Discipline: The Agreement!

Short Version:

Set two rules at the beginning of every class you teach:

1. Respect everyone

2. Tell me when you don’t understand.


Or the long version …..


Wow, yesterday’s post on the “bad kids at the back” and the proximity trick certainly proved popular.

Judging by the feedback and comments I think there is one more discipline technique we need: The Agreement.

It uses theย Pygmalion Effect which refers to theย phenomenon in which the greater theย expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform.

But first let me tell you a story from my own school days ….

My class at school was pretty well behaved really.

But one day we had a new temp French teacher.

We could just tell she didn’t have confidence.

So what did some kids do?

They pushed the boundaries to see what they could get away with.

What did she do? ย Nothing!

So they pushed some more and more and more.

Each time they could see they were getting at her and it just became a game to see how far they could go.

Eventually she broke down in tears and ran away. ย (Yep, seriously!)

It was really like seeing a bunch of wild wolves tearing away at her!

If you can sympathise with that story, The Agreement is what you need.

It’s not all you need, but you do need it.

This one is tough for one off lessons, but if you see the kids more than once it will be revolutionary.

So here we go … Bikers & Police

Whenever humans interact there is always a, usually tacit, unspoken, agreement as to how we should behave.

For example I bet you’d behave differently to a uniformed police officer to how you would behave with ย a young baby.

And you’d ย behave differently when seeing a dodgy looking biker dude on the street compared with your best friend from college.

It’s just part of who we are.

We assess the situation, think back to how we should behave and change how we act accordingly.

Sleeping & Learning

For all its faults the school system has done a pretty good job of setting up this behaviour and expectations.

The teacher stands at the front.

The students sit quietly in rows sleeping, sorry, learning.

The problems come when this breaks down.

Either from a lack or parents, a lack or parenting or even teachers in lower grades.

They leave some kids just not knowing what is expected of them.

They have no frame of reference or experience to work from.

Or even worse they pick up the bad expectations of their peers.

How far can they go? ย Just what is allowed in class? ย What can they get away with?

Even the best classes can succumb to this as we saw above.

Luckily this also means that even the worst classes can be turned around! ๐Ÿ™‚

And how do we do this?

By simply setting out, before we start, the expectations of the class.

The agreement between you and them, to see what each side expects of each other.

For example the teacher will set out that they will:

Teach really cool useful stuff (either for life or for exams) in a really fun way.

Respect the kids and listen to what they have to say.

Next you set out what you expect from the kids

E.g. They will:

Act respectfully of each other and the teacher.

Always try their hardest, no matter what.

Speak up and keep trying.

For younger kids keep it really simple, for example if you’re a VIP member, try a few of the quotes posters below:


And of course for older kids it’s always best to ask them to come up with their own ideas.

You’ll get the smart kids saying “We agree to sleep and do nothing.”

So have a discussion about it! Ask them if that’s really want they want to spend their time on.

Usually though, it won’t go this far.

Most kids just want to know what to do and what is expected.

That’s all they ask for.

And if it’s not there they will always act up.

We all want, and need, boundaries so we know whatย behaviourย to go with.

Yes they’ll still push you and push the limits, that’s what kids do.

But just stand firm and stick to the agreement.

And you’ll need some punishments to back you up.

Once everyone knows where they stand it will solve, not all, but a great deal of the problems.

It sounds crazy doesn’t it?

But just like the proximity trick it’s just these simple steps that separate the great teachers from the chaotic ones!

What I do …

Even now I always do this with every presentation I do.

And those of you who keep a sharp eye on the blog will have noticed that whenever I forget then that’s when things go pear shaped!

You can even make your students smarter by expecting them to be!

I expect all of you to listen to what I say, but not believe it till you’ve tried it.

And I hope you always expect me to always try my best to reduce your stress level whilst coming up with fun ideas to make your classes even better.

That’s the way we roll here.

Keep the agreement and we all win! ๐Ÿ™‚

Be genki,


P.S. A few people have asked how you do this if you don’t speak the kids’ language, as obviously it won’t work in English. ย I’d always just get another teacher to do it for you. ย Or get it written up on the board. ย That can be just as effective. ย But remember, don’t do this in all classes. ย Just the ones you want to be well behaved! ๐Ÿ™‚

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

21 Responses to “Discipline: The Agreement!”

  1. Margit

    Actually yesterday I just had a class, fitting this topic;

    6th graders, their English lesson is always right after lunch, on top of full stomachs they are very quiet and not going out of their way anyway.

    After the first lessons I kind of “expected” them to become a tough bunch, if they won’t show more interest and join better.

    At the end of the last lesson, we played the Harry Potter game, and I decided I would give it a try and make them feel good, to see what happens after. I really told them how good they were!

    Then yesterday same lunch fatigued faces entered the classroom, anyway I looked at them and I told them, that I think they are happy.

    Then I immediately turned on the volume of the I, you , he she it song.

    While singing I told them how great their voices are today and they got louder and louder, smiling in the end.

    Doing a rather difficult TPR they were just amazing, and again I told them. Then the timerace, where again I set my expectation of a very fast time, telling them “This class can do it”. They didn’t really believe me, but they ended up beating all other classes and being just 3 seconds behind the time I had told them.

    For the King and servant game, in other classes no one would volunteer for being a “Queen” (Kings are easy to get, but queens not), but this time all the girls usually just fading away raised their hands. They were so good and had so much fun.

    It’s not exactly the same story as you wrote, but I think it is a lot about expectations!!!

    Thanks for reminding us.

  2. Anouar

    Hello Richard,
    This is a wonderful technique and just what I’ve been looking for. I teach rather small groups of children, mostly 5-10 kids aged between 5 and 12. There’s one class that everyone in my school calls the “nightmare class” or the “crazy ones”, which is because unlike other classes that have one naughty kid (the “class clown”), this one has three. (In a class of 5, this makes a huge difference!) They misbehave in different ways. One of them dances around the classroom, takes his clothes off and tries to “buttwash” the teacher (that’d be me), one of them is hyperactive, jumps around and can’t stop laughing, even after he hits himself so hard he is obviously in pain. He already broke 2 pairs of glasses! One of them is mean to other kids. If he doesn’t “win” at every game (and I’m not really for competitive games) he makes sure nobody else has fun playing.
    They don’t really want to study and I try my best to make them forget that they’re studying by coming up with new games all the time. I can’t blame them: their parents make them go to school till four, learn the piano, practice calligraphy, take an extra math class, and after all that – me. I just wish I could get them excited!
    I think the key is what I read in one of your other articles about teenagers (they’re about 12), they want to be special and they want “face” (You might have figured out what country I teach in by now, haha), I am not sure how to give it to them without triggering them going competitive and dissing each other. I hope the agreement is going to help, I will give that a try next week.

    Thank you for this website and the newsletter. This is really good stuff.


  3. Chandra Prasad Luitel

    I love this website very much .I use the matter in teacher training.If possible I’am from Nepal and the people of this country love English very .I like it in teaching .If possible send me teaching learning material material.

  4. richard

    A lot of teachers use this technique with hard as nails teenagers, but Marie just wrote in to ask:

    How do you make the agreement with 3-5 years old kids??

    Just like you do with regular stuff with kids, like “let’s get ready so we can go to the park”, “don’t do that you might break it”, or “be good and Santa will bring you some presents”, that sort of style, but of course content matched to the lessons e.g. OK, I’m going make sure we all learn lots and have lots of fun, and you’re going to listen to what I say and always try your best. etc. etc.

    Marie also asked if it wasn’t too complicated for little kids. Not at all, from 2 years onwards kids are used to finding the limits of what they are and aren’t allowed to do! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Amy

    Itยดs true it works with everyone! I think of it almost as a type of rewards system sometimes. There is always one game that a class absolutely loves and is always asking to play- well, I tell them weยดll play it but I need to hear them singing really loud in the new song we are learning that day. And…what do you know, everybody is singing their hearts out and smiling because theyยดre excited for whatยดs to come! Thatยดs what Genki English is all about right?!

  6. Stephen

    I do everything you mention to establish an environment in which my students can learn and reach their full potential. But I was given a class of students from a friend (to whom I am grateful to), but the expectations of classroom behaviour and boundaries were already established. No matter what cool activities and behavioural management techniques I employ, I can’t seem to break their established patterns of behaviour and expectations. I try to see this class as a challenge for me to try and unlock, but it can be trying at times. Any tips on reestablishing boundaries that are already in place would be greatly appreciated.

  7. richard

    Tough one, as you don’t want to change too much so they don’t all quit. Just off the top of my head I’d say that in the new school year you could try “graduating” them into a “higher level.” And introduce new rules as they go to the new level?

  8. Zeph

    I really understand Anouar. I started my workshop this year with 37 kids aged 3 to 7. I have one group of kids who are 5 and they are hitting the ceiling. Even the parents started complaining to me that at school (they are in different schools) the teachers complain that they are just so badly behaved. I also have some younger ones who are problematic : one is considered intellectually advanced for his 4 yrs and was moved from his grade to a higher one at the start of the school year. He spits and is aggressive to the other kids, runs around ALL the time. A nightmare for the other teachers to whom he never listens. His parents wait at the end of the day apprehensive as to what the reports will be. Eventually I had to integrate him into my group as that’s the one place he seemed to be able to focus for more than 1 minute. Anyways, with all these crazy energetic kids with whom we do tons of activities, we were all tired. The noise level was just crazy and the kids seemed to function on electricity. SOooo we decided to do things differently. At first I started giving awards for good behaviour. Did not notice much change there. Right after sticking that sticker on some body part or book the craziness came right back. So, one day, I sat them down and we had a serious talk. I explained that they were big kids who were great, intelligent, wonderful English speakers, how much I was proud of that….and how much I was disappointed in their behaviour. We discussed what was the correct way to behave when at the workshop and what it meant to be responsable. Then I informed them that I was not going to punish them and that they would choose their own discipline. So, when it was time to change activity and to look at a film and everybody was shouting, very calmly I informed them that they would choose if we would simply sit on the mat or if we would go to the other room to see a film in English. Of course they all want to go (and that works for everything that we do in English because they always have so much fun: we bake cakes and do gardening, make popsicles and jello, do fun sports and lovely art and craft, dance and music…). They get organized pretty quickly all by themselves. When I saw how well that worked I did what Richard said…I told them how good they had done that and how proud I was of them. Their faces lighted up and still do. Now, I tell them for the littlest things. When I need something from the kitchen or from another room I assign an older child accompanied by a younger child to get it from an adult in English (the adults speak french but they all play the game). When I leave the workspace to talk to a parent I ask for one person to be responsable for the group. Now they beg for responsibilities! They all want to go get things, be responsable for the table, tell each other the #1 rule of the workshop: We speak English! When I put on my “disappointed face” and say “I’m not happy. Do you think that is good?” their faces fall and they get so serious! I must say they are still crazy sometimes but who wants a catatonic class? ๐Ÿ˜€ Same thing for the younger hyperactive kids and gifted child. I get him to accompany me when I need material from the storeroom and give him directives. I tell him what a great kid he is and congratulate him whenever I see him behaving well even for very short periods. I’ve gotten all the kids to understand what “I’m proud of you” means. Now who doesn’t like hearing that? It takes a lot of energy to constantly occupy them but much more energy to calm them down when they are not busy AND concentrated. So it’s worth that oh so good fatigue at the end of the day when I think “That was a good day!”. This is my 5th year since I started my workshop and quite honestly there’s never a bad day ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Foster

    This is by all means a practical and effective way. I have tried it in my class and it did work well! Richard is the one who can illustrate the technique in depth and is willing to share it with the world. Thank you Richard!

  10. Thichaya Wongyai

    I also do as those ideas but the way is that we have to keep in touch and keep going on until they feel like as their daily life.

  11. mariarosa

    I’m not so good in English but I try to explane how,when the class isn’t listening to me,I stop to speak and I attend the class is looking for where the teacher is! Then I resume to speak them and continue the lesson!

  12. Lily

    Thanks again and again…I always appreciate every useful and helpful tips from you. I’m so glad I can have ideas where I can also personalize it according to my preference and to the type or levels of classes am handling. It sure does the Genki trick!

  13. Susan K

    Thanks again, Richard!

    Well, when I started teaching childrens’ groups a few months ago I didn’t have that many ideas and luckily for me I discovered Genki English!! Prevention is always better than cure, and with the Genki activities I’ve found they’re all so busy and so engaged in the activity that they don’t even think of acting up! However, because it’s very relaxed they weren’t always sure what I was or wasn’t happy with and some of the very enthusiastic ones would shout and run to the front to get picture cards etc. Luckily for me, because most of them are very keen students I didn’t even need to give a reward for good behaviour (sitting still and being quiet) because being chosen first to join in a game is a reward in itself! I like the idea of sitting down and having a heart-to-heart with the students – they’re more likely to care about a teachers’ legitimate concerns if the teacher also cares about theirs – but I think a written agreement would carry even more weight. Like you say, even if they do agree to it they’ll find it hard to stick to it all the time (apart from those really easy-going, angelic ones!), so they need some ‘motivation’, you could say, ie punishments (I could offer to play my violin to them! OK, maybe that’s taking it too far!! :))

    Before I even see the students I tell myself to be calm no matter what, to be cheerful, that whatever energy I give to them I’ll get it back. I remind myself that my attitude to them and my relationship with them is very important – knowing that a teacher likes and cares about you is a great motivator.

    Richard, thanks for giving us teachers a forum for sharing ideas, too. Zeph, I found your post very interesting and encouraging – just shows how you can turn things around!

    The other day I was listening to a talk on You Tube by Dr Ross Greene about Collaborative Problem Solving with kids. This applies particularly to kids with special behavioural problems (caused by genetic and/or environmental factors), but I think it is useful for any teacher, student counsellor or parent. Well worth a listen, imo:


    All the best… ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. farida belkorchia

    I totally agree with you that it’s the best way to let the students learn in class. I have always try it and it proved so successful. Thank you so much, Richard for always reminding us on what is good to be done with them to reach the required goals.

  15. Elena

    I want to ask what kind of punishment we can use if kids break an agreement?

  16. Richard Graham

    My favorite is always simple, just a grammar test ๐Ÿ™‚ You can do other things such as taking away points, shortening the game time etc. Or for the big guns contacting their parents.

  17. Rabab Diwan

    A Big THANK YOU for the ideas and teaching techniques which you share with us.These will not only benefit us (teachers)but also thousands and thousands of students around the world.
    God bless you!

  18. Natalia

    Thank you, Richard! Can you explain what some cards for kids mean. For example, Baby Steps – how to explain it to the kids? I love water, for example. Goal set. Thank you in advanced. Iยดm really interested in your articles ande read and reread them preparing for my classes.

  19. Richard Graham

    Hi Natalia,

    No need to specifically explain the cards to the kids, they are part of the philosophy of being Genki so you introduce them naturally as situations crop up in the classroom – just like I do in the live workshops!

  20. osmo

    Another way is to draw these “rules” on the top of the board in the beginning of the class. I try to draw funny stick man sitting on the chair for the rule #1, and then for the rule #2 a head with eyes open but the mouth shut with a zipper, and then I draw big ears (it means listening), and a stick arm with five fingers that resembles a broom goes out from the bottom of the head and goes up (it mean raise your hand if you want to speak). Then a couple more illustrations, and then I explain that if they don’t follow these rules, I will punish them by taking away their points.
    During the course of the lesson when they deviate from these rules, I just point to the relevant rule, and they remember that we have agreed, thus I don’t need to spend time telling them again.

  21. Richard Graham

    Love the technique here Osmo!!

    However …… why would you set the rules to be “sit down” and “shut up”????????

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