2nd July 2010 at 01:00
The problem: I teach in a primary school where staff hand out lines for poor behaviour. They feel that punishment should be boring, but I don't think the pupils learn anything from it. Are there any alternatives I can suggest?

What you said

"Hand out a sheet where they have to write why they think they are in detention and how they can do better next time. Talk to them and explain why it is unacceptable to behave that way."


"A school I was at had a pupil sit and put a dot in every square on a piece of squared paper. The only thing they learnt was that if they were going to mess about in class they would have to make up the time in their own time and it would be very, very boring."


"My old form teacher used to make us copy out French verbs."



The most effective sanctions are those designed to encourage children who have engaged in inappropriate behaviour to reflect on and understand their actions. Sanctions such as pupils copying out lines are not only meaningless but also counter-productive to behaviour change.

Helping pupils understand their behaviour can be achieved through social skills. Examples of social skills include co-operation, sharing, participation, being a friend, helping others, being patient, following directions, taking turns, being respectful, remaining on task, accepting differences, listening, being polite and courteous and having good manners.

For example, if a pupil has not completed the set work because they have not listened in class, rather than giving out lines the teacher can instead help them reflect on their behaviour by asking the following questions: "Why is it important to listen?"; "What can happen if you don't listen?"; "What can stop you from listening?"; "What does a good listener do?"; "How can you become a good listener?"; "What can you do next time when the teacher is explaining what to do?"

These questions can be answered on paper or orally as part of a time out, detention or group or individual discussions. There are a wide selection of social skill activities in books and online which can also be used. The reflective process not only helps pupils to understand their behaviour but also encourages them to formulate their own coping strategies and solutions to help prevent future inappropriate behaviour. These can be written down and kept by the pupil and referred to on a regular basis to help maintain the positive behaviour.

Nicola Morgan is a behaviour management consultant and author of 'Quick, Easy and Effective Behaviour Management Ideas for the Classroom'. For more information, email For more behaviour advice, see



- Help pupils to understand and reflect on their own behaviour.

- Use group or individual discussions to help pupils understand why it is important that they behave in the classroom.

- Encourage children to come up with their own strategies to avoid a repeat of poor behaviour.


- Make pupils perform a meaningless task which can end up being counter-productive.

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