Looking for Distance Learning Resources from Benchmark Education? Click Here

Our Commitment to Anti-Racism and Black Voices

Product Finder

Product Finder

Read About Best Practices in Classroom Management and Organization


This module explores classroom management and organization. You will learn how to set up a room environment that is conducive to learning, use effective discipline techniques, and establish routines and procedures.

Room Environment

What does it mean to set up your room environment? It is important to consider both the physical and emotional environments that will play a role in the instructional setting.

Physical Environment

Your room environment defines the instructional atmosphere of your classroom. Many teachers base the arrangement simply on the furniture they have available and the materials they know will be on hand. For a room environment to be effective, you must think far beyond those narrow parameters. The classroom environment is evident to students on the first day of school. Students’ expectations for the school year will be based on what they see in the room and how they perceive you on the first day. If students walk into an unorganized, chaotic setting, they will brace themselves for a year of instruction following those patterns. However, if they walk into an environment that is well organized, with meaningful spaces and materials, they will look forward to a year of quality instruction within an organized format.

In order for your classroom environment to reflect your instructional needs, you must first define these needs. This requires examination of every piece of furniture in your classroom:

  • What is it used for?
  • Does it need to be there?
  • How will it benefit instruction for my students?
  • Is there a way I could use it other than the way I used it last year?

These are difficult and time-consuming questions, but they can lead you to design a thriving classroom environment.

When setting up the physical environment of your classroom, consider classroom logistics, student areas, teacher areas, wall space, and teaching materials. Consider the items that are present or not; take action to create a more conducive physical room environment.

What Students Want to Know

On the first day, students are most concerned with the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy (safety, love, esteem, physiological). They want the teacher to be confident, kind, and competent. Once this level is established, they can move to higher levels of thinking.

Am I in the right room?

Where am I supposed to sit?

What are the rules in this classroom?

What will I be doing this year?

How will I be graded?

Who is the teacher as a person?

Will the teacher treat me as a human being?

Will the teacher respect me and understand my culture, background, and needs?

Students need to feel safe in the school environment. Students will learn better if they feel welcome and important in your classroom. It is up to you to make sure you meet the emotional needs of your students in the classroom. This means carefully considering the details of the physical environment and its effects on the emotional culture of the classroom. The following four elements will assist you in creating a supportive emotional environment for learning:

  • Volume
  • Common courtesy
  • Making a statement
  • Five senses


Effective teachers understand the use of volume in the classroom. They have a firm but gentle voice, and they learn to speak “loudly” with their tone, not their volume. When effective teachers alter their voice to speak softly or whisper, students mirror this behavior by becoming quiet to hear the important information. Sometimes, behavioral issues arise or the class becomes disorderly. The teacher should remain calm. This will communicate that the teacher is in control and knows what to expect from the students. These times may be good opportunities to rehearse classroom procedures and routines.

Common Courtesy

Students mirror their teacher’s behavior. Since this is so, it is important for teachers to treat students with the same type of respect and courtesy that the teachers would show to the students’ parents. Saying “please” and “thank you,” calling students by name, choosing not to use a sarcastic tone, etc., are all ways to show students how to respect each other and the teacher. Courteous behavior may not be common in a student’s home. While this may increase the challenge of teaching courteous behavior, it makes the task that much more important. If students don’t learn respect and courtesy at school, where will they learn it?

Making a Statement

Remember that everything you do makes a statement that affects the emotional environment of your classroom. Your students take their cues from you. If you allow teasing and disrespectful and unkind behavior between classmates, what statement does that make? Stopping such behavior immediately sends the message that it will not be tolerated. Once students realize that your classroom is a safe place, their minds are free to learn the content you teach.

Five Senses

What message did you send to your students when they walked into your room today? Often, the only buildings more stark and uncomfortable than schoolrooms are prison cells! Does your home have hard plastic chairs, fluorescent lights, white cinder block walls, and someone else’s laminated posters on the walls? The way you attend to the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of your room directly influences how students behave. Help students realize that you care about their comfort and learning. Bring in lamps (available for pennies at garage sales), pillows (with removable covers for sanitary reasons), music (instrumental for quiet working periods, lyrical for transition times or to enhance a lesson), and fresh flowers or potpourri. Research on the brain has shown that these details make classrooms more conducive to learning.

Building Community

Students and quality instruction should be at the heart of any decision you make in designing your classroom environment. Students must feel safe and secure. There should be an underlying emphasis on learning. Just as the physical environment demands meticulous planning, the emotional environment of your classroom is of utmost importance. Class-building activities and class meetings are one way to ensure that you are supporting the emotional needs of your students. During class meetings, students are given the opportunity to give and receive compliments and appreciation. Class problems that arise are solved through discussion and brainstorming of possible solutions as a group.

Class meetings follow the following format:

  1. Compliments and appreciation
  2. Follow-up on prior solutions
  3. Agenda items
    1. Share feelings while others listen
    2. Discuss without fixing
    3. Ask for problem-solving help
  4. Future plans

(Nelson, Lott, and Glenn, Positive Discipline in the Classroom)

With class building and class meetings as an integral part of your day, you will see the relationships among your students grow. They will become more positive and supportive of one another. The students will realize how good it feels to receive praise for doing a good job! They will become gracious and learn to accept praise and to appreciate that praise. You have set the stage for increasing intrinsic motivation in your students.

The physical environment deserves a great deal of thought and attention. Let the students and their needs drive the organization behind your classroom.

Effective Discipline

"Effective teachers introduce rules, procedures, and routines on the very first day of school and continue to teach them the first week of school."

Harry and Rosemary Wong, The First Days of School

Effective discipline is evident in classrooms that have set procedures. When students are able to self-monitor their behaviors, they are able to address the learning issues at any grade level. Students must have a firm, set plan for discipline. Although procedures are necessary for effective discipline, there is a difference between a discipline plan and procedures.

  • Discipline concerns how students behave.
  • Procedures concern how thing are done.
  • Discipline has penalties and rewards.
  • Procedures have no penalties or rewards.

In your discipline plan, consider all the different places in the school where you need to control students’ behavior. Consider classroom rules, playground rules, hallway rules, and cafeteria rules. Explore other places and rules as you think about your school and the expectations you have for your students.

General and Specific Rules

An important principle for new teachers to understand is the difference between general rules (respect others) and specific rules (do not use vulgar or offensive language). While experienced teachers may be able to run a well disciplined class using general rules, it is often best for new teachers to start with specific rules. As students learn more about the behavior you expect, you can revise your rules to make them more general.

General rules are broad and flexible, encompassing a wide variety of behaviors. The following are examples of general rules:

  • Respect others.
  • Take care of your school.
  • Be polite and helpful.
  • Keep the room clean.
  • Behave in the library.

General rules must be explained explicitly; otherwise, students will not understand what behaviors are acceptable in the classroom. For example, what does it look like to keep the room clean?

Specific rules are to the point and clearly cover the expectations of one behavior. The following are examples of specific rules:

  • Be in class on time.
  • Keep your hands, feet, and belongings to yourself.
  • Listen to instructions the first time they are given.
  • Do not use vulgar or offensive language.
  • Have all materials ready to use when the bell rings.

Specific rules have the advantage of clearly stating expected student behaviors. The downside to specific rules is that you should limit your rules to just five. You must know exactly what behaviors are important to you to ensure your students’ success throughout the year.

Another important principle is the need to limit the numbers of things you expect your students to memorize to three to five items. Phone numbers, credit cards, social security numbers, etc.—all have numbers clustered in no more than five per set. This is because people find it easier to remember numbers in groups of three to five. If you post a list of rules that is twenty items long, students will not be able to recall and follow them all.

Wise teachers choose their battles carefully. Decide upon three to five important, specifically stated rules if you are a new teacher. Post these rules before the first day of class and introduce them the first day of school. Distribute copies to students on the first day and refer back to the rules numerous times throughout the first week and beyond as necessary.

While students need to understand clearly why the rules were selected, their involvement in this process does not need to be democratic. Rather than having students create the high-priority rules for the class, have them create lists of behaviors that would increase their ability to learn in class. This helps them share in the responsibility for behavior but still allows the teacher to have the final word regarding which rules are non-negotiable.

Rule-Breaking Consequences

Beyond rules, students also need to see that breaking a rule has a prompt consequence. These consequences and the methods used to record them may vary by grade level and teaching style. When designing your discipline plan, take time to plan how you will introduce discipline and teach the consequences. Decide what the rewards are if students follow the rules and what the consequences are if they do not. For any discipline plan to be successful, you must be fair and consistent when applying the consequences.

Implementing Your Discipline Plan

Your classroom rules are as unique as you are as a teacher. It takes time to decide what works best for you and determine how to present those rules to your class. Stand, with conviction, behind each rule you enforce. Determine how the rule changes the environment of your classroom. If you can justify your rules with instructional benefits, you are on the right track. Change your vision and discipline plan each year that you teach, depending on the students you have in your classroom. The end goal is effective discipline, which leads to optimal instruction.

If you do not have a plan, you are planning to fail.

Harry and Rosemary Wong, The First Days of School

Establishing Routines and Procedures

Procedures are the heart of an organized classroom. Harry and Rosemary Wong define procedures and routines in the following manner: “A procedure is what the teacher wants done. A routine is what the students do automatically.” Procedures are the beginnings of routines in our classrooms. We all want to have classrooms that run efficiently. Teachers who have well defined and understood procedures rarely have any discipline problems. These teachers’ classrooms seem to run on their own. In fact, they do. Students know what to do and how to do it because the teacher has explicitly taught each procedure. The procedure is practiced and practiced until it becomes a routine. It becomes the way tasks are accomplished.

Before the first day of school, teachers should take time to determine the procedures that organize the classroom environment. These procedures can be as simple as how students enter the room and as complex as what their options for work are when they have completed the main assignment. Teachers are encouraged to plan these procedures in advance in explicit detail. At first you might think that your students are too old for this type of direct instruction. Remember they are your students for the first time, not the same students you trained to be efficient the year before. Classroom management and organization run more smoothly if students are given the opportunity to learn the classroom procedures through direct instruction rather than through trial and error.

There are procedures for:

  • Operation of the classroom and school
  • Discipline
  • Instruction

You have to find the appropriate time to introduce and teach these procedures to students. Make a list of your procedures and then sort them by importance. Which ones do you have to teach in the first five minutes of the day, within the first hour, within the first day, within the first week, or within the first month? Sorting your procedures this way is important so that you don’t overwhelm your students. They need to absorb the information and begin the process of moving from procedure to routine. In addition to studying procedures, take the time to study the supply list and its intended uses. This will save you time and confusion when your students bring in their supplies. It will also facilitate the beginning of meaningful instruction and the proper use and storage of materials.

Students need to know exactly what is expected. They must know what proper behavior/action is and is not. This requires time and role-playing during the first weeks of school. These role-playing experiences should be specific and teach a certain procedure. Procedures take time to teach, but you will regain the time during the year. You will not have to stop instruction in order to handle procedural concerns. Once you are past the first two weeks of school, your students will move from procedure to routine.