Turning Misbehaviors In The Classroom into Teachable Moments

The secret to good teaching? Finding those teachable moments and running with them. Good social-emotional instruction involves a balance of preventative instruction with responsive instruction. Today, I’m going to show you how to turn those misbehaviors in the classroom into responsive teachable moments.

Reflecting on Misbehaviors in the Classroom

misbehaviors in the classroom turned into teachable moments

If you are expecting some misbehaviors in the classroom or seeing a trend of misbehaviors occurring at a similar time of day, offering students the chance to reflect on their behaviors can be very effective as a teachable moment. First, go over the expectations you are hoping to see (state in clear, simple, and positive terms) and that may have been lacking in recent days. Then send students off to go try and meet the expectations.

After the work-period ends, bring students back and have them reflect on how they did. They can show on their fingers 1-5 or thumbs up, to the side, or down. They can also draw a smiley face for the expectation they did well and a star for the expectation they want to do better tomorrow. Then, keep the drawing up to review before the same academic period tomorrow! This method of reviewing expectations is more powerful than you simply reminding students the expectations, because the students are invested after self-reflecting!

Brainstorm reminders together

misbehaviors in the classroom turned into teachable moments

If you know that a particular classroom routine isn’t being followed or a time of day often has difficulties, you can turn future misbehaviors in the classroom into teachable moments by brainstorming reminders together before sending students off to go try. When the majority of the class is struggling meeting behavioral expectations, they probably just need a reminder and to practice the expectation. This can be especially true after a vacation or towards the middle of the year as we all get complacent. Instead of simply reminding students of what you want to see, have them brainstorm the expectations together. It will be much more powerful when they have ownership over the expectations.

In this example, I noticed that reading workshop wasn’t running as smoothly as I wanted. Instead of being mad at my students, I realized that they simply needed a refresher. So, I asked them how we should behave during reader’s workshop and what we should remember today. They came up with these ideas and I wrote them down. Then after class we reviewed our list and self-evaluated how we did. When students give you an idea in a negative phrase (what not to do) turn their wording into a positive phrase (what to do). Students need to hear behaviors listed in the positive so they know exactly what they should be doing.   

Stop and talk

As soon as misbehaviors in the classroom happen that could be a good teachable moment (for example, you’ve heard/seen it from multiple students), stop the class and bring everyone together. Explain the situation and ask what we should do about it. Using role playing or puppets is a great way to extend this discussion. You can have students act out the different ideas. While this issue may have started with just two or three students, it can be a great teachable moment for everyone! If you can’t stop the whole class in the immediate moment, you can still do this as a closing lesson at the end or later in the week when you have a good chunk of time. These lessons are more powerful because they are based on actual situations that your students were involved in.

Examples of Misbehaviors in the Classroom

Partner Game Troubles

misbehaviors in the classroom turned into teachable moments

I was having a problem with a large number of students getting mad when playing games with friends. Often someone in the game would erupt, yelling, “You cheated!” whenever a little mistake happened or the game didn’t go as they has planned. After trying to solve this issue with a few students, I decided to stop everyone and bring everyone together to brainstorm ideas to solve this problem. I told them the problem: “Often, when groups of students are playing a game, one of them gets upset and yells ‘You cheated!’ and the game is ruined. What could we do instead?”

Then we brainstormed ideas. We talked about how there are often different ways to play or that someone may not have even realized they “cheated”. The ideas we came up with is – asking someone who knows the rules what the rule is if there is a disagreement, asking our partner what they rolled or what piece they are (in case they made a silly mistake or forgot), or they could say “oops, I think it’s my turn”. We talked about the importance of tone and giving our friends the benefit of the doubt when playing with them.

It’s not a permanent fix to the problem. We still had some issues with “cheating” but it did give my students some concrete ideas to try next time, thus turning this misbehavior in the classroom into a teachable moment.

Taking Care of Classroom Materials

After getting frustrated by the number of markers and glue sticks that we had to throw out because they didn’t have caps, I brought everyone together to brainstorm ideas. It is human nature to get frustrated when things aren’t going the way you taught your students. However, when it’s a problem with the majority of the class, then it’s not a reason to get mad at the students. They are simply children who forgot (or were never taught) the expectations and needed a reminder. You can turn this misbehavior in the classroom into a teachable moment for the whole class.

So, I laid out the problem – markers and glue sticks do not have caps. Then we came up with ideas. Part of the solution here is bringing the problem to their attention so they are aware of it, as well as reminding them behavior expectations for taking care of materials. Framing it as problem/solution helped them to see what the issue was, why we should care about it, and how we can solve it as a classroom community.


Whenever misbehaviors in the classroom happen, we can use them as teachable moments for the whole class to remind them of behavior expectations and to teach social-emotional skills! What issues are your class having right now? Comment below or DM me on Instagram for help on how to turn their misbehaviors in the classroom into teachable moments!


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