Promised Consequences Must Be Applied

Now comes the hard part. No matter how emphatic you were or how convincing you think you sounded, nothing matters until you show a willingness to enforce your rules. You must sit at your desk and watch every movement of every student. The first time a student looks up from her work, she will be looking at you. Motion quietly for her to look back at the work on her desk. As soon as two students’ eyes meet and exchange glances (indicating that some sort of understanding has passed between them), you pounce.

Teacher: “Kayla and Jim. Go to the back, get a dictionary and begin copying the words beginning with “B”. Today I’ll give you a break. You don’t have to copy the definitions, only the words.”

Kayla or Jim: “What did I do?”

Teacher: “I told you to behave as though you were in the room alone. I told you not even to exchange glances.”

Kayla or Jim: “How far do we have to copy?”

Teacher: “Until I tell you to stop.”

Reasoning: As slight as this infraction was, since you said it wasn’t allowed, you must carry out your promised consequence.  YOU MUST!  The students will be aghast, despite the earlier warning. Your purpose here is simply to show the class that you are entirely willing to impose the consequence without hesitation. Your voice should not convey any feeling of disappointment or anger. Their behavior has resulted in the inevitable outcome. So long as they copy throughout the period, do not send it home to be completed. It isn’t really a punishment, and no suffering is necessary. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to show the class that you are serious. To make it a homework assignment as well would be to go beyond the bounds of what is reasonable. The central point is to keep them from distracting others. They can’t while they are copying. Having them copy at home doesn’t serve that purpose.

During the next two or three days, you’ll be tested a few times. One boy will come with no homework, paper or pencil. A couple of girls will giggle. You’ll find someone drawing pictures rather than doing school work. All the time you are watching. Each time you’ll have them copy.

Now comes the real test. You will leave the room. You are about to engage in what psychologists call intermittent, negative reinforcement. If you left the room for a predictable 5 minutes each time, your teenage students would soon learn to talk for four minutes. So you vary the times. The first time you leave, you come rushing back in 20 seconds, ostensibly because you forgot your paper or whatever. When you return, don’t jump into the door as if to say, “I got ya.” Pay no attention to them but go right to your desk to get whatever you forgot. The point is, you don’t want to give the impression that you left the room to bait and trap them. Anyway, if you were only gone 20 seconds, nobody will have gotten up the courage to do anything yet.

Grab your paper and disappear out the door again, this time for perhaps a minute. No more. Now when you return, you will likely see someone talking. Make them copy. Do the same the next day. Make it for two minutes. Then go out a second time but return in 30 seconds. If all is well, wait 20 minutes or so and leave for three minutes.

On the third day you can continue the same routine. You can be absent for longer intervals, but you should also be gone for rather short periods, too. You must be unpredictable.

At the end of two weeks of this sort of conditioning, you’ll be able to leave the class for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. They will be quite happy working on their own. Now you can tell them that if they have books to read for English or some other class, they may read them without taking notes. However, all reading must still be school-related. You may also call kids up to your desk to help them with their work. No longer will the others take that distraction as an opportunity to break the rules or even their concentration. You now trust them, and they’ll know it. Trust is the best relationship between teacher and student, and you’ve achieved it.

Remember, as “mean” as all this sounds to some, you are doing it for them. They will test you. They have every right to. This time you’ll pass the test for them. They will appreciate it.



1. Assign seats. Boy, girl, boy, girl preferred.

2. Require absolute silence and distraction-free behavior.

3. At least in the beginning, students should do written school work.

4. Begin enforcing the rules immediately.

5. Don’t hesitate to impose consequences for infractions.

6. Leave the room for brief but unpredictable intervals.


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    • john on February 19, 2014 at 6:05 am
    • Reply

    Good, effective advice for teaching how to study…

  1. What do you do if a student refuses to copy out of the dictionary – refuses your consequence?

  2. Hi Kelli,

    I must say that this has only happened to me once during my career, and it was in a regular class — not a study hall. In that event the only recourse you have is to calmly tell the student to go to the principal’s office (or wherever discipline is handled by the administration). Once again, you must be very calm and apparently not upset or surprised by his refusal.

      • Kelli Grabowski on August 31, 2014 at 4:47 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks Peter,
      I am implementing your study hall tactics this year! I am altering it in one way. My study hall begins on Day 1 of school, 1st period. Students won’t have work. So I am going to give them a survey for how they prefer a study hall to run. I know quite a few of the kids already and know they will likely want a productive work time. I will introduce the rules on Day 2 and use the survey as leverage, saying most students indicated they wanted productive work time. I may also offer incentive days like the last day before a holiday break, because unfortunately in my school most teachers blow these days off (not me!) but we will vote on it, when the time comes. Truth be told, even if only one student writes that they want a productive study time, I will make this study hall quiet and productive. And even if no student writes that – well then I know someone is lying. Anyway, thank you!

    • Matt on July 28, 2014 at 1:24 pm
    • Reply

    This seems like a great way to gradually create a quiet study hall environment. What do you do when a students comes to class without a pencil?

  3. If they come to class unprepared (no pencil, paper, study materials) you just provide a pencil, paper and dictionary out which they can copy. After a day or two of that they’ll start to “remember.”

  4. Fantastic advice!!!!!
    Thank you.
    A Substitue Teacher

  5. Half way through September I have been placed over a “tutorial” class for Special Ed students. Tutorial is essentially a study hall. I have been in the classroom 2 weeks so far, and the class is totally out of control. 1) I’m a new teacher with very little experience. 2) The students are accustomed to a unstructured environment under the substitutes they had so far.

    Will such strict regulations be effective with sped students? Can I simply, 3 weeks in, implement such controls and see results?

  6. First,  please do not think less of yourself as a teacher because of the difficulty you are having controlling your students in this special ed study hall.   Taking over an unstructured study hall class previously formed by a substitute is a recipe for trouble.   An experienced teacher would have a very difficult time of it also.

    Honestly I rather doubt you will be able to use the technique I’ve presented on this website.   As you say,  this already-formed class is now accustomed to uncontrolled and disruptive behavior.   If you were to try making half the class copy the dictionary I suspect you would get rebellion and more misbehavior.  

    You did say,  though,  that this was a tutorial class.   Perhaps you could  tell the kids that you hope to make their time worthwhile by helping them succeed in their other classes.   I suspect that helping them one at a time at your desk would fail because the others would be fooling around while you were engaged with a single student.   Perhaps you could take advantage of their penchant for socialization.  Could you have them work in groups (of three or four at most)  on remedial worksheets provided by you or their other teachers?   One group could work on math,  another on English,  etc.  Might their other teachers accept the worksheets for credit?  Maybe groups could compete for the best worksheet grade.

    My point is that you are unlikely to get any cooperation from these kids unless you can convince them that your class will do them some good, and you are dedicated to their success.   If you can seem committed to making them better students,  you’ll be seen as caring about them more than the substitute did.

    • Terry Christianson on February 14, 2017 at 8:04 am
    • Reply

    You can not leave the room unsupervised.

    • susan on September 29, 2021 at 11:25 am
    • Reply

    a week after school started I was out with covid for two weeks. Now starting over, I have a great class but one student, a junior and his girlfriend are pushing the boundaries…..he has adhd issues. When I speak to him, every other word is interrupted with “I am not causing a problem’ retort. So how do I address this….it irks me that these two are pushing while the rest of the class is getting down to business.

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