In-Class Time-Out


As a teacher, I’ve always struggled to find suitable consequences for classroom misbehavior and have usually resorted to time off recess. However, overuse of missed recesses brings its own set of problems. Last summer one of my co-teachers introduced our staff to the Smart Classroom Management website and the books of Michael Linsin. Most of his practical advice was not new to me, but his method of in-class time-out became my standard consequence for classroom infractions.

This post is on how I carried out the time-out and its effectiveness for me. However, I want to make clear that the consequence is not what made it effective. Without the basic principles of having a plan, consistently sticking with the plan, communicating the plan, and calmly executing the plan, no consequence will be effective. Those are foundational to making any classroom management plan work well.

Reasons why I don’t find time off recess a good idea

  • Students (and the teacher) need a break. Exercise helps stimulate the brain. Everyone functions better with periodic breaks.
  • Supervision is an issue if you are responsible for students in two places at the same time. Students who are left in the classroom can get into more mischief. It’s also not wise to let students be unsupervised on the playground for long periods of time. And, depending on the age of the students, they need help getting their games started.
  • The more times a student stays in, the less effective the consequence. For some students this becomes a habit, and it is just one more thing they don’t like about school.
  • Keeping a student in at recess is sometimes necessary. You may need to talk with them or occasionally, missing recess will be the consequence that will make the student sit up and take notice.

Reasons for an in-class time-out

  • It is a simple technique that the teacher subtly monitors.
  • It allows students time to process and take responsibility for their actions.
  • Even though students in time-out are not allowed to participate in class activities, the student will still have access to needed teaching and time to work.
  • This method works best with lower elementary students (up to about fifth grade). Older students find it below their dignity.

Implementing the in-class time-out

There are steps to take to make an in-class time-out effective. It needs to be part of your classroom management plan. You need a place that is the time-out spot. You need to know what your expectations are for the student in time out.  You need to let students know what you expect from them when they are in time out. You need to deliver the consequence with little fanfare or commotion. You need to be consistent.

Classroom management plan

  • Keep it simple—just a few rules that cover a multitude of infractions. Here are mine from last year. Almost any classroom misdeed will fit under one of these rules.
    • Listen and follow directions.
    • Have permission to speak and leave your seat.
    • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
    • Respect your classmates and your teacher.
  • Have a hierarchy of consequences that start over each day. Let students know the steps and the consequences. Here is what I used last year.
    • First and second offense were warnings. This was for first grade, especially at the beginning of the year when they are still learning new habits. Other classrooms used only one warning.
    • Third offense (or second offense in grades higher than first) was an in-class time-out.
    • Fourth offense was another time-out plus a letter home to the parent, giving them a brief synopsis of the rule broken and asking for a signature and return of the letter.
    • Certain misdeeds such as cheating or fighting, are covered by a school-wide policy and have different consequences.
    • The teacher has the right to skip any step if they deem it necessary. However, this is reserved as an extreme measure.
  • Introduce and implement the plan from day one of the new year. For first grade I do some extra reminding the first few days. We also start over more frequently—such as after every period, or at lunch—for the first week. It is important to make first graders successful those first days, so giving them a clean slate more often still reminds them of what is expected but sets them up for a taste of success. After a few days I use the plan as intended.
  • Remember, the success of any classroom management plan is in communicating the plan to the students. Talk about, model, practice the various points of your plan. Students like if you model unsatisfactory behavior and then let them tell you what was wrong. They’ll remember it better too. Review frequently during the beginning days of the school year.

A place for time-out

  • You will need an extra desk that is reserved as a time-out spot.
  • Ideally this would be placed at the back or the side of the classroom where a student can still see and hear what is being taught.

Expectations for a student in time-out

  • When a student is in time-out, they become “invisible.” They are expected to pay attention to the teaching and complete all work, but they are not allowed to join any activities or discussions or ask for help from the teacher.
  • A student in time-out will sit quietly and work for at least fifteen minutes.
    • It is important that you have previously modeled expected time-out behavior.
    • Fifteen minutes is about what it takes for students to come to terms with their behavior. Students should not be informed of how long they need to stay in time-out. That defeats their ability to take responsibility for their actions. You as the teacher will make the call for when the student can be released.
    • The fifteen minutes start once the student has settled down and is quietly working.
    • You do not need a timer. It need not be precise. Just keep an eye on the clock.
  • When the time is up, you invite the student back to class. It can be a quietly dropped word when you are near the time-out desk. “You are welcome to ask if you can join us again.” However:
  • Once you invite them back to class, the student must raise their hand and ask permission to join the class when they are ready to do so. This is part of them taking responsibility for their actions.
  • Once permission is requested, simply tell the student that you would be happy to have them join in again. No further remarks, reminders, or unnecessary comments should be added.

How to send a student to time-out

  • The fewer words you can use, the better. The more matter of fact and non-confrontationally you handle the situation, the better it works. This is true whether you are giving a warning or sending a student to time-out.
  • Simply say, “Johnny, you forgot rule number X when you talked without permission. Please take your work to the time-out desk.”
  • Turn and walk away. The psychology behind this is simple. Students can’t argue with you if you aren’t engaging with them. It’s not perceived as a dare that they need to best. It works with the most contrary student. Besides, the subtle idea that you will probably take things to the next step should they ignore your request, will have them wondering.
  • Give the student time to respond. It worked for me every time—especially with the student who would not have obeyed if I had stayed to see that they moved. However, you may have a student who will want to see if you really mean it. You then have the option of giving the next consequence.

Consistency is a virtue

Any classroom management plan is only as good as the teacher’s consistency in enforcing it. Therefore, if you make exceptions once you will always be struggling to maintain your plan. Students will feel the need to make sure you continually mean what you said.

However, there are things that come up that you realize you’d never made clear that you did or didn’t want to happen. Address them. Tell the class that you’d not informed them that this habit is one you don’t want to see. Use it as a teaching moment and then apply consistency thereafter.

A dilemma

What about the child who does not want to ask permission to rejoin class? A few students have found this the hardest part of time-out. It’s not usually hurting them to stay seated if they choose. You can entice them to want to rejoin the class with an enjoyable classroom activity. And if recess time comes, they can continue time-out on the sidelines if they’d prefer.

Again, the consequences are not what make the rules of your classroom work. The manner you present your plan, the matter-of-fact way you handle infractions, and how consistently you enforce your plan are much greater than consequences. However, I am grateful to have discovered a consequence that works in my classroom without needing to keep students in from recess.

Much of what I’ve written can be found on the Smart Classroom Management website or in any of the classroom management books by Michael Linsin. While I don’t endorse everything he says, he has much practical advice that empowers a teacher to excel.



Book: The Classroom Management Secret, Michael Linsin


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