Alleah Maree

7 Classroom Management Tips for Little Learners

Alleah RostoharComment

Do you teach tiny humans? I mean, like, REALLY tiny humans? After teacher Kindergarten and second grade for 3 years each, with a lot of subbing mixed in at times, I was forced to figure out what kinds of management strategies worked well for young learners. So, here are 7 easy ideas for managing your classroom full of littles and communicating expectations consistently and effectively.


1. Visual Directions

Using visual directions is a super effective way to remind students of what they should be doing without needing to constantly repeat yourself. By displaying these visual cues, I could encourage students to be as independent in their learning as possible. AND, as a small bonus, keep my sanity in tact too. Because, if we’re being honest, answering “I’m done with that part…what do I do now?” eleventy-billion times per lesson can be testing on the patience. Haha!

Visual directions are a simple way for students to practice sequencing skills multiple times a day, stay on task during independent work, and to learn to problem solve independently before asking for help. Also, they’re helpful for all kinds of learners, including students who are learning English or have extra needs. I would recommend posting them in the same spot all the time so students always know where to look when referring to the visuals.

CLICK HERE to see the editable ones I always used with my kindergarteners. I simply printed, cut, and laminated each card and then displayed them on the side of my magnetic whiteboard using a piece of adhesive magnetic tape.

2. Directions ON Activities

Displaying directions for what students should be doing physically ON the activities is another great way to help students work independently. One thing I used to do is secure something like these editable morning tub cards to the actual plastic bins that the morning tub materials are stored in. This was a simple way for students to refer to directions and expectations for what they were currently working on without needing to ask me how to use the morning tub or how to complete the activity. This is especially helpful when you’re working with a small group or needing to get things in order for when you’re working all together as a class next.

Depending on what your particular group of students needs, you could include words, pictures, or a mixture of both to communicate what students should be doing to complete the activity and use the materials needed correctly. I would strongly recommend laminating these directions so they’re more durable an will last through all the kiddo use. Ha!

3. Positive Notes

In my experience, it does people’s hearts a WORLD of good to hear the things they’re doing well. Knowing that we’re succeeding at something can be such a blessing to hear about, on a great day or challenging one.

So, writing notes to students who you catch doing or being something wonderful can be a great management tool! A few kind words about something you’ve seen in their work, behavior, or personality can help students feel a sense of belonging and trust. Pointing out small, specific things you notice communicates that you truly care for them. And, as the old saying goes, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Even the most challenging student can be reached when they know they’re cared for and important to you and your classroom community.

These positive notes for students are quick, simple ones that you can just print, cut, and pass around to your little ones to tell them how great they are! Sticky notes work super well too. :)

4. Behavior Calendars

Behavior calendars are not only an easy idea to keep track of behaviors for the day, but a simple way to communicate the events of the day to parents as well. Usually, these kinds of behavior calendars are used in conjunction with a color chart or clip chart, but they can be used in many other ways as well. Normally, students will color the picture on the correct day of the week to correspond with the color they earned on the color chart for that day. Then, the teacher will write a quick note once in awhile to keep parents informed. I tried to always write a note when a student had an “extreme day”, whether AMAZING or truly challenging. This way, I could brag on their absolute greatness or help parents understand why their child had such a struggle-bus day. These simple notes are an essential part of the management and communication process and parents love to be kept in the loop about their child’s behavior in many cases.

Remember, the most important part of using behavior calendars is to make sure students know what is expected and what they are bringing home to their parents and that the parents are told about the specific behaviors went on that day in the classroom, amazing or not so much. I always used these editable behavior calendars with my kindergarteners as a super simple, quick way to keep track of and communicate about behaviors.

5. Silent Reminders

Reminding your little learners of what’s expected of them and what their best behaviors looks like is always important. However, a lot of the time, it’s not something you want to have to holler down the hallway or draw a bunch of attention to. So, silent reminders are the perfect way to accomplish this!

Take these free cards to assemblies, while walking in the hallway, while observing students working in the classroom, or even to recess to gently and effectively remind your kids of your expectations for their behaviors. Using simple hand signals is another great option for silently giving directions.

With both of these strategies, you’ll need to teach your students what they’re for and what they mean when they see the card or the hand signal. Teach about it, read about it, color or draw about it, act it out, act out how it DOESN’T look, all the things. When you’re sure your students understand what’s expected, then you’re free to start using this kind of tool and even attaching the same consequences to them as if you had given the same instruction verbally.

6. Color Clip Chart

Using a color clip chart can be a little bit of a touchy topic. Many teachers love them, many hate them, and for a variety of reasons. I personally always used a color clip chart, with very clear expectations for myself and my students, for a few reasons.

So, if you’re on the fence or want to use a color chart but aren’t totally sure how, here are a few tips that helped this tool be successful in my classroom.

  1. BE RESPECTFUL: I always used our color clip chart to manage behaviors in a concrete way that I felt my young students could understand, NOT ever to shame or make anyone feel belittled or embarrassed. I would take time at the very beginning of the year to discuss and explain what the chart’s purpose was and how we were going to use it. This helped my students understand the PURPOSE of the color chart, which was to help them SEE how their choices were affecting their day and others around them and keep track of that throughout the day. It was never ever to make them feel badly or communicate that they weren’t “good” or anything like that. With little ones, explicitly explaining this concept is very important. Most of my students always understood these concepts pretty quickly and I made sure to be true to my word and never used it in a way that made anyone feel embarrassed or ashamed.

  2. USE YOUR JUDGMENT: Some students have personalities that like to push boundaries and will need you to give an instruction along with a “or you’ll need to move your clip down” to get them to listen. Others will be completely MORTIFIED at even the mention of their clip. So, use your judgment and use the chart to be an EFFECTIVE behavior manager, not ever a punishing or demeaning process. Some kids, you’ll probably NEVER have to actually have them move their clip because presenting the warning of moving it will be enough. You may need to only GLANCE at the clip chart to send your sensitive kids to a tearful change of behavior. Your more stubborn kids may need to move their clip all the way down many days in a row for them to finally learn that their behavior is unacceptable. So, you know your kids…be gentle when needed and firm when needed. You’ll know the difference.

  3. PICK YOUR BATTLES: If you have your students move their clip down for EVERY incorrect or inappropriate action, many of them will go home on red every day because they’re young and learning and need a LOT of grace. I’m not saying to lower your expectations or let them get away with unexpected behaviors, but I AM encouraging you to move clips for things that are truly worth changing. So, in other words, pick your battles and only move clips for things that are truly unacceptable behavior (hurting others, being intentionally disrespectful, deliberately not following directions, etc.) and not smaller things that can be adjusted with a bit of training (putting supplies away incorrectly, occasionally talking when they should be listening, not paying attention in line, etc.).

  4. FIND THE GOOD STUFF: Last tip: FIND THE GOOD STUFF!! Holy moly, those little learners do SO many great things throughout the day, y’all! Notice them and move those clips up up up for EVERY great thing you see! :) This is a really effective way to motivate your kiddos AND help them feel empowered and hopeful that if they DO move their clip down once or twice throughout the day, they have opportunities to make up for that choice. Giving them the reassurance that they can always work really hard to move their clip back up throughout the day is a great way to help the clip chart keep a positive spin and not get defeating or negative.

So, those are my thoughts on color clip charts. It may or may not be a great fit for you and your students, but that’s completely up to you. I truly believe a clip chart can be used to positively shape behaviors if used thoughtfully. CLICK HERE to see the editable one I used in my classroom for years!

7. Always Post Expectations Visually

Keeping expectations for behavior and assignments posted in a simple and visual way is obviously an important part of communicating with young learners. Since they are usually still mastering their reading, writing, and sometimes even speaking skills, SHOWING and illustrating expectations is crucial.

In addition to visual directions, keeping posters or something similar posted in the classroom that shows behavior and work expectations can be a helpful strategy. The school I taught at most recently used a program called “CHAMPS”, so these editable posters came in really handy for keeping expectations known to everyone walking into your classroom, including students, administrators, and parents!

Posting expectations this way is an all-around win for you for these 3 reasons:

  1. They’ll help your students know how to behave and be successful in your classroom.

  2. They’ll show administrators that you plan ahead and set up clear expectations for your students.

  3. They’ll communicate to parents that you are organized and manage your classroom in a way that sets their kids up to be successful in their academics and behaviors.

Keeping young students motivated and learning in an effective way can be challenging, but you are a ROCKSTAR and can totally do it! I hope you found a tip or two that will help you train and shape your little learners into amazingly independent kids. Leave a comment telling me which management ideas you already use or would like to use with your students this year!

Cheering you on!