Effective Classroom Management Ideas for the 1st Grade

Realistic classroom management strategies for first grade are paramount to each student’s ability to learn and become socialized in elementary school classrooms. No teacher wants to be the one who stands at the front of the classroom barking out orders to a class of rambunctious six- and seven-year-olds. Yet, without an organized plan for classroom management, this is exactly what happens in the first grade classroom.

Despite the limited attention span of most children at this age, this grade level is of particular importance in establishing the educational, behavioral, social and group work foundational skills required at all subsequent levels of schooling. A solid collection of first grade classroom management ideas can help prevent this problem for teachers, helping them and their young students enjoy their time together.

A brief history of classroom management strategies

At one time in American educational history, this article would have been unnecessary. Learning was performed by rote memorization with additional work expected to be completed at home. Instruction in expected courtesies, classroom deportment, group work skills and anticipated behavior was usually provided during the first day of class. Subsequent infractions were swiftly dealt with in the classroom through punishments designed to make the offender the center of embarrassment. More serious or continued breaches in the teacher’s code of conduct were dealt with in the principal’s office where corporal punishment was often utilized to help eliminate the misbehavior.

How to: 5 effective first grade classroom management strategies

Modern management strategies for first grade generally focus on four areas: maintaining limited attention spans, teaching expected classroom behavior, introducing task-focused group work and types of “discipline” enforced for behavior infractions. A number of techniques addressing each of these areas follows.

1. Maintaining limited attention spans

Children at this age naturally have somewhat limited attention spans. A steady diet of television and games that provide near-constant stimulation have also led them to anticipate the same rate and degree of change during classroom lessons. The development of educational computer software that mimics “gaming” has helped students study particular subjects they may halfheartedly attempted on paper, but does nothing to help maintain group attention spans where one child’s boredom can quickly spread to others. A master’s degree in teaching offers a number of ways to maintain classroom management:

  • Keep your attitude fresh and interested in the lesson.
  • Promote and maintain excitement regarding anticipated lessons by “Coming Soon!” posters or other visuals of future lessons.
  • Especially for children at this age, use visual props to catch and maintain their attention. For instance, a story about the Wild West can be introduced while wearing a cowboy hat.
  • Vary the type of material used during the lesson to maintain the students’ attentions and meet the needs of children with different learning styles.
  • Use different colored chalk or markers when writing words for students.
  • Don’t ask a question and wait for the outgoing children to raise their hands. Instead, ask the question and identify a student at random to provide the answer. This method helps children maintain their focus and be more attentive.
  • Ensure that all eyes are on you during the lesson. If one or more children are looking away, stop your lesson and silently wait for their attentions to return to you.
  • Ask your classroom to collectively recount the series or steps in directions you may have provided for a lesson. Write each task out when they properly identify the order.
  • As research has indicated that longer periods of written-work assignment time can lead to discipline issues, so schedule these types of lessons to 20 minutes or less.

2. Using attention-getting signals

Sometimes, first-graders get out of hand, and they don’t even realize it is happening. Attention-getting signals can be verbal cues, body cues and even sounds, like a bell, to get the children’s attention when needed.

These signals make the children stop what they are doing and think long enough to realize what they need to do or change. For example, a teacher may sing a little song that indicates it is time to put materials away and line up at the door. That simple action is far more effective than barking out an order. Teachers can use attention getting signals most effectively by changing them routinely so students do not get bored with them.

3. Teaching expected classroom behavior

Teaching children of different social, cultural, economic and religious backgrounds the somewhat standardized expectations of classroom behavior is the most difficult of all the lessons taught in first grade. There is often no time set aside for formal lessons on classroom courtesies, so this information has to be imparted during lessons on other academic subjects. Your failure to teach one child this lesson doesn’t stop at that single student. Instead, you will be forced to deal with the consequences of his or her misbehavior for the entire school year, including interrupted lessons, frustrated students and an overall decrease in the quality of your teaching and your class’s learning.

4. Visually displaying students’ positive and negative behaviors

Children in first grade need a visual, even tactile way to show how they are behaving. One classroom management technique that works quite well is a color-coded chart with clothespins. Each child has a clothespin clipped to the chart. All children start the day on green, which means a good day. If the teacher sees a student do something particularly good, that student can move the clip up to blue, which means excellent.

If the student is caught doing something against a posted classroom rule, they move the clip down to yellow, which is a warning. Further infractions move down to orange, which brings a small consequence, then red, which causes a note sent home. Finally, if the student continues to break the classroom rules, they move to black, which involves a conference with the principal. Because the students always have the ability to move back up on the chart, they remain motivated to behave well, even if they have to move down at some point.

This is just one example of a tactile and visual behavior monitoring system to use in the classroom. To make them effective, these systems need to be connected to clearly stated and posted classroom rules. This prevents the teacher from handing out consequences on a whim and ensures the students know what is expected.

5. Maximizing proximity control

The teacher’s body is a powerful tool in the classroom, especially in first grade when many students still have a strong desire to please their teacher. Proximity control can be highly effective, when used carefully. This should be part of an effective classroom management strategy.

When a teacher notices a child or group of students starting to get wiggly or talking out of turn, simply walking to the area where that student or group is working can stop the unwanted behavior. If the teacher’s presence does not stop the behavior, a hand on the child’s desk or back can get the student’s attention and stop the actions. No negative consequence is required with proper use of proximity control.

Look on the Web for other resources

The Teaching Channel or Tch is a website designed to provide quick but effective lessons to teachers on how to improve aspects of their instruction. Although there are longer videos for the subjects that require the time, most videos are two minutes in length. At the time of this article, they offered 26 videos on “classroom culture” for grades K-5. This resource helps provide you with ideas on dealing with the other two major tasks of first grade: that of task-focused group work and how “discipline” is enforced. Many successful and experienced teachers have also established Pinterest sites specifically on the subject of first grade classroom management.

Effective classroom management makes the first grade classroom run smoothly, and these classroom management ideas for first graders help teachers maintain a positive, supportive environment in his or her classroom. This helps all students grow to their full potential in this vital year of school.

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This section is devoted to information for improving student academic achievement with resources devoted to research development and curriculum implementation. Articles will direct you to online resources that will help students inside--and outside—the classroom. The relationship between “what to teach’ (curriculum) and “how to teach” (instruction) is also explored.

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