Creating Classroom Rules and Agreements in Primary Grades

It’s that time of year again to think about the rules and agreements that need to be put in place for your classroom to run smoothly. At the beginning of the year, it’s so important to make sure that behavioral expectations are super clear to students. One of the best ways to do it is to let them help you create the classroom rules and agreements. Sometimes teachers wonder if students will be successful in helping to create appropriate rules for themselves, but with some strategic scaffolding and a few leading questions, your students might come up with great ideas you hadn’t even thought of. Try pacing these activities out over a few days so that discussions can build on each other without losing student engagement.

Scaffold with Read Alouds

Stories are such great tools to use for creating classroom agreements. Stories that illustrate how our actions impact others, how to cooperate, and how to show kindness to others will help give a shared context for your students to have discussions about their own feelings and behaviors at school. Try picking out a set of books that illustrate these topics and read them with your class. Discuss character feelings and behavoirs and let kids share how they relate to the story. Talk with students about what they think the author wanted people to learn from the story. These discussions can set your students up for success when you lead them in co-creating rules for your classroom.

Some books I used in my classroom included Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, How Full is Your Bucket by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer and My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

Check out even more read-aloud recommendations here.

Discuss how students want to feel at school

It’s important that kids know their feelings are valued and their voices are heard while co-creating rules and agreements. Start out with a discussion about how students want to feel at school. Starting out with a focus on their own perspective and their own feelings will help them realize that other kids want the same things. When kids recognize this, it can really help them start to think about things from other people’s perspectives. Try to come up with a list of positive feelings kids want to have at school, then have them help you narrow it down to the most important feelings.

Here are some questions to ask

  • How do you want to feel at school?
  • What are some feelings you don’t want to experience at school?
  • Why is it important to make sure people don’t feel negative feelings at school?
  • What might happen if kids have a lot of bad feelings about being at school?

Discuss how students want to see others behave at school

Kids love this topic! It is interesting to see what behaviors really bother them. Generally, students are very honest in giving their opinion about behaviors that they think are unacceptable. This discussion also gives kids an opportunity to practice advocating for themselves and sharing their experiences. You will defiantly hear some stories about things that happened to your kids last year that were hard for them. This can give you a lot of insight into your new class and where their boundaries and sensitivities lie. Make sure to write all of these down during the discussion. then look for themes in the students’ responses.

Here are some questions to ask

  • What behaviors help other people feel good?
  • How can we help each other feel the good feelings we discussed earlier?
  • What could your classmates/teacher do to help us feel this way?

Ask Questions about how students would like to solve problems

It’s important to anticipate with students that problems will come up in the classroom this year. Talk about how disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing, but during a disagreement, it’s important to think about how to share our feelings without hurting others. Having a discussion about times when other people have made a disagreement worse versus times when a disagreement was resolved can be helpful to support this discussion. Try asking some of the following questions with your class and make sure to record their responses.

Here are some questions to ask

  • What should we do if someone’s feelings are hurt?
  • How can you tell if someone’s feelings are hurt?
  • What do you want others to do when your feelings are hurt?

Put it all together in a class charter or agreement

Once you have spent a few days having discussion about students desires for their classroom and experiences at school, put it all together. Use notes, anchor charts and students work from your previous discussions and synthesize the ideas students had. Then present those ideas back you your students and discuss what might need to be added, removed or changed. When you and your students feel satisfied, write up your agreements on chart paper and post it in the classroom. You can even have your students sign the agreements chart to help them feel even more ownership to stick to it.

Try these sentence starters to keep your charter simple yet effective.

In this class, we want to feel…..

We will help each other feel is this way by…..

If someone’s feelings are hurt, we will…..

For more info about creating a classroom agreements and other Social Emotional Learning resources check out more from the RULER method

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