Finding effective classroom management strategies for middle school might be one of the biggest challenges in the teacher-verse—but it doesn’t have to be. Learn seven effective classroom management strategies for middle school and tips for dealing with disruptive students.
New and veteran teachers alike are always on the hunt for effective classroom management strategies, no matter what grade they teach. That’s likely what brought you here, right?
It seems that no amount of schooling or training is enough when it comes to understanding effective classroom management. Instead, practice makes perfect. However, rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, it helps to know a handful of proven strategies to pull from. After all, effective classroom management is the gatekeeper to a positive and productive learning experience for your students.
Read on to learn seven effective classroom management strategies for middle school.
The Key to Effective Classroom Management
Effective classroom management for middle school is a unique beast. Students are no longer little kids but aren’t quite mature enough to handle the freedom you might give to a high schooler. Therefore, the secret to effective classroom management for middle school is balance.
It’s about finding that spot between setting firm boundaries and welcoming student autonomy. It’s about creating a learning environment that is warm and welcoming yet structured and routine. Once you find that sweet spot, you’ll notice that classroom management becomes less of a headache. Students will be more engaged in learning than they are interested in testing boundaries.
Effective Classroom Management Strategies
Here are seven effective classroom management strategies for middle school to consider as you strive to find that sweet spot in your classroom.
1. Know Your Students.
Kick off the year by taking time to learn about your students. This approach shows you care about them as people, not just as names on your roster. In the world of classroom management, I know it can feel like the odds are against us from day one. However, starting the year on the right foot by showing your interest in learning about your students will help set you off on the right foot.
Learn their names and take note of patterned behaviors. Ask questions, pay attention to student dynamics, and look for any behavioral red flags. The more you know at the start of the year, the more you can stay ahead of the game regarding classroom management. Additionally, getting to know your students will help establish a positive student-teacher relationship and lay the foundation for a welcoming learning environment.
2. Set Clear Expectations Early—and then be Consistent.
Set clear expectations for your students and set them early. This will help set the tone for the rest of the year regarding everything from participating in class or completing homework to rules about turning in late work or using the restrooms. While you’re likely to have some predetermined non-negotiables, try involving students in developing some classroom rules and expectations too. Their participation creates a sense of ownership over their behaviors and consequences.
As for following any set rules, be sure to do so consistently. If you give middle school students an inch, they will take a mile. Students will push boundaries if you let them, so strive for clear and consistent expectations, following up with clearly communicated consequences when needed. While there may be times when you need to acknowledge extenuating circumstances, be wary of being too lenient too often.
3. Routines Rule—Trust Me.
Similar to communicating expectations, be sure to establish routines early on. Despite some middle schoolers appearing hellbent on seeking ultimate freedom, they need routines—even if they don’t quite realize it. Routines give students a sense of comfort, normalcy, and direction. By knowing what to expect and do, and when, students are left with little time for distracting and potentially disruptive antics.
While you can certainly vary your routines, ensure students know what the routine is, what you expect them to do, and when. Post the daily routine on the board or Google Classroom so students can see it right when they arrive at class and get to work. Maybe it’s starting each day with a bell ringer or 15 minutes of independent reading. Regardless of the specifics, routines will help you avoid wasting time and manage student behavior. Over time, these routines will become second nature to your students.
4. Always Have a Backup Plan.
Picture this: You plan an awesome lesson that starts with an engaging video and ends with a fun online activity. Suddenly, the video won’t load. Next thing you know, the internet is down. As you fumble with your computer settings, you sense that your students are getting restless. Your panic is rising—sounds terrible, but perhaps a little too familiar, right?
That’s why it’s important to always have a backup plan. And it’s not just unreliable technology either. Sometimes students fly through a lesson or what you had planned simply isn’t working. I recommend always having some “backup lessons” to fill these dreaded moments on the fly. I’m not saying you need to double plan every lesson, but keep a few activities on hand that you can squeeze in anytime. The less unplanned downtime you can give students, the better. The moment students realize your plan is coming unhinged, they’ll see it as an open invitation to run wild.
5. Engagement is Everything.
We’re teaching in a time where we are competing against addictive technology for students’ attention. While keeping kids off their phones is becoming an increasing challenge, don’t go waving that white flag just yet. Instead, strive for more engaging and student-centered learning opportunities. While it might be tempting to stand in front of the class and lecture them on a certain topic, let them take the lead. Get them up and moving, have them work in groups, or assign project-based learning assignments. Encourage student-led discussions or create opportunities for them to teach one another.
The easiest way to keep middle schoolers on task is by providing engaging activities. The more engaged students are, the less chaos and disruption they will cause. The good news is that middle-grade learners are at the age where they are old enough for higher-level thinking but young enough to buy into fun assignments that might leave older students rolling their eyes.
Psst… instead of always fighting against technology, consider making it part of your lessons! Apps like Kahoot! and Nearpod are highly engaging for students and make integrating technology into your class a breeze.
6. Variety is the Spice of Life (And Learning).
While routines are certainly useful, don’t forget the importance of switching things up now and again. That doesn’t have to mean up-ending your routine. However, since engagement is everything, you want to ensure you don’t bore your students by doing the same thing every day. Maybe some activities are independent while others are group work. Some days you might incorporate technology, while others you don’t. Some lessons might require students to sit at their desks while others get them up and moving around. Sometimes you might assign projects while other times you go with the traditional essay.
In addition to keeping students on their toes (and preventing your lessons from getting stale), incorporating variety is also a great way to ensure you are giving all students an opportunity to thrive. While some students are great test-takers, others might do better with a project or an essay. So, provide plenty of learning opportunities that allow diverse learning styles to flourish and succeed.
7. Choices to Create A Sense of Ownership.
Giving students a choice during a lesson might not sound like a classroom management strategy. However, leaning into student autonomy will give them a sense of ownership over their learning. With that typically comes higher engagement, effort, and overall buy-in. It might mean letting students vote on whether they complete an assignment independently or in groups or if they want to write an essay or take a traditional test.
However, avoid giving students too much freedom or too many choices. It can be more overwhelming than it is beneficial. Try to provide a maximum of two or three choices to strike a balance between structure and freedom.
Classroom Management Strategies: Dealing With Disruptive Students
Despite your best classroom management efforts, there will always be those kids that manage to cause a disruption. However, there are ways to quickly and quietly defuse the situation. After all, you want to avoid singling out negative behaviors to avoid further disruption.
● First, try a non-verbal intervention. Non-verbal interventions are the best way to redirect students without distracting other students or interrupting the flow of your lesson. If a student misbehaves, try making eye contact, standing close to their desk, or using a hand gesture to indicate the desired behavior.
● If needed, call out student behavior without names. This will help you avoid drawing more attention to the student and risk escalating their negative behavior. However, it helps to redirect their behavior without embarrassing them in front of their peers. Here’s a simple phrase you can use: “If you are [INSERT NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR], please [REDIRECTION].”
● Finally, if even further intervention is needed, start small. Keep classroom management in your control as long as possible. Reiterate your classroom rules and their corresponding consequences before jumping to sending a kid to administration. Jumping to big consequences too fast takes control out of your hands and might do more harm than good.
I’ll end with a simple yet important reminder: the best way to strengthen your classroom management skills is by practicing strategies, paying attention to the results, and adjusting based on your students’ needs.
So don’t be afraid to switch it up and try new things to find the sweet spot of classroom management that works for you and your students. While I hope these tried and true effective classroom management strategies are helpful to you, it might take some trial and error. Regardless, you’ve got this!