Strategy: Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules and Routines

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Teaching students classroom rules and daily routines will help them be successful and can minimize disruptions in the classroom. The beginning of class, in between lessons, and the end of the school day are all critical times when having clear rules and routines can help maximize instruction time. Teaching classroom rules and routines as early in the school year as possible will allow students to learn expectations and the flow of the classroom. Once rules and routines are learned, students should be able to transition throughout the day with minimal lost time.

Classroom rules are constructed from pre-defined behavioral expectations—either schoolwide or classroom-wide. While expectations are global qualities you expect students and staff to maintain, rules are concrete and observable actions. Schoolwide expectations and classroom rules are often used in conjunction with one another. Examples of these two working in alignment can include the following:

Behavioral Expectation

Classroom Rule

Be respectful
Raise your hand to speak
Be responsible
Come to class on time
Classroom routines provide clear directives for common events that occur in the classroom. Think about the common events that occur daily: turning in work, asking to use the restroom or get a drink of water, getting a writing utensil or other materials, coming in from recess. Many times, the routines for each of these events can be similar and they do not need to be complex. A simple step or two would suffice. Examples for common classroom routines include the following:

Classroom Event


Using the restroom

  • Raise your hand and ask to use the restroom during a natural break in the lesson
  • Sign out on the bathroom log when you leave and sign back in on the log when you return

Coming in from recess

  • Grab the materials listed on the board from your backpack
  • Go to your seat and sit quietly while waiting for instruction
The purpose of defining and teaching classroom routines is to reduce disruptive behavior, therefore maximizing the time spent on instruction. When students know what to expect, daily transitions from one activity to another will be smoother and you won’t need to correct students as often, which will improve your interactions with them.
How Defining and Teaching Rules and Routines Connects to CARES

Effective communication is a core component of defining and teaching rules and routines. Effectively communicating rules and routines for all students promotes equity in the classroom and decreases instances of disruptive behavior, which can escalate to result in racial disproportionality in disciplinary practices. When all students know what is expected of them, following rules and routines can become second nature, providing more learning time.

Culturally responsive teachers hold high expectations for the behaviors of all students and they allow students to help generate rules or engage in discussions about pre-determined classroom rules. Rules are enforced consistently and equitably for all students. Furthermore, if students seem to be having difficulty following the rules and routines put into place, it might be time to revisit how they are taught and explained to the class. Opening up a discussion for students about the effectiveness or lack thereof with the rules and routines can help you to navigate more effective ways to communicate your expectations to all of your students.

Here are some key elements to effectively teaching classroom routines:
1) Define behavioral expectations for each rule and routine so that they are developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, positively stated, specific, and observable.
2) Define rules that are positively stated, specific, observable, and concise.
3) Explicitly teach and review the rules and routines.
4) Practice the routines.
5) Provide behavior-specific praise and positive attention to students for following the rules.
6) Provide visual prompts of the classroom rules and routines, keeping each routine to the fewest steps possible.
How To

How to Teach Classroom Rules and Routines

Defining and Teaching Classroom Routines - How To
Begin by making a list of various routines that occur throughout the day.
Define Rule or Routine
Keep your hands and feet to yourself. (rule)
Entering the classroom. (routine)
Provide a verbal description of the rule and its relevance:
“We keep our hands and feet to ourselves because it is respectful and keeps us safe.”
“We enter the classroom by quietly hanging up our bookbag, walking to our seat, and getting started on the warm-up right away.”
Provide a positive example:
“When we sit at circle time, this is what our bodies should look like.” (Demonstrate sitting cross-legged with hands in lap.)

Provide a negative example*:

Sit down with your legs spread out and nudge a neighbor with your hands.
Ask the students “Is this what keeping your hands and feet to yourself looks like?”

*It is important that only adults model non-examples. We only want students to practice the positive example of the behavior.


Ask for a student to volunteer to demonstrate the rule or routine:
“Lindsay, can you show us what keeping our hands and feet to ourselves looks like?”

If possible, allow the entire class to demonstrate the rule:
“Now everyone show me what keeping our hands and feet to ourselves looks like.”
“Oliver, can you show us how we should enter the classroom to begin our day?”

If possible, allow the entire class to demonstrate the routine:
“Let’s see if we can all enter the classroom quietly and get our materials ready for the day quickly.”

Provide specific praise to students for appropriate demonstration of the rule or routine.
Devise a plan for reinforcement of rule-following:
Each morning, I will be looking for students who are entering the classroom by quickly hanging up their bookbag, walking to their seat, and immediately getting started on the daily warm-up task.”

Posting Classroom Rules and Routines

First, using a poster board, butcher paper, or some other easily displayable medium, put together one display with each rule and another with each routine written out step by step.
  • Rules should be concise and positively stated
  • Keep each step of the routine as concise as possible.
  • Ensure that the steps are developmentally appropriate. Using pictures and large print is a great way to communicate classroom expectations for young children who may not be able to read the labels.
  • Try to keep routines to as few steps as possible.
Next, identify an area of the classroom to post the rules and routines. Ensure that the area can be easily viewed by the entire class without causing disruption. Placing the routine poster in proximity to where the routine happens can be a helpful reminder to students (e.g. posting the line-up routine next to the classroom door).

Examples of Classroom Routines

Teaching Classroom Routines - Ex 1

Example of Posted Morning Routine with Images

Teaching Classroom Routines - Ex 2

Morning Routine with Images and Words

Teaching Classroom Routines - Ex 3

End of the Day Routine

Strategy Tool
#1 – Teaching Classroom Rules
Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules - Strategy Tool
Use the following form to develop a lesson plan to teach the specific rules you have identified.
#2 – Teaching Classroom Routines
Defining and Teaching Classroom Routines - Strategy Tool
Use the following form to develop a lesson plan to teach the specific routines you have identified.
Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules - Reflection
Take a moment to make sure your plan is going to work.
Goal Setting
Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules - Goal Setting
Use the following form to set your classroom rules and routines goals.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Sprick, R. (2009). CHAMPS: A proactive and positive approach to classroom management. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Reinke, W., Herman, K., & Sprick, R. (2011). Motivational interviewing for effective classroom management: The classroom check-up. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Teaching Tolerance. (2016). Critical practices for anti-bias education. Retrieved from:


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview