Classroom Management
First Week Activities

Citation: Huitt, W. (1997). Classroom management: First week activities. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

Return to | EdPsyc Interactive: Courses | Home Page |

The most important factor in classroom management is getting off to a good start. In general, this means to develop and implement a classroom management plan that will prevent problems from occurring.

A series of studies by researchers at the University of Texas (e.g., Emmer, Evertson & Anderson, 1980; Evertson & Emmer, 1982) suggested that teachers who get off to a good start in terms of classroom management generally have more orderly classrooms in January as well as better student achievement. One of the most important activities during the first week is to establish and teach classroom rules (guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate behavior) and procedures (specific routines for accomplishing daily activities).

A second guideline is to work with the whole class during the first two weeks to establish group cohesiveness and solidarity. If groups are to be used, every student ought to be engaged in the same activity.

A third guideline is to provide many opportunities for students to respond appropriately. If you want students to write their names and the date on their papers in a certain place, give several assignments each day where students will have to practice this activity. Then provide corrective feedback to help students accomplish the task successfully.

A fourth guideline is to use a variety of activities during the first week or two in order to capture student's attention. This should be relatively easy and enjoyable and should probably engage students in reviewing previously learned material.

A fifth guideline is to keep track of each student's progress and insure, as much as is possible, that each student is engaged and successful in learning activities. Any students that seem to demonstrate an inability to keep up should be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Another way to think about getting off to a good start is to think in terms of how to increase student involvement in classroom activities. The perspective discussed in the overview of the behavioral approach to classroom management was to focus on how to increase time-on-task. However, since

Total allocated time = Time-on-task + Time-off-task

another perspective is to focus on how to decrease time-off-task.

In a review of research, Huitt, Caldwell, Traver & Graeber (1981) found that student off-task or unengaged behaviors could be classified in one of five categories: management/transition, socializing, discipline, unoccupied/observing, and out of the room. The acronym of Ms. Duo can be used to help remember these categories. 

Categories of Unengaged Behaviors
Category Examples 
Daily, routine classroom activities or "in-between" activities
  • Distributing, setting up, or gathering equipment, supplies, materials, etc.
  • Taking roll
  • Students standing in line
  • Students waiting for teacher's help
  • Turning pages in book
  • Listening to nonacademic directions
  • Sharpening pencil
  • Waiting for next activity to begin
  • Cleaning up desk or room
Two or more persons are interacting socially
  • Whispering nonacademic comment to neighbor
  • Passing notes
  • Watching someone else whispering
Adult is reprimanding a student, a student is being punished, or student is watching other student being scolded
  • One student is being scolded and other students are listening
  • Head on desk as punishment
Sitting or standing alone, wandering about with no evident purpose or goal, watching other people or unassigned activities, or playing with materials
  • Staring out the window
  • Aimlessly wandering around the room
  • Watching another student do a different assignment
Out of Room
Temporarily out of the room
Gone to the 
  • bathroom
  • nurse
  • library
  • principle's office

As Caldwell, Huitt & French (1981) worked in schools helping teachers improve student engaged time, they found that two categories--management/transition and unoccupied/observing--were used to classify almost 90% of the unengaged behaviors. Management/transition occurred mainly when the teacher was working with the whole class; unoccupied/observing occurred more often when students were involved in seatwork.

A larger than normal amount of socializing generally meant that the teacher was involved in the social interaction process (e.g., discussing a recent sports activity or the upcoming dance). When a larger than normal amount of discipline occurred it generally was a result of a "cease and desist" classroom management strategy. That is, the teacher waited until an inappropriate behavior occurred and then tried to stop it rather than attempting to establish appropriate behavior in a proactive manner. A larger than normal amount of out-of-the-room behavior usually meant that either the teacher was not paying attention to the number and lengths of trips to the bathroom or some person outside of the classroom was requesting students leave the classroom on a regular basis.

The following are research-based management strategies focused on the most often occurring management problems in a classroom. Close attention to dealing with these problems in a proactive manner will reduce time off-task, thereby increasing time on-task. Notice that the management/transition category has four subcategories with suggestions for each. 

Research-Based Management Strategies
Management/ Transition

Distributing, setting up, or gathering equipment, supplies, materials, or furniture

  • Have materials and supplies ready in advance of activities. 

  • Use more routines and procedures to handle daily business such as turning in completed work, noting student progress, and checking attendance. 

    • Shorten transition times whenever possible. 

    • Plan specifically how to change activities.

    • Establish clear and consistent rules for transitions; let students know exactly what is expected of them during transitions. 

    • Provide clear starts and stops for activities. 

    • Alert students to upcoming transitions. 

    • Economize movement. For example, have all of the students in a small group move at the same time rather than calling them individually. 

  • Teach students classroom rules and procedures as they are needed, with special emphasis on this area in the first weeks of school. You may wish to rehearse procedures, use incentive systems to shape behavior, or teach students to respond to specific signals, such as the bell or the teacher's call for attention. 

  • Teach students the skills needed to perform school work -- following directions, taking assignments off the board, finding pages in the book, how to use programmed materials. 

Listening to nonacademic directions

  • Give clear and specific directions on what to do. 

    • Space directions for two similar activities so that they are not confusing, rather than present them simultaneously. 

    • Sometimes students' looking in their book rather than at the teacher during explanations of directions may lead to confusion. In such cases, have students keep their books closed until the explanation is finished. 

    • Give complex instructions or directions in writing.

  • Hold students accountable for their academic work to the time allotted. 

    • Alert nonperformers that their work may be checked. 

    • Ask students to show their work or demonstrate a skill.

    • Ask students about work plans or progress.

Waiting for teacher's help

  • Reduce the time students spend waiting for explanation or feedback from the teacher with no other assigned task. 

    • Give students alternate assignments to complete when help is not immediately available. 

    • Assign peer tutors. 

    • Give each student a sign to raise for help, perhaps using different colors for when the student does not understand or when he/she is ready for work to be checked.

    • Use a sign-up sheet or the board for students to indicate that they need assistance. 

  • Minimize interruptions to teacher-led activities. For example, students in small group may be waiting for the teacher because those students doing independent seatwork interrupt. Establishing a rule that no one is to interrupt the small group activities may decrease the interruptions. 

Waiting for the next activity to begin

  • Reduce the time during which students have no available or assigned activity. These times may occur, for example, at the beginning of class, or after a break such as lunch or recess when students take their seats but must wait for the teacher to begin the class. 

    • Provide assignments at the beginning of the period. 

    • Give students ongoing assignments or projects. 

  • Since students often will take as much time as is available to complete a task, set reasonable time limits and stick to them.

    • Remind students about the time; help students use the clock to pace their work. 

    • Have students who do not finish in class complete their work after school or during free time. 

  • Separate students who are distracting each other

  • Focus on academic tasks rather than social activities

Also see other strategies listed under Discipline and Unoccupied/Observing

  • State expectations clearly in behavioral terms to let students know which behaviors are desired and which will not be tolerated. 

    • Teach students the skills of good behavior. 

    • Be consistent in holding students accountable for behavior and in enforcing classroom rules. 

  • Monitor student behavior in the classroom closely. Communicate awareness of what is going on by stopping misbehavior before it spreads or becomes more serious. Be sure that reprimands are directed toward the misbehaving student. 

  • Give students specific feedback indicating what the student should be doing, and/or what was undesirable about the misbehavior. You may wish to provide this feedback in individual conferences with misbehaving students. 

    • Learn about and use behavioral modification techniques. 

    • Set up a contract system to manage student behavior. 

    • Reinforce good behavior rather than punishing misbehavior. 

    • Reinforce acceptable behaviors (e.g., paying attention, working, and volunteering) using highly descriptive and very specific praise. 

    • When students are disruptive, praise the on-task behavior of another student nearby. 

    • Give students non-verbal attention, a privilege, or a concrete reward for desirable behavior. 

Unoccupied/ Observing
  • Plan activities for young children (or low-achieving students) so that the lesson is continuous and unlagging and so that children are shielded from distractions. Lessons and activities that have "holding power" and are paced by the teacher, in conjunction with teacher behaviors that promote continuity, are associated with higher engagement rates. 

    • Activities in which each step leads to the next and student progress is dependent only upon each student's own behavior have high levels of involvement. An individual construction activity is one example. 

  • Lessons in which students receive sequenced "signals" primarily from a single, constant source (e.g., teacher demonstrations, short recitations) have moderate involvement. 

    • Low involvement occurs when students are dependent upon inputs from several other students, as in group discussions or role playing. 

  • Move around the room regularly and systematically, particularly during seatwork periods, checking each student frequently. 

  • Teach students how to be engaged and why engaged behaviors are important. 

    • Use reinforcement techniques to teach students "academic survival skills" such as following directions, attending to the teacher, working independently, not looking around, and volunteering responses. 

    • When a student is off-task, praise the on-task behavior of another student nearby. Reminders to students to get back to work do not seem to be effective. 

  • Structure the physical environment to facilitate learning. 

    • Arrange desks and chairs so students are facing or can easily face the point in the room where they must most often focus. 

    • Use desks rather than tables. 

    • Separate active or noisy areas such as science or music from quieter ones such as writing or reading. 

Out of Room

Although no research studies have focused on this unengaged category, the following commonsense strategies are suggested: 

  • Reduce the number and length of trips to the nurse, office, etc. For example, schedule nurse or office trips during subjects other than basic skills subjects (reading, language arts, math), if possible. 

  • Reduce the number and length of trips to the bathroom. For example, allow only one student in the bathroom at a time. You might wish to develop a card system to monitor this in which there are two cards by the door (girls and boys) that can be turned to one side when someone goes to the bathroom and flipped back when he/she returns. 


Return to:

Dr. William G. (Bill) Huitt
Dept. of Psychology, Counseling & Guidance
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA 31698-0001

All materials on this website [] are, unless otherwise stated, the property of William G. Huitt. Copyright and other intellectual property laws protect these materials. Reproduction or retransmission of the materials, in whole or in part, in any manner, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, is a violation of copyright law.