Back to School: 5 Ways to Teach Classroom Rules

Unless you are looping with your students from one grade to the next (as I did for four years with my fourth and fifth graders), Back to School means a whole new batch of students!  How do you ensure that all of those eager First Day of School faces stay sweet and smiling... and that yours does too?  Two words:  Classroom Rules.

Back to School:  5 Ways to Teach Classroom Rules

Of course, there's a lot more that goes into a happy learning environment than training a bunch of rule abiders.  But the simple truth is that establishing classroom rules does indeed go a long way toward creating and nurturing a safe, purposeful, happy learning community.  Keep reading for 5 fun, easy, standards-based ways to teach classroom rules!

This month at Hello Sunshine is all about Back to School.  If you are just joining us now, be sure to click HERE for a great activity to teach kids about the importance of using kind words, click HERE for some super fun ways to spotlight your student of the week,  click HERE for a neat way to use cooperative learning as your scholars discover more about their new teacher, click HERE for awesome kindergarten read alouds and activities, and click HERE for a sure-to-get-'em-laughing ice breaker and our original Back to School thematic link-up.  Be sure to follow Hello Sunshine for helpful posts like these!

Here are a few picture books to teach classroom rules.

Use Picture Books to Teach Classroom Rules.

My go-to lesson opener is a book.  I love to read, students love stories... it's a win/win!  Through literature, complex concepts can be more easily introduced in a manner that is relatable for the students.  What better way to open such an important discussion?

There are many wonderful books that would facilitate the start of such a discussion.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Miss Nelson is Missing - Picture Books to teach classroom rules

Miss Nelson is Missing! (Harry G. Allard Jr., author, and James Marshall, illustrator) has become a perennial favorite.  Thanks to a tricky switch by sweet Miss Nelson and the less-pleasant Miss Viola Swamp, the unruly children of Room 207 learn some important realities about treating others the way they would like to be treated.

Interrupting Chicken - Picture Books to teach classroom rulesBlabber Mouth - Picture Books to Teach Classroom RulesMy Mouth is a Volcano! - Picture Books to teach classroom rules

Blabber Mouse (True Kelley) provides a good launching pad for a discussion of appropriate and inappropriate times, situations, and guidelines for talking.

Featuring a similar theme is My Mouth is a Volcano! (Julia Cook, author, and Carrie Hartman, illustrator) delves more into the disrespectful nature of interrupting and the importance of listening.

Another title about interrupting is the very humorous Interrupting Chicken (David Ezra Stein).

Read It, Don't Eat It! - Picture Books to teach classroom rules

Read It, Don't Eat It! (Ian Schoenherr) presents important behaviors expected in the Library, but these expectations can be easily transferred to a better understanding of respecting classroom materials and resources.

What if Everybody Did That? - Picture Books to teach classroom rules

What If Everybody Did That? (Ellen Javernick, author, Colleen M. Madden, illustrator) makes the jump from behavior to consequences, and offers insight into personal responsibility.  

As I mentioned at the onset, there are SO MANY wonderful books that deal with behavior and the need for rules!  What are some of your favorites?  Please list them in the comments!

Students create comic strips about classrooms WITHOUT rules!

Use Non-Examples to Teach Classroom Rules.

The importance of having - and following - classroom rules is hardly new to even the youngest student.  By the time a youngster comes to kindergarten, he or she has already learned that certain behaviors are acceptable and that others... aren't.  And by the time that same child is in the middle or upper elementary grades, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are often a matter of choice than a matter of confusion.

Using a non-example is a wonderful way to compare and contrast, and is thus a very effective instructional strategy.  Pedagogical value aside, non-examples can also be just plain silly!  Have your students create a picture (or, as my students always preferred, a comic strip) that is set in a classroom where there are no rules.  Remind them to cover many behavioral areas - disrespectful speaking, abuse of school property, distraction during lessons, etc.  You might want to put a time limit on this activity, because I've found that students will happily pursue this endeavor for much longer than expected!

Use this freebie to help your students read about and discuss classroom rules.

Use Collaborative Discussion to Teach Classroom Rules.

Having read (or been read to) about behavior and the need for rules, and then giving ample thought to a world absent of rules, students are ready to process their understanding collaboratively.

I've created a FREEBIE for you to use with your students for this activity; you can download it here!

FREEBIE Back to School Classroom Rules collaborative discussion activity

For this activity, begin by building more background knowledge.  I've written a passage for students to read independently to this purpose.  I also included a planner page for students to respond to the text as they read.

Next, students gather for a collaborative discussion.  For the most successful collaborative discussions, I like to group students into teams of 4 or 5.  (Only 3 students often results in two students deep in a dialogue with the "odd man out" sidelined as non-participating spectator.)  Students should be facing each other, either at a table or with desks and chairs turned inward.  Students will silently read the article closely, making notes on the recording sheet where indicated.  I set a time limit on the silent reading portion, check in at the designated time to confirm that we're ready to roll, and then instruct the students to start their discussion once everybody has read the article through.

I included a note-taking sheet with this resource to guide the discussion as well as to hold each participant accountable.

This freebie is part of a larger Back to School resource I hope to have available in my store SOON!  (I truly am the slowest person I know... so that "soon" thing is a fervent hope...  Fingers crossed!)

Build a safe learning community based on effective classroom rules.

 Use Community Circle to Teach Classroom Rules.

I love Community Circle!  For starters, I don't have a loud voice, so the teacher-student proximity of this format works really well for me personally.  But more importantly, Community Circle is the place where everybody can share informations, ideas, questions, and answers, all while nurturing that unique bond that grows over the school year.

After the reading, the creativity, and the discussion, now everybody is ready to come back together and apply what's been learned about classroom rules.

Quick management tip:  I like to use a My Turn Guy to reinforce the only-speak-when-it's-your-turn expectation of Community Circle.  A small stuffed animal that fills a child's cupped hands is perfect - it's small enough to be held, but big enough to be important and not get lost in the shuffle.

During Community Circle, students can collaborate once again, this time as a whole group and in concert with you, to come up with this year's classroom rules.  And that leads me to our fifth and final step:

When students have ownership of classroom rules, they are more likely to follow them.

 Use Ownership of Documentation to Teach Classroom Rules.

As much as I love - and have always used - adorable pre-made charts and posters, there's something especially effective about a document that's been created as a community.

Students are much more likely to feel a sense of ownership when they see those rules posted... when they know that this is the list they helped draft.  And when students feel ownership of the rules, they are much more likely to follow the rules!

The rules can be posted as one large chart, or as smaller individual posters.  You can be as plain or as fancy as you like!

The important thing is to use them a resource all the time.  It's validating and community-nurturing to refer to them regularly - after all, this was one of the first things created by this class as a community!  What I love is how eventually students start referring to the rules as well.  These documents can be cute, but more importantly, they will be oh so valuable!

Thank you so much for visiting Hello Sunshine today!  I hope you'll follow us and come back often!


  1. Awesome post, Pam! So many great reminders for veterans, and super suggestions for newbies! Love it! :o)

  2. Amazing job Pam! I loved everything about your post!

    1. Thanks, Ashlyn! (I am still swooning over the monster legs on your computer table. Seriously - how cute!!!)

  3. These are such wonderful ideas. I love the variety of ways to teach the rules and procedures in your classroom. And, the freebie is adorable.

  4. I LOVE the idea of using books to help teach our students the rules! I LOVE using books any chance I get! Thank you for sharing so many great ideas!!

    Mrs. 3rd Grade