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Friday, July 24, 2015

Student-Generated Class Rules

I love having my students create their own class rules. It is so much more meaningful than arbitrary rules that come from the teacher. Students really take ownership of the rules when they are in charge of creating them themselves.

I begin this process as I do most other activities in my classroom, with a book! One of my recent favorites to use with rule creation is a book called If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover.

In this book, different scenarios are shown that exhibit what the world would be like if everyone did little, harmful things. It shows that although certain misbehaviors might seem small, they can become out of control problems quickly.

I then pose the question, “What do we need in order to make sure that we don’t have out of control problems in our class this year?” Rules! I also connect to our prior conversations about Hopes and Dreams. (If you missed that post, stop right now and click here to read up on one of my absolute favorite beginning of the year activities. Done? Ok, back to business.) I ask, “Will we be able to meet our Hopes and Dreams if we don’t have rules?” and “How can rules help us with our learning?”

Once we are all on the same page about the importance of having rules, we begin the process of creating them!

First, I have students get up and do Kagan cooperative learning routine to discuss rules they think we should have in our class. I take this opportunity to teach one of my favorite routines, Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up. In this interactive activity, all students begin by sitting on the floor quietly. I call out “Stand up!”, and they stand up silently. Then I say “Hand up!” and they raise one hand in the air. Last I say “Pair up!” and they walk around silently to find a partner. They choose a partner and put their raised hands together, then they sit down, face each other and discuss the topic, in this case, rules they think our class should have. I use Interactive Modeling to teach expectations for this routine (stay tuned for a future blog post about Interactive Modeling!), and they have to practice it a lot, but once they can model the expectations of choosing different partners and not declining any partners, it’s a great way to get them up and moving and doing some focused discussion.

Something important to remember as you are listening in on their conversations is to help your students phrase their ideas for rules in positive form rather than negative. So, instead of “Don’t run.” try “Walk in the classroom.” Instead of “Don’t talk while the teacher is talking.” try “Listen to the teacher when she/he is talking.” This is so so important, we don’t need kids talking about all the things they aren’t supposed to do! We need them talking about what they ARE going to do! So when you hear that word “don’t”, make them flip it around by asking, “What ARE we going to do?” It takes practice, but the kids will catch on.

After a few rounds of Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up, we come back together and make a long list of all the ideas they have for class rules. I had a Promethean board at my previous school, so we did this part of rule creation electronically, but I’ve seen teachers use chart paper too. Here is our list from last year, you can see all of their ideas are phrased in a positive form, and I just listed them. I created each “rule” in a separate text box by the way, and you will see why next.

After we’ve listed all of their “rule” ideas, we stop for the day. Gotta love those short attention spans!

The next day I bring the kids together again, pull up our list, and I tell them that while I thought their rule ideas were all really great, there are so many that I’m worried I won’t be able to remember all of them! Then I mention that I was thinking some of them were kind of alike, and maybe we could sort the ones that are alike together, to make it easier to remember all the different rules. (If you are a teacher, you are really one step away from being a professional actor, so I know you can handle this little act!)

Then we start reading through them, and kids start suggesting rules they think are similar, and we start dragging rules around making groupings. (If you are using paper, cutting them out and physically moving them works too!)

This process, depending on how much discussion happens, can take a couple or even a few sessions. Last year, my group of second graders had deep discussions and debates about how certain rules were related to other rules, so it took us about 4 days of 15-20 minute sessions to agree and get them all sorted out. This is what we ended up with…

We had four distinct groups of similar rules. I think it's best to stick with 3 or 4 total, otherwise there are just too many to think about and remember.

Our next task was to give each group of rules a name or choose one rule from within it that describes all the other rules in the group. After a little more discussion and debate, they decided on these four rules…

I wrote them out onto a poster, we took an oath to promise to always follow our rules for the good of the class, and everyone signed the rules ( I didn’t take a picture, I’ll make sure to do that this year!). It was displayed prominently in the classroom, and we referenced the rules (using the language the kids decided on) daily!

If you want class rules that have meaning and aren’t just arbitrarily given to students, I highly recommend this process!


  1. I love that you broke this into small steps. Nothing too overbearing for little ones! Last year, instead of rules we set expectations and I really liked the reception of the wording! This year I might try your steps to setting these. Thanks for sharing

    1. It's nice doing it piece by piece and coming back to it over the course of a few days, kids remember where we are in the process and get excited to revisit and keep working on it. I think it sticks with them more than with just a one-and-done rules session.