be the opportunity to show your expertise and resilience to criticism (and empathise with your students) by setting up your own work as the ‘model’
  • You can have a out loud discussion about what marks to put on the piece of work or you might want to adopt silent discussions where students discuss on paper – they start with the work, ‘mark it and pass it’
  • If work is given a mark or a grade, this is opportunity to say ‘the examiner would give it __ mark’
  • Take the annotated model work, photograph it for future lessons or display it

The students then practise meeting the criteria themselves – I would recommend keeping this short and focused – this would have traditionally been the bulk of the lesson (that you would then have to take home and mark) but the assessment and discussion around the piece is crucial to progress and reducing your marking workload. 

Reflect/ Ask the right questions/ Respond appropriately 

  •  Again, students need to be trained to use the language of criteria
  • This is the marking and moderating part on the lesson plan
  • This is where all your lovely AfL resources come in, which you may have already modelled (making sure they all match up to the criteria and big picture)
  • Use of criteria and method in marking is the difference between a useless statement and a valuable statement

In practice:

  • Do not run out of time for the final four stages of the lesson – they are where the progress happens
  • Make simple rules of student marking like: No crosses or ticks without explanation with words from criteria/ objective/ lesson title/ model method (see green penning at the top of the post)
  • Scan (with permission) model student marking and share with students
  • Get students to ask questions in their books as the lesson goes and try to answer them by the end
  • Again, use the idea of ‘talking’ through their marking during silent work

The Gap

Blog 3

Set and fulfill criteria and action-based targets

  • The hardest, but most crucial, part of the lesson is target setting
  • If you get students setting targets like ‘I will work harder’ then something has gone awry at the big picture/ understanding criteria stage
  • The target needs to link directly to the criteria (and therefore the lesson objective)
  • This is, firstly, a spot the difference exercise between their work (which has partially met the criteria) and the model work (which has fully met the criteria) and secondly, an action which will fill that gap
  • The action needs to be as firm as possible – not “I will revise commas” but “Read the Bitesize notes on commas. Make bullet point notes here. Complete q 1-3 from book. Mark using answers at the back.” – an action that you can monitor

In practice:

  • Create a bank of stickers with perfect method/ example and practice questions for each objective/ criteria
  • Students can copy a task from a book or choose a task from the board as starter for next lesson
  • List of websites/ youtube links for each objective and use the box to summarise for homework
  • Change language to something more defined like ‘Spot the difference’ instead of close the gap
  • Have list of dos and don’ts and get partners to check each others’ targets before handing in books
  • Students update spreadsheet with their RAGs (or whatever you use) but make sure colours are standardised
  • If a student has met the objective (the gap is closed) then have a bank of next steps for them to do with self-reflection, resilience and supporting their peers

 Blog 4

Model. Moderate. Motivate.

  • This is what you do when you have a book in front of you – not all three necessarily but these are your main jobs
  • During the lesson you are modelling but this may need reinforcing to individual students
  • To help train students as markers, you are going to need to moderate and correct all that marking they are doing in lessons
  • If you can set up a back and forth in students’ books (especially the quieter ones), you will show them they are important. Some people say that “good :)” is not a valid marking comment – I would argue that it is nice to see that something you have done is good and it motivates you to carry on with the hard stuff
  • Notice there is less for you to do than the students – this is key – probably the less you have to write in your marking, the better job you are doing in the classroom

In practice:

  • Have an easy system for moderating students’ marking – you may just simply want to tick and sign if you agree (like old school moderation)
  • Skim the whole of a students’ book to see if they have asked you any questions or made any comments for you to reply to but don’t keep conversations going for the sake of it
  • Model the language of the criteria in your conversations
  • Have a note pad (or your PPT or whatever) open in front of you when you mark to note down any feedback useful for the whole class (this saves you writing out the same thing twenty times) – feed this back en masse next lesson in a de-personalised way: “some of you are…most of you are…”.
  • If common misunderstandings are coming up, make sure it is addressed next time you teach the topic
  • Create ‘cheat sheets’ (see below) to help monitor things outside of the criteria (attitude, literacy, presentation, etc.) and make the marking process visible

cheat sheet

Decide future objectives

  • In the plenary, you are getting feedback from the students on the method you have used to get them to meet the criteria
  • Make notes during or straight after the plenary if you can (or get a student to) so you have feedback on the task, the model used, any AfL resources, etc
  • Use these notes to adapt future lessons, big pic, criteria, etc. and, most importantly, to decide whether the lesson objective has been met and where you go next
  • This will then be reinforced when you look at their books

In practice:

  • Make your lesson title the same as your objective and this means that books can be used as revision guides and easily referred in revision for summative assessments
  • To save AfL resources, RAG or somehow get the students to code the lesson title at the start and end of your lesson
  • Keep your lesson objective displayed somewhere throughout the lesson

This is not anything revolutionary but it is a reminder about the importance of the basics. The key is to only mark if it is worthwhile and I suppose the ‘give a man a fish’ proverb works here – the marking will be more valuable if the students do it for the themselves and you put teaching energy into training them to do it properly. It may just be a reminder to go back to your big picture and criteria and check that they do the job.

Thanks for reading. As always, this is not fact – it is just sharing ideas. Please comment below or contact me through…


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How does what I do impact on student motivation?

Motivating Students

I have been playing with a home-made coaching tool (by which I mean “sheet”, in the same way that Kirsty Allsop says “space” but means “room”). Sometimes, when students are not where you want them to be and you are butting up against each other, it can be difficult to wade through everything you are doing and diagnose where the problem lies. You may also be piloting a new strategy and need a way to reflect on its impact. This sheet may be useful in guiding your discussions. 

You can use it in a coaching session or as a self-reflection if you are encountering challenges with student motivation and need some direction on where to focus your professional development. It is also useful for your mentor or coach to fill in during a lesson observation – instead of commenting, they are just writing down everything you do for detailed discussion later on. I would use it when watching a lesson I have filmed.

I love a book called ‘Motivating Every Learner’ by Alan McLean. He based his theory of motivation on fulfilling three needs: Affiliation (I belong), Agency (I can) and Autonomy (I am allowed). He goes into a wonderful amount of detail and provides lots of practical tools (genuinely tools this time) to guide you with student motivation so I recommend reading.

motivating every learner

Anyway, being a lover of condensing complex things onto one page, inspired by McLean’s writing and drawing on my own experience, I have created the Four Bs of Motivation:

  • Belonging (“I fit here”)
  • Big Picture (“This is where I am at and this is where I am going”)
  • Boundaries (“I am allowed to”)
  • Believing (“I can get there”)

(They are Bs because my last school’s name began with B – you can adapt them accordingly.)

Here is a suggested process:

1. Divide up your strategies

Think about what you do (your strategies) with a particular class, starting from the moment students enter the classroom. Then think about your planning process, how you mark their work and how you follow up behaviour after a lesson. Map the key things you do (or a chosen few) into the four areas.

For example, I use the “magic curtain” (see earlier post) when students come through the door to filter out poor uniform or negative attitude. This is one of my ‘routines and rituals’ so I would write “magic curtain” as a reminder in the ‘Boundaries’ box. 

I would then keeping going noting things down. The hardest one is the ‘Believing’ box; here you note down anything that you do with the structure of your lesson.

For example, I have the “settler” (see earlier post) on the board as they come in. This is part of my lesson structure so I would write that in the ‘Believing’ box. 

2. Reflect on your strategies 

You now need to look at each strategy in each box in line with the statement in the speech bubble. This is what a person who is motivated towards learning would say. It is worth remembering the idea that students are not demotivated, they are just motivated away from learning so the assumption with these statements is that “I belong” means “I belong as a learner” (not “I belong as a trouble maker”) and “I believe” means “I believe I can learn this”, etc.

For example, I have written “magic curtain” in the ‘Boundaries’ box with the statement “I am allowed to”. I now need to reflect on this strategy and whether this is having the maximum positive impact on student motivation. Can they clearly say “I am allowed to…” in my lessons? I have this discussion in my head, on paper or with my coach:

The magic curtain means that students have clear boundaries of behaviour as soon as they enter the room. They know that they are “allowed to” enter the learning environment when their uniform and attitude are ready. This is all good. On the other hand, I need to be careful with this strategy because it might have a negative impact on student motivation – they may feel excluded before they have even come in, that they are “not allowed” to come in. This will also negatively impact on their sense of belonging. 

3. Decide to keep, scrap or adapt strategies

I need to make a decision to keep, scrap or adapt the strategy based on its perceived (or observed) impact on motivation.

For example, as the magic curtain may have some negative impact, I choose to adapt it to limit this so I tick it and I write the adaptation next to it – “twin with language for belonging”. 

If you are keeping something in its current form, simply tick it. If you are adapting something, tick it and write the adaption – this will be the meat of your thinking and coaching conversations. If you are scrapping something, cross it out.

4. See your area of focus

Once you have been through this process, you will see what you have in each box. If you have a load of crossed out strategies in a box, then this is your area of focus. This is in no way scientific.

For example, I might find that, upon reflection, some of my big picture strategies are potentially having a negative impact on student motivation so I have crossed them out. I now know that assessment is my area of focus for professional development. 

5. Plan a way forward

The words around the edge then guide you in your way forward. It might that you need to work on your students’ understanding of the curriculum or the extent to which you share the ‘big picture’ with them. It might be that they are motivated away from learning because the milestones are unclear or they don’t know how to use the criteria. This gives you a clear direction in which to head.

We could talk about this in way more detail and I am hoping we will but, it is Monday, and you are busy people. If you want a soft copy of the sheet or further guidance on the blog then please send me an email 

As always, thanks for reading and if you want to book a training or coaching session or, if you are a Dorset school, and you have any students you would like teaching, then please let me know. If you are inclined to ‘like’ and ‘share’ the Hands Down Education Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, I’d be much obliged.  


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What should students see on the board when they come in?

Opening Slide

Here is a colourful example. You could cram other things on there. It might be that you want to add a ‘Polite Skills Focus’ for the lesson or a timer or embed your behaviour/ praise board. A lot of it will be reinforcing your routines and rituals. You need to choose what is important for that class at that time and be careful not to overwhelm.

Obviously it is useless if your students cannot access it so match it to their ability.

It is important that it answers any beginning of lesson questions so you can be the calm, welcoming faciliator. I used to add a reminder of how to sign out a pen or where the new exercise books were so the students could be completely independent at the start. It also trains them to find the information themselves without immediately asking questions. It is a particularly good training tool for younger classes who love a bit of “Miss…Miss…Miss” to kick off a lesson.

On the Slide Reasoning 

E.g. How many oranges are in this pile?


Independently accessible

Achievable (but not easy)

Can be completely open



  • Provides early success in your lesson and therefore motivates students forwards
  • Shows that learning starts straight away so there is no time for silliness
  • Sets the tone for what is to follow
  • Allows you to set the boundary between learning “how do you know that?” talking and break time “I told her she was well out of order” talking
  • Gives you the time and opportunity to greet your students and ensure a sense of belonging

E.g. Finding the nth term of a sequence

What you want them to learn/ be able to do

Based on the big pic and misconceptions seen in book marking

Match the lesson title

Match any criteria or big pic document shared with students at the beginning of the unit

  • Provides a clear direction and focus  for students
  • If everything links together then the curriculum makes sense to the student which motivates them to engage with it
Big Picture:

E.g. Time line


Visual representation of the long term plan



  • Motivational tool to show students where they are at and where they are going – it demystifies the curriculum
  • Shows that every lesson is important and there is no time to waste
  • Ensure it is sharing without scaring
Reminders Box:


E.g. Lates

Could be used for notices or other reminders


  • Reminds latecomers and the class that lateness has been noted but it is not taking over the lesson
  • Having notices for the class gives the lesson more of a business tone and encourages maturity

E.g. Answer and Method

Could be ‘What your brain did’ and ‘What came out’

Could be ‘What you got’ and ‘How you got there’

  • Shows that the process is as important of the right answer – gives maximum opportunity for success even if the final answer is ‘wrong’
  • Starts metacognition – students thinking about what their brains are doing and how they work in relation to others
  • Does not alienate those who got it wrong and thus demotivate
Think Link:

E.g. What have these oranges got to do with today’s lesson?

A question that helps students focus on the objective

  • Gets students to focus on the objective and the purpose of the lesson
  • Helps students see that a lesson flows and everything links back to the objective (and is not a disjointed set of activities)

Thanks for reading. Please share what is on your opening slide

In other news, I’m thinking of running a series of cheap and cheerful sessions based around the posted topics in the summer term. If you would have any interest in attending such a session, please let me know:

  • Ideal location
  • Ideal session length/ time of day
  • Ideal cost
  • What you would like covered in the session



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How do you gain a class’ attention and stop them talking?

I have a recurring night-before-term-starts dream/ nightmare of walking into a class (of about fifty, large students) in a classroom straight out of Season Four of ‘The Wire’ and, not only do they not stop talking, they all start to get up and walk out. I am sure I am not alone with this ‘what happens if they won’t be quiet?’ anxiety. To stop this dream becoming a reality, here are some tried and tested strategies for getting students to listen. 


I know I go on about this a lot but, in any strategy you use, you need to do it like you mean it and like you know it is going to work. You will use a variety of ways to get your class quiet but, if you use a glut of them, in a short period of time, with no conviction, chances are you will be disappointed with the results.

Silence is Not Always Golden

It took me quite a long time to realise that silence doesn’t necessarily mean good teaching because learning is usually not silent. If you are gaining silence from a class, you need to think about why. I learn by talking, watching, talking, practising, talking, etc. with all activities being sandwiched by talking. We know how to talk productively and teaching students how to talk in a learning context is a big part of your job. Though the end point is usually sitting silently in an exam hall and writing (and we need to prepare students for this), this does not mean preparations for these need to be silent. Don’t be scared of noise – it does not necessarily mean you have lost control.


If you want a class to be quiet but the majority of them are talking then focus on praising the minority. This makes sense for a few reasons.

  • If someone is quiet and you praise them, they stay quiet. If someone is talking, and you tell them off, there is no guarantee they will stay quiet. This means you could end up spinning plates or playing ‘Whack a Mole’ (though I am not suggesting that whacking or moles have any place in your classroom).
  • The minority is also likely to be your early ‘heroes’ and supporters. They are the students who are leading the exodus towards positively and harmony in your classroom so, never forget to praise them.
  • The students who are just talking, not to be necessarily disruptive or defiant, will see that they get positive attention if they are quiet at this time. The quiet students and your praise of them serve as a model to other students. You can watch it happen. The quiet will spread.

The dream ticket is if a student, who would normally be talking and who has some influence socially over the class, is quiet. Jump on this and praise them. They will bring many more with them.


You need to think about the reasons students might be noisy or not respond immediately to your call to silence. If you ignore these, you risk irritating your students (“I was talking about the work!”) or penalising them for learning. There are lots of reasons why students may not be quiet right away:

  • They have just figured something out and do not want to break their chain of thought
  • They are in the middle of a really good discussion
  • It takes them a bit longer to get their head around things and they are just grasping it
  • Something has happened socially or outside of your lesson and they need to talk about it
  • They are asking another student a question about the work
  • They are helping another student with the work
  • Etc.

Just a simple, “I know you are all busy with this but Nathan has just raised a really good point and I want to share it with you before you go any further” to the whole class or “I know what happened at break. You must be upset. Let’s push on with this now and then I can help sort it out at the end of the lesson” to an individual can help students understand why they need to be quiet and that you understand them.

Classic Countdown

Everybody loves a countdown. In my first weeks of teaching, my countdowns were so frequent (and ineffective) that my intelligent but troublesome girls’ class would shout ‘Happy New Year!’ at the end and then carry on talking. I learnt that countdowns are useless if they are fast and non-specific so slow the whole thing down, make sure the start of the countdown is heard, and let students know exactly what you want them to do by the time you get to zero. Here is an example:

“Right, back with me now year 8. Five…finishing our discussions…four…pens down…three…eyes up…excellent David’s table…two…mouths completely closed…even you, Sam…one…focused on me…half…just waiting on Molly’s table…super…and zero.”

Your most effective countdown will be your first; they become diluted when repeated so make sure you give your first countdown it’s best chance of working. This means that you will need to use ‘teacher seconds’ which are of an indeterminate length and can be split into any fraction you want.

For the countdown, go to your power position. For me, this is right in front of the board. Stand still. It is much harder for people to focus on what you are saying if you are moving. They focus on the movement instead.

As your countdowns become more effective, you shouldn’t need to get to zero and tell your students this:

“Five…eyes my way, pens down…four…don’t make me go all the way to zero…three…brilliant…no time wasted, well done.”

In a ‘fun’ twist, with younger classes or where fiddling is an issue, I add hand movements to the countdown so it is three (wiggling fingers high up – to show no pen in hands)…two (wiggling fingers lower down) and one (clap on the desk twice and cross arms). They will need a rehearsal. Too much silliness, can it. You could mix it with a bit of brain gym. Anything really to remove explicit focus from the fact that they are being compliant.

Spread the Power

If you use table groups, like I do, then you will have little helpers distributed around your classroom. When I set up group work, especially with younger classes, I will tell them how I plan to gain silence (buzzer, countdown, etc.) and that one person in the group needs to be on the look out for this and spread the word.

It is also worth getting students used to using the clock. It helps if you have a digital one in your room. This means that you can say, “When the clock gets to ___, you need to packed away and silent and looking my way.” You may need to break down this timeline for certain classes. It means that when you stand at the front tapping your watch (see non-verbal), the students will know why. They are in control of managing their time and their voices and this empowers them.

Ring the Alarm

Have something (a bell, a buzzer, a rainmaker, etc.) that signals quiet in your classroom. If you are a primary school or PE teacher, this is probably common practice. I move rooms a lot so I usually just make a noise which sometimes sounds a bit like a sheep. There is a certain amount of training required but usually “Right, when I make this noise, I have something important to say, so you need to stop talking and look my way. Okay, let’s practise…pretend you’re all talking…” is enough.

The noise or alarm is important because it is removed from you. It is not you asking for quiet, it is an inanimate object or noise signalling quiet and it is harder to be defiant towards a noise. Also worth remembering that the majority of students’ lives are governed by bells so it is familiar to them.


This links to the non-verbal strategies below but this is just a tool so that students know what is appropriate noise and what is not. You can be as creative as you want with this. I have had two in the past:

One was a laminated wheel separated into four parts: class, group, pair, individual. It was laminated so that we could write on it reminders about each type. For example, next to individual it would say “Silent” “Hands Up for Questions”. At the start of an activity I would move an arrow on the wheel to the activity type so we had reminders about noise. If the noise crept up during the activity, I would stop the class and say what the issue was using the wheel for reminders or, so the flow of the lesson was not interrupted, I would remind certain students with “Excellent Lara’s group, perfect group work voices. You are not disturbing the group next door.”

In the schools I have worked in, we have had coloured pages in our planners for use with AfL strategies. I use these in line with the wheel (and eventually they replaced the wheel) so that the students have, for example, a green page open when they were working individually. This is useful because, if a student is chatting during individual work, I can go over and say “What colour is your planner? And what does that mean? So is there a need for talking?” which helped reinforce the rules with the answers coming from the students.

The second one was like a thermometer and this was used to show noise level rising. It was separated into different colours and I would move the arrow as the noise rose. As this was usually during group work, the students would be prepped (see sharing the power) to spot the arrow rising and quieten their group down. There was lavish praise for keeping the arrow in the green.

You may also want to differentiate between ‘break time voices’ and ‘classroom voices’. I am lucky to be an English teacher and so different purposes and audiences of our own language is a part of our curriculum but do not feel that time dedicated to this outside of the English classroom is wasted, in fact, it’s pretty crucial.


Provide the class with a non-verbal signal that basically meant “Wow. You’re too noisy.” My chosen signal is a sort of calm flapping. When a student spots this, they spread the word that it is too noisy. It appears, when deep into group work, they are much more likely to see me flapping than hear me telling them to be quiet. The ones who see me like the idea of being the first in a silent club (a bit like wink murder) and then telling the others (see spread the power).

My other favourite non-verbal signal is the ‘standing waiting irritably for a bus’ look. This involves a look of disapproval (not anger) and checking my watch which suggests “I’m ready. Where are you?” This is to be twinned with other strategies and, unless well practised, doesn’t work too well on it’s own (you may find yourself waiting for that bus for some time).

Body Language

As well as getting students to be quiet at certain points, you may also want them to focus on their body language for listening. I use silly phrases like “If your body slumps, so does your brain.” and “Your neck will hold your head up. Trust it.” You may want to add into your countdown instructions.


The best way to get silence when you want it is to plan and teach engaging lessons. This is because students will want to hear instructions and explanations so that they can move forward with the lesson. In reality, sometimes you plan lessons are not super engaging; they may just need to be a quick transfer of information or essay writing or something similar. You know this but the students do not. I use language which suggests pace and, thus, ‘we’re too busy for chat’. Here’s some ideas:

“Right, come in quickly and get your planners out. We have loads to get done today.”

“I’m ready. Dom’s ready. Lucy’s ready. Come on, we need everybody to be ready.”

“I know you have plenty to chat but we haven’t got time today – too much to do.”

“40 minutes left and 50 minutes work to do. We’re going to need to quieten down and push on.”

Once you have it, use it. 

I have watched teachers gain silence from their classes only to use the silence poorly and lose it again. Students need to see the purpose of silence and that is because you have something useful (and succinct) to say. Make sure that once the class is quiet and looking at you, you have something good (and preferably positive) to say that motivates the students to be silent next time.

My final note is that I have never seen shhhhing work as a strategy for gaining silence from a noisy class. I am not saying it doesn’t work; I have just never seen it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week and please add your own strategies in the comments to share with others. 

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Ten Behaviour Reminders for Getting that Class Back on Track

At the end of a difficult lesson, you may be tempted to say “that class was awful”. Sit down with the seating plan or class list and the students’ work and ask yourself for each student: What was their experience of the lesson? What did they learn? You will probably find that your awful class was not as awful as you thought. Before you start addressing your issues, focus on what is being learnt in your lessons and by whom and what you are doing to facilitate that. While you are there, have a look at these ten reminders to help you get your class back on track. 

Count the pennies

Get the little things right and the big things will usually sort themselves out. The best teachers I have seen decide upon what is important (in line with what the school believes to be important) and they stick to it militantly. This means shirts are tucked in and dates are underlined.

It is easier to leave these things. When you are tired and it is 3.30pm and no one else is around and a student walks towards you with a jacket on inside (which your school rules forbid), it would be easier to leave it. My advice would be: don’t. You know you’ve made it (and your SLT have some work to do) when a student says “You’re the only person that’s asked me to do that all day”.

A big part of this is your establishment of boundaries and your creation of routines and rituals in you classroom.


  • If a student knows that they cannot walk into your room with their shirt untucked, they know they definitely can’t throw things or swear. It sets a boundary. 
  • It shows that you are completely in control. If you can’t see the banned jewellery then you definitely won’t be able to see the phone under the table. It provides wiggle room and, when you are establishing boundaries, you don’t want a suggestion of wiggle room. 
  • It makes you “strict” and that is a good thing. 

Failure is good

On results’ day, failure is not ideal. If all the little ‘failures’ beforehand are managed and swung in learning’s favour then you can cure a lot of the behaviour that comes from feelings of inadequacy. This means hopefully less life-changing failures later on.

You can prepare students for failure and help them to reflect upon the experience: I put up a resilience curve and suggest to them how they will feel at certain points of a task. When they get there, I am explicit about what is happening. You cannot stop students feeling an emotion but you can help them understand what is happening and how to respond in a positive way. You can empathise with failure: You can tell them how you felt when you first tackled that topic and got it wrong and what you did about it. You can praise failure: “The most important thing today is that you get something wrong, you smile about it and you tell me where you went wrong so we watch out for it next time.” This can inform your whole self-assessment policy.

If they are unhappy about failing or getting something wrong, it is a good thing because it shows they want to get it right. Tell them it is a good thing.

Do not shout

You need to know what makes you angry or flustered.The students may figure it out quite quickly or they might try some insecurity-openers that have worked in the past: “You can’t control this class.” “You haven’t explained it properly.” “You’re confusing me.” “You can’t speak to me like that.” “Why is it always me?” “We’ve already done this.” “You’re a rubbish teacher.” “I want to move classes.” For me, it is when I know I haven’t planned something well enough and, inevitably, it starts to go wrong. I am angry at myself but I am aware that this could manifest itself as anger towards the students. Knowing what your triggers are will help prevent blow outs. Breathing and smiling is a good start.


  • You are in a position of power, which means you should have a better grasp of language than your students. This means you should never need to shout or swear (unless it is the only way to gain attention in an emergency). 
  • After shouting, you have nowhere else to go…well…apart from throwing. 
  • Shouting is verbal violence. 
  • Try shouting now. It raises your heart rate and, if you are not a shouter, it may make you shake. This is not a good way to be in front of children. 
  • If you do not shout very often, it may scare children or, more likely, it may embarrass them and make them laugh. If you are a shouter, it’ll be water off a duck’s back. 
  • You are a good behaviour model. You do not want your students to shout so don’t model it. 
  • While you are shouting, students are not learning. 

An addition to this is: Do not match a student’s anger. If they are angry, do not be angry back. You will not win a conflict of this type with a teenager. More importantly, you shouldn’t want to win. This “cocking off” will heighten the situation. Stay calm and step back.

Wear a mask of joy and enthusiasm

Have fun in your job and you might find, begrudgingly at times, that the students will have fun with you. I tell my kids regularly that I love teaching or I love vectors or I love pictures of sloths. I am not saying be a Red Coat but be enthusiastic and, sometimes, be silly.

I was told by lots of people in the summer before I started teaching “Don’t smile until Christmas” I think in an attempt to show students how stern and strict I was. Thankfully, because of all the other wonderful advice that surrounded me, I did not need to heed this piece.

I would not have built any relationships without near-constant smiling, winking, nodding and all manner of facial expressions that suggested positivity and warmth towards young people. Students who, in my experience, have had more woes before breakfast than I will have this year, do not need to know by looking at your face how long you spent planning last night or how tired and fed up you are or how irritated you are at the new uniform policy or your indignation at teaching Science when you are PE-trained. It is hard sometimes but keep the mask on.

Avoid empty threats 


  • If you say you are going to call home, call home. If you don’t, the next time you say it, it’s empty. 
  • Giving a sanction outside of your school’s behaviour system like “You are removed from my class and you are not allowed back in until I have met with your parents” shifts the all-important boundaries. This is not consistent with what is happening elsewhere so in students’ eyes, quite rightly, you are “unfair”. 
  • Making these threats show desperation and students will know that. They may even laugh at you. 


Obviously the best way to ensure good behaviour is to teach engaging lessons and when you are planning these lessons, plan for behaviour: think in detail about how students will respond. The big word here is pre-empt. I have jointly planned lessons with some wonderful teachers who at certain points may say: “That won’t work because…” or “I’m worried about that bit because…” What happens next is micro-planning.

As a example, say you have decided to put the students in certain groups for a lesson. This worries you because Student A will not want to sit with Student B but you know this pairing will maximise their learning. Don’t dump the pairing because it is likely A will come in and say “No way. I’m not sitting there.” Find A during your break duty and say “B is struggling a bit with _____ . I know you wouldn’t usually sit together but I though you could help her out this lesson. You know, like you helped C last lesson. I’ve put D and E opposite you.” When A comes in, give her a nod that says “remember what we talked about” and get set to praise praise praise to cement the deal. If you see A on break duty and she is in a fowl mood and not responsive to your charms then change the pairings to save the learning of the others and try again another day.

Micro-planning is not about seeing the 100s of students you teach each day before the lesson to check the seating plan but it is about pre-empting learners’ responses and making sure that any negative responses are dealt with in your planning. This will save time in follow-up after the event. If you are writing a lesson plan, have a box for these details.



  • Catching a student being good as quickly as possible in a lesson sets the positive tone. 
  • If you think about your day (I remember almost every compliment a colleague has given me in my career), praise is probably your biggest motivator. 
  • Modelling praise means that students will start praising each other. Yippee. 

Remember that praise is not praise is not praise. One student may want a fanfare and a medal in front of the whole school and another students may just want a quiet one-to-one well done. Be careful because getting these wrong may do more harm than good. Also don’t think that just because a student behaves like a 40 year old in class, they don’t get joy from a sticker or a happy phone call to their mum. The simple, inexpensive things are usually the best.

Clean your slate

By this I mean: Keep naughtiness in the past. Do not hold grudges. Do not label students and classes as ‘bad’.


  • Students know that they will be forgiven and that you will still teach them. This is important in building trust but it models to them an important adult skill. They may even extend you the same courtesy. 
  • It removes psychological barriers. There are classes that we feel a bit nervous about before they enter the room and this makes us conscientious practitioners but saying they are your “worst class” and that a student is a “nightmare” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (though, don’t get me wrong, sometimes you just need to have a moan). Sports people use visualisation to imagine the best possible race, game, etc. before it happens. This is something to practise before your lessons and using positive language is all part of it. 
  • It removes the possibility of any truth behind familiar statements like, “you’re picking on me”, “you moan at me as soon as I come in”, “you always think I’ve done it”, etc.

Speak plainly

There are some stock teacher phrases:

Would you do that at home? You are stealing the other students’ learning. Your behaviour is very immature. Do you think that’s funny? Grow up. You are in a whole world of trouble. What would your mother say?

Some of them are ridiculous and be warned that, at some point, the rhetorical questions will be answered. Fundamentally, they are not yours. The way you communicate with students will be individual to you and your knowledge of your students. Avoid stock phrases or overly confusing language or metaphors. Be precise with language and be yourself. The phrase I also remember is polite not pleading. This starts with saying thank you more than please.


  • Using teacher phrases suggests you are acting a part 
  • Some of these phrases put you on dodgy ground as they are generic but the people you are speaking to are not 
  • Using language that students do not understand (unless that is your learning objective) creates an unnecessary barrier and can be patronising, frustrating or confusing for a child. 
  • Students will like you as an individual teacher as you like them as individual students. Most of this will be the way you speak to them. As an example, my East London students liked my use of childish words like “naughty”. It served me well many a time to diffuse a situation when a student was doing something verging on criminal and I would ask them to stop being naughty. 

Note: I am not suggesting that you “get down with the kids” and start using all sorts of embarrassingly-dadish street slang. Only certain people can pull this off without irony. I am not one of them.

Challenge your own behaviour

I have not sampled many professions but I am going to say that teachers beat themselves up more than most so, you probably don’t need it, but this is just a reminder that sometimes you will do things wrong and you will be “out of order”. My inspirational professional mentor told me very early on to apologise to students when needed. It is not a sign of weakness. I find students, I take them aside, I explain my behaviour and I say sorry. I accuse someone of something in front of the class, it isn’t them, I admit my mistake and I say sorry. This was drummed into me and I’m very pleased for it because it has dampened many a potential conflict.

Oh, and don’t forget to clean your own slate. You’re doing a great job. 

Next post is up to you so let me know if you need any ideas or strategies. 

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