Try This: Y-Charts for Revisiting Rules

Are you looking for a strategy to help your students navigate particularly tricky times of day, such as transitions, recess, lunch, or dismissal time? Try making a “looks like/sounds like” chart (often called a T-chart) or a “looks like/sounds like/feels like” chart (aka a Y-chart) with them. This activity and the discussion that surrounds helps students envision the positive benefits of changing their behavior, and it heightens their understanding of what has to be done.

A looks like/sounds like/feels like conversation allows students to reflect on concrete ways to live out their classroom rules. It’s simple and it shouldn’t take much time—maybe ten minutes with a group of young children, and not more than fifteen minutes with fourth or fifth graders. It should be an open conversation, not a lecture or a scolding. The children should do most of the talking. Once created, the chart you make together will serve as a visual reminder and can be referred to in future conversations. January is a great time to give this strategy a try—I hope it helps you and your class get off to a positive start in the new year.

Here’s how it works:

Gather the group so that everyone can see what you write as you collect their ideas on chart paper or the board. Identify the time of day you’re going to focus on and ask the children to think about their classroom rules and what it will look like, sound like, and feel like if they are following the rules at that time. For instance: “What will it look like, sound like, and feel like if we are all of taking care of each other while playing basketball at P.E.?” Or “What will it look like and sound like if we are all taking care of our classroom and each other during clean-up time at indoor recess?” If students phrase their responses in terms of what not to do: “We shouldn’t be bad sports if we win,” help them rephrase in terms of what to do: “If you are not going to be a bad sport, what will you do or say if you win?”

The video below shows a teacher having such a conversation with third graders. Suzy Ghosh uses a Y-chart to help her class explore how it will look, sound, and feel to follow their classroom rules in the lunchroom. When I watch this, I am especially struck by the skillful way Suzy takes the students’ statements about what not to do and guides them to restate them in the more helpful and positive direction of what they can and will do. By the end of the conversation, the students have a strong, positive vision of lunchroom behavior and expectations.

Learn more about using Y-charts and other strategies for
teaching positive behavior:

Rules in School: Teaching Discipline in the Responsive Classroom  Positive behavior can be taught. This book has helped thousands of teachers establish calm, safe classrooms. K–8.

Developmental Changes Prompt Changes in Routine” A sixth grade teacher describes using a Y-chart with a structured discussion to reset expectations for arrival time routines.

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, Hallways, Lunchroom, Playground, Revisiting Rules, Transitions