Bringing Rules to Life

Do you think that without looking, your students could name your classroom’s rules? Most teachers establish classroom rules at the beginning of the year, and many devote time to modeling and practicing rules with students in the first weeks of school. After that, however, the amount of time spent thinking about what rules mean and how to live by them often drops off dramatically.

It is important to keep discussing and practicing the rules all year long. Students cannot possibly learn all they need to about how to live and behave as a community during the first weeks of school. Time spent together deepens their understanding of how to truly care for each other. Also, keeping the rules alive and ever-present in children’s minds gives you the ability to ask “What do our rules say about . . . ?” when challenging situations arise.

Be on the look-out for teachable moments and new and different ways to revisit the rules.  For instance, Sarah Fillion recently wrote about using the beginning of a new unit of study as an opportunity to revisit rules. I wrote about using T-charts and Y-charts to structure classroom discussions about what the rules look like, sound like, and feel like in different situations.

Another way to revisit rules is to have students write about or make drawings showing people following their classroom rules. It sounds simple, but it’s a powerful activity! It helps students develop positive, concrete images of what it looks and sounds like to be part of a community and follow that community’s rules. It works with older students, and can be an assignment that prompts reflective thinking. You can incorporate writing and build academic skills at the same time. Perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to wait and use this idea as a response to rule-breaking—it can be a proactive activity that reinforces students’ understanding of and commitment to classroom rules.

Here’s a video of first grade teacher Courtney Fox getting her students started on this sort of assignment. She starts by gathering the class as a group and asking them to think about ways they might follow each of their classroom rules. After a brief discussion and sharing some examples, the children follow up by drawing themselves doing what they imagined.


Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Classroom Rules, Revisiting Rules