How to Discipline Groups of Children

Controlling a large group of children can be one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of teaching. Here are some tips to help put a stop to a frustrating group dynamic.

Learn the Tricks of the Trade

I have certainly learned a few things the hard way, but I have also been lucky to work with so many expert teachers who have shown me a few tricks of the trade.

Create a positive, stimulating environment

Children who are bored or put down will misbehave. Praise and reward are key to promoting good behaviour. Some more visual incentives that can work wonders are stickers, reward charts  and certificates.

Another useful strategy for older children is offering table points or filling a jar with cubes to reward the whole class. Let children choose rewards such as an extra play, or a computer session when the jar is full.

For little ones, we have used a ‘warm fuzzy’ teddy bear chart in my school where the children place their own name card on the teddy for good behaviour. Older children work towards receiving a certificate by colouring a box next to their name when they behave well.

Keep calm!

This is easier said than done and we can all lose it from time to time, so take a deep breath and count to ten. Try to get their attention without shouting, which will only encourage more challenging behaviour.

Signals can be useful in gaining everyone’s attention – try clapping a pattern or raising a hand in the air for children to copy in response. You could also use a bell, tambourine or drum, or play a quick game of "Simon Says" or "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes". Even speaking in a whisper can be very effective in gaining everyone’s attention.

The key is practice, practice, practice

Children need to be trained to respond to attention-grabbing techniques, so persevere until you achieve a perfect response. Praise children who are taking notice, especially those sitting near a child who isn’t.

Be clear and consistent

Behaviour needs to be addressed by the whole school - staff, pupils and parents. Create a behaviour policy that centres on a set of basic rules appropriate for each age group.

Keep the wording positive

The rules should be displayed in each area of the school so that they can be referred to when dealing with difficult behaviour. Once everyone has embraced the ethos and strategies laid out in the policy, children will be clear on what is unacceptable and how it will be dealt with.

  • Have realistic expectations for different situations and age groups.  Very young children need to be taught how to behave in a group situation. Plan interesting activities appropriate for their concentration and ability, and expect a certain amount of noise during free play, PE and lunch.
  • Often a lively group can be caused by one or two individuals. Place disruptive children in group activities near an adult. Such children can get bored easily and may need more active involvement in lessons and extra praise – try an individual Reward Chart. Always give a warning, and remove a child from the group who continues to disrupt the class. Some children are just not ready for concentrating in larger groups and may need special guidance.
  • Try to phrase your criticism in a positive way. For example, instead of saying “Don’t run inside!” say “Could you please walk?”
  • Children respond well to routine. Keep them informed about transitions and the structure of the day so they know what to expect, for example, “In five minutes we will tidy up.”

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