How to Set English Classroom Rules That Actually Help You Teach
Back when I was in high school, teachers often labeled me as defiant and a troublemaker.
The thing is, I wasn’t particularly bad or disruptive.
I just needed to understand why we were expected to follow certain rules.
Of course, I knew why it was important not to talk through class or cheat on an exam. But I couldn’t understand why my high school science teacher wouldn’t let us use mechanical pencils—and I wasn’t prepared to accept “because I said so” as a legitimate answer.
As a teacher, I definitely understand the importance of rules in the classroom. Without them, the educational environment would be chaotic and students would have a hard time learning anything at all.
But I’ve also learned the difference between good rules, which support the classroom learning environment, and unnecessary rules like the one I was subjected to in science class.
Knowing that difference is crucial to building a positive, collaborative English classroom. If you can create strong classroom rules and help students understand how following the rules actually benefits them, you’ll spend a lot less of your time having to enforce those rules.
Plus, the great thing about rules for the English classroom is that they can actually serve an extra purpose—supporting students’ English language skills.
Here’s how to accomplish all that, with ideas for good English classroom rules and four creative activities to get the most out of them.
What Type of Rules Promote a Good Learning Environment?
The point of English classroom rules isn’t to govern your students with an iron fist. It’s to make sure that everyone gets the same, high-quality learning experience.
When you come up with your list of English classroom rules, keep your students’ needs and expectations in mind. Think about how your rules can give structure to the classroom and help students get the most out of their English education.
Here are some example classroom rules that’ll help your students succeed:
- Use polite language when making a request in class. (This is also an opportunity to teach vocabulary words like “please” and “thank you.”)
- Always try to communicate in English before falling back to your native language.
- All students need to participate in at least one activity per lesson.
- Don’t interrupt. Pay attention when the teacher or other students are talking.
- No laughing at your classmates when they make a mistake.
- No talking or using mobile phones during tests.
- No plagiarizing your written assignments.
The exact rules will look different for each classroom. If you’re teaching upper-intermediate or advanced English learners, you might want to go with an English-only classroom rule. If it’s a conversational English class, a “don’t interrupt” rule might be less useful than something like “raise your hand when you have an interjection.”
Ultimately, the rules for your English classroom should be designed to create a positive learning environment where students are encouraged to practice English and can make mistakes without being ridiculed.
4 Surprising Ways to Turn English Classroom Rules into Positive Teaching Tools
Creating your classroom rules is only the first step. If you really want them to be effective, students need to know the rules inside and out—and understand why they’re there. Let’s look at some ways you can accomplish that.
Classroom Rules Posters
Hanging up a poster of the classroom rules is a great idea for a variety of reasons.
For starters, you can easily make this a classroom activity by having students work together in groups to create their own posters displaying the rules. This will give your students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the rules, as well as practice their writing skills as they write out each rule on the blank poster. Making a poster is an especially excellent exercise for students who learn visually or through hands-on activities.
If you have time, you can even throw in a speaking activity by having your students explain why each rule on their poster is important.
Once you hang the posters on the wall, you can help your students memorize the rules by repeating them together at the start of every class.
If you’re looking for ideas or a theme for your classroom rules poster, the British Council offers the following poster templates on their website:
You can download the templates at the bottom of the page. They come in two versions: completed, where the rules are already filled in, and blank. If you’re going to make the poster as an in-class activity, you should download the blank version.
A written contract doesn’t just cover the rules of the classroom, but also outlines the commitments that students and the teacher are expected to follow. That way, both parties have a good understanding of what they should expect out of each other.
Suitable for all ages, contracts work especially well with teenagers and adults. Anyone who’s thinking about joining the workforce in an English-speaking region will appreciate seeing the structure and language used in English contracts.
Here’s an example of a classroom rules contract. While a contract for your English class would need to be edited to suit your specific rules, the concept stays the same. You list the rules and explain what happens when students don’t follow them.
Additionally, you may want to add your grading system into the classroom contract, like the one in this sample. This lets students know how assignments, tests and in-class exercises will be graded, while highlighting your contractual obligations to grade fairly. And since students and teachers both have to agree to the contract, it makes both parties more mindful of their commitments.
Finally, don’t forget to give your students a copy of their contract to take home and read in their personal time. You can even turn it into a language-learning activity by having students read their contracts at home and then talk with them about the rules the following lesson. Ask them to name some rules and talk about why they think following those rules is important.
You can even turn your English classroom rules into an activity that lets your students practice their writing skills while enjoying a little “break” in the rules (without any actual bad behavior).
Simply have your class write a short story about a fictitious student who continues to break the rules in class. In their story, have them include the following details:
- The specific rules that the student in the story breaks
- Why the student should follow the rules in class
- The consequences the student faces as a result of breaking the rules
The nice thing about this activity is that you can use it with almost any skill level. To do this assignment, your students just need to know how to make basic sentences using past, present and future tenses.
You can also have each individual student complete the writing assignment in class or for homework, or you can have students work together in small groups of three or four to come up with a story. Group work makes the activity more inclusive by allowing skilled students to help the less proficient ones with their writing.
One of the most effective ways to ensure that students know and understand the rules isn’t even a teaching exercise—it’s how you solve problems and manage your classroom.
As a teacher, it’s important to understand that we all make mistakes. Even the best, most well-behaved student is going to slip up and break the rules from time to time. And if you focus too much on the mistakes that students make, you could create an uneasy learning environment where students don’t feel comfortable participating in activities.
For this reason, it’s better to reinforce positive behavior than to focus predominantly on the negative. In other words, don’t only scold your students when they break the rules. Instead, make sure to also give them praise and acknowledgment when they follow the rules and do something right.
You can even give rewards when students reach certain milestones—for example, a full class period without any chatter in the native language.
By positively reinforcing your rules in this way, students will know that you see them trying hard to succeed and will feel better about learning English as a result.
The key to creating an orderly learning environment is consistency. Don’t be arbitrary. Stick to your rules and apply them fairly to everyone. Not only will your students respect you for it, but they’ll also know what is and isn’t appropriate classroom behavior.
And remember, good classroom rules don’t exist for the sole purpose of being obeyed. Instead, they’re created with the intention of making an environment that gives all students a high-quality learning experience.