Classroom Rules

Find out more about learning theory with our online SLA course on Udemy. Click here for information and discounts!

At the end of the article are guiding questions for the educator.

How essential are rules to our everyday lives? They are so fundamental to our existence that one cannot escape having to obey rules. Rules are disguised in various terms such as law, decree, model, moral, axiom, etc…  No matter the terminology, people inherently have a choice to obey the rules or not, but if they don’t, then they must face the consequences. If a person, in his own house, is playing music above an appropriate level, then cops may come for a visit because he is in violation of the noise ordinance. He has a choice to turn the music down or receiving a citation next time. Likewise, the universe has laws we must follow. If one jumps out of an airplane without a parachute, then he must fall to earth regardless if he meant to jump or not.

Many educators neglect to clearly define rules for the classroom. Rules provide an integral part of the classroom structure needed to uphold the other aspects of classroom management. This oversight can hinder the educator’s ability to teach and ultimately decreases student learning.

Why are rules important

Rules are important for so many reasons.

  • First, if students are not clear on what they can or cannot do, then this leaves open to interpretation as to what is expected from them. For example, should there be a rule of no sleeping in class? Educators assume that students understand that the classroom is not a place for sleeping, but it happens all the time. Therefore, rules help students understand what is expected from them and makes them responsible for their actions. If a student sleeps in class and the educator doesn’t correct the behavior, then that student and other students will think there is no rule against that.
  • Second, rules set boundaries that the student and educator must operate within, and if a student goes out of bounds, then predetermined action must take place. The educator can utilize rules to make sure that everyone is on equal standing. There are times an educator will rationalize letting a student do something he is not supposed to do because he is a “good” student. If this happens, then the educator is seen as showing favoritism and the rules only apply to some. Rules help keep the educator from allowing emotion to override the sense of accountability for fair treatment.
  • Third, rules are important to encourage the right behavior conducive to learning, not to hamper or burden students. The rules should create a safe zone where students explore the information, but that safe zone has limits and they must be observed. For example, there could be a rule where there is no talking when the educator is speaking to the class. This isn’t designed to form little soldiers who jump to attention when the drill instructor speaks, but to allow the educator to give information that may be helpful to student learning or execute an activity. If students talk during this important time, then the noise could drown out the educator and obstruct the learning of other students who want to learn.

Does Age Matter

Should there be rules for adults or only for young learners? One philosophy that is prevalent in the world of adult education is, “They are adults and I will treat them as adults.” Basically, the educator who say this believes that only children should be held accountable to rules, but adults are old enough to know better. Unfortunately, university and adult students don’t know better and need rules as much as children. Many adults do know how to operate within a classroom structure, but some do not.

Emphasis is not to take freedoms away from adult learners, but setting standards so that the quality of education remains high for all. The classroom is a construct where differing opinions of what is expected can quickly erode the quality of experience. Differing opinions on matters such as attendance, completion of tasks, listening, doing homework, etc… can quickly become a stew of  confusion as to what is expected of the student.

Imagine the classroom is an automobile engine. Instruction is the gas that causes the engine to run and the students are the spark plugs. Now, think of the spark plug wiring as a set of class rules. If every spark plug (students) is connected to the spark plug wires (rules), then an electric charge can ignite the gas (instruction) within the engine (classroom) to push the vehicle (learning). If some of the spark plugs do not have wires connected (they are deciding their own rules) then the engine misfires because the gas is not being properly ignited and the vehicle doesn’t run smoothly. The vehicle starts to make noises, stalls or gets bad gas mileage.

It is true adults are free to choose what they want to do, but the classroom is an environment that is managed by the educator. As the manager, the educator has to make sure that everything moves efficiently to increase opportunities for learning. The inability to manage students who possess differing philosophies can hinder the learning of other students with the desire to learn.

How to build Rules

Rules have psychological consequences to a class. Too strict and the students could feel burdened and the desire to learn ceases. Too lenient and students are free to fill in the gray areas with their own thinking. If rules are not enforced, then students disregard the rules as window dressing. So how can the educator balance creating rules that put a structure to the class without suffocating the learning experience? Here are some guidelines for making rules:

  • Make rules that help facilitate learning.
    • No talking when the educator is talking
    • No instant messaging in class
    • If the student doesn’t do the work then they face a consequence
  • Think of areas that have been problem areas in the past
    • If half of the students don’t bring their books, then a rule that every student must have a book might be necessary. Allow the students to leave and get the book, but to be in class they must have the book
    • If students are coming to class late, either take points from their grades or lock the door.
  • Every rule doesn’t have to be negative. Create positive rules so the list is not all negative.
    • Encourage the students to have fun.
    • Making mistakes is okay.
  • Don’t make rules that won’t be enforced
  • List the consequences for breaking rules
    • The student will first receive a warning and the second time will have to leave the class.
    • Points will be deducted from the grade.
    • Parents will be called.
    • Will be sent to the principal’s office. 


To determine the consequences speak with a school administrator as to what is acceptable as punishment and what is not. The educator does not want to have the students perform some kind  of punishment that may bring a lawsuit against the school. Therefore, consequences should always be in line with school standards. In addition, the educator should place limits on certain types of punishment if the school does not. It is never okay to physically hit a student with a hand or an object. Please use discretion!
Age and Setting Matters

When constructing rules the age of the students and setting matter. The rules for a five year old and a fifteen year old should not be the same. For example, accommodations should be made if the five year old forgets his book, whereas a fifteen year old may not be given leeway. Also, if the setting is a public elementary school the consequences may be different than a university. For instance, in a university the professor can tell the student to leave the class, but that is not an option at the elementary school.

Hence, the educator has to incorporate many factors into building good list of rules. The rules need to be appropriate for the age, the setting, and what is trying to be accomplished in the classroom.

How Do They Know

How do the students know the rules? Were they told verbally? Are the rules written down? It does no good to make rules if students are not reminded of them. Here are some strategies to having the students remember the rules.

  • If the educator only uses one room for all classes, then post them twice on each wall in the room where the students can view them.
  • If the educator switches rooms often, then posting them on the wall will not suffice. Instead, the students can be given a list at the beginning of semester that they glue into their book.
  • Remind students often of the rules, especially when they break them. Students tend to forget the rules a couple weeks after they were covered at the beginning of the semester if not posted.
  • Set aside certain time every so often to review the rules.

Additional Use of Rules

If the educator is part of an education system that incorporates the curve, then rules can be a good way to assist in curving students that are on the bubble. The educator should think of some way to log infractions, either in the grade book or a separate piece of paper, as a way to reward the students who played by the rules more often than those who did not. Adherence to classroom rules in addition to homework, attendance, and tests can be a structure for curving a class.


Here are some of the rules I have used in the past. In no way am I suggesting these should be everyone’s rules! The educator needs to make rules that fit him and his class.


Elementary School

Classroom Rules

1. No talking while the teacher is talking.

2. Disrespect will not be tolerated!

3. No fighting, chewing gum, bad language, obscene gestures, or cell phones are permitted in class.

4. Use polite language when using English. (sir, ma’am, please, thank you)

5. Try to speak English as much as possible.

6. Mistakes using English are wonderful.


First time: warning

Second time: stand up

Third time: stand in the back

Fourth time: talk with parents 



Classroom Rules

1. No talking while the teacher is talking.

2. Disrespect will not be tolerated! You will be kicked out of class.

3. No instant messaging in class or you will lose cell phone privileges.

4. You must bring your book to every class or you cannot join class.

5. You must be on time to class. Being late will result in documentation and after three times you will lose points off your grade. Plus, you will have to discuss why you were late.

6. If you do not do your work (includes laziness, sleeping or any unacceptable action), you will be given one warning. The next time you have to leave class.

7. Try to speak English as much as possible.

8. Mistakes using English are wonderful. 

Final Thoughts

My list of classroom rules work for me and my personality as an educator, whether others disagree or not, it’s my class and my rules. Each educator should layout their own rules to produce the types of classes that fit them and their personality. Rules guide students in behavior and expectations which can decrease the amount of time the educator uses on admonishment. Many educators say they don’t want to tell their students what to do, the students should just do it; however, if the students are not told what is expect of them, how can they just do it when they are free to interpret what doing it means?

I have consulted many educators who were having problems with student behavior in classes. Once they formed classroom rules and implemented them, the students’ behavior became better and the educator’s job became more enjoyable. A close friend  implemented it on a university wide scale by placing rules in every classroom. He said other professors reported back a change in the students and how many classes performed much better.

It’s up to the educator if he wants to implement rules or not, but if he is not getting the results he desires, then maybe it’s worth it once to see if it can make a difference.

Questions to Think About to Help Teaching

  1. Do your students explicitly know the rules? How do they know? Are they available to see?
  2. What are your common problems in the classroom? What rules can help these problems?
  3. What rules are important for you as a teacher?