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How to use PBIS strategies in the classroom

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) has definitely made its mark on the world of education. States, districts, and schools have made PBIS a requirement in an attempt to improve student behaviors and, ultimately, academic outcomes. PBIS now influences what our schools look like, how our schools discipline students, how educators talk to students, and much more. But how does PBIS transform our individual classrooms? And what are some examples of PBIS strategies in the classroom?

First, let’s talk about PCBS

Within PBIS, there’s something called PCBS, which stands for Positive Classroom Behavior Support. Simply put, it’s the act of using PBIS practices in the classroom setting through practices, systems, and data. Here’s a breakdown of these components:

  • Practices are what teachers are doing to prevent negative behaviors and to encourage positive behaviors. These practices also include how we respond to different behaviors in the classroom.
  • Systems are the supports that are provided by the district and the administrators to help teachers implement PCBS.
  • Data is the information the teacher collects and uses to shape decisions in the classroom. Based on data, teachers can determine what’s working and what needs to be modified.

8 PBIS strategies you can use in your classroom

When looking at classroom examples, we’ll mainly explore practices. These are things teachers do to incorporate PBIS practices in an effort to decrease disruption, increase instruction, and improve student behavior and academic success. With PBIS, teachers seek to thoughtfully design the physical learning environment, develop and teach classroom routines, and teach classroom expectations.

Here are some PBIS practices that are commonly observed in classrooms:

black chairs in rows
Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

1. Thoughtfully designing the classroom environment

When using PBIS practices to design a classroom, teachers have a lot to keep in mind. A learning environment should be flexible enough to support various classroom activities (small group, whole group, centers, etc.), provide easy movement for both the teacher and the students, maintain materials in a neat and organized manner, and offer helpful resources to students (posters with math formulas, a word wall, etc.). This also includes choosing assigned seats and areas to help students stay on task and focused during learning activities. Teachers also ensure that all students can be seen and that they have a place for their belongings.

Examples of this might include having tables set up for lab activities in the classroom, using desks for individual work time, facing the seats forward for whole group instruction, or arranging the students in a circle for a discussion.

2. Developing and teaching classroom routines

Highly effective classrooms have highly effective routines. Teachers need to establish, teach, and practice these routines so students can spend more time learning and less time on activity transitions. Good classrooms have routines in place for how to turn in work, how to pass out materials, and how to make up for missed work.

Teachers often have an arrival and dismissal routine so students know how to start and end the day without disrupting the learning process. Teachers also have a routine for transitioning from one activity to the next. Through PBIS, students learn how and when to ask for help. They also learn what to do when they’ve finished their assignments. For example, you can provide an extra activity for the students such as a reading corner or a Chromebook for individual learning time.

hand holding a paper with the words practice kindness
Photo credit: Sandrachile

3. Posting, defining, and teaching classroom expectations

School-wide PBIS expectations ensure that the entire building — not just one classroom — is posting, defining, and reinforcing expectations for students. If not, then each teacher will need to create three to five clear classroom expectations that are positively stated (e.g., “Keep hands and feet to yourself” rather than “Don’t touch others.”). They also need to be observable and understandable. Teachers need to explicitly teach these expectations using examples and opportunities for students to practice.

In the classroom, these expectations need to be clearly posted on the walls. Each expectation should be well defined: “Being responsible means turning in my work on time to the proper shelf and then quietly returning to my seat.” In an effective PBIS classroom, teachers refer to these examples when they interact with students. These expectations help develop a language that’s used to talk about behavior in the classroom.

4. Using active supervision and proximity

Teachers have to constantly be on their toes — they should be moving around the classroom and interacting with individual students. You can use this time to provide quality feedback to students. While teaching, you can do a visual sweep of the classroom to check for student behavior and understanding.

When this takes place in the classroom, you’ll notice that teachers are:

  • Talking to their students and soliciting feedback (e.g., “How are you doing on question two?”).
  • Moving around and standing near students as they work.
  • Overseeing transitions between activities to ensure that things go smoothly.

5. Providing plenty of opportunities for students to respond

Teachers need to give students a variety of opportunities to speak up in class. This can include individual or small group questioning as well as unison responses and non-verbal responses. If students aren’t allowed to respond to instruction, then all they’re doing is consuming information and not making it their own.

Some teachers will randomly call individual students using popsicle sticks or strips of paper with student names on them. Others will use a seating chart. The main goal is to give every student a chance to respond. Another popular response method is think-pair-share. In this activity, a teacher presents a question, the students are then given time to think about it individually, then they are paired with a classmate to share their thoughts, and then discuss the question with the entire class. As for non-verbal response methods, teachers often use thumbs-up and thumbs-down or hands-up and hands-down responses.

6. Use of effective praise

The use of praise is important to encourage positive behaviors in the classroom. PBIS methods stress that praise needs to be specific, timely, and sincere. It should be personal to what works for each individual student. As a rule of thumb, each student should receive five praise comments for every one corrective comment. A teacher might whisper to a student, “Thank you for walking in quietly from recess today.” Another teacher might address the entire class, “You all did a wonderful job quietly listening to the lecture today.”

poker chips stacked by color
Photo credit: Amanda Jones

7. Implementing other strategies to encourage positive behavior

Aside from praise, there are other strategies to encourage positive behavior in the classroom. PBIS uses behavior contracts, group contingencies, and token economies. Behavior contracts are lists of behaviors that are agreed upon by the class (along with the rewards and consequences for these behaviors). Students can help create this class pledge or charter, and all students can sign it to indicate that they’re committing to these behaviors.

Group contingencies are rewards that the entire class can earn by behaving well as a group. For example, a teacher could offer free seating arrangements on Fridays if all students are in their seats when the bell rings for the entire week. Token economies are classroom rewards based on a given system, such as stickers, tally marks, bonus points, poker chips, etc. In these classrooms, students are working hard to earn these tokens in order to gain a bigger reward.

8. Correcting student behaviors

Of course, even the most effective classrooms will have times when students demonstrate negative behaviors. When this happens, teachers need to intervene with brief and specific corrections. According to PBIS, teachers should state the observed behavior and then tell what the student should do in the future. Corrections should be brief and respectful. If the student corrects the behavior, the teacher should be sure to then praise that student.

For example, a student might be off task during class. A teacher could approach this student and say, “Steve, please begin your assignment.” Once the student returns to the task, and maintains momentum, the teacher may approach him and comment, “Thank you for being responsible and getting to work on your assignment.” This correction (and praise) is just a small step in helping students understand the desired behaviors in class.

PBIS can make a big difference at every level

PBIS offers many insights and strategies for schools to help create a learning environment that’s positive, productive, and conducive to learning. On a school-wide or district-wide scale, PBIS helps keep teachers on the same page by standardizing some of the classroom management terminology and expectations. Inside each classroom, teachers have the power to implement PBIS on a smaller scale that can make a very big difference. These day-to-day classroom interactions are where behavioral expectations can be taught, practiced, and mastered.

Photo credit: pan xiaozhen /

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