Monday, July 25, 2011

Makin' it to the Top: Clip chart overview

Perfect! The Lesson Plan Diva is hosting a "behavior management" linky party! Head on over to link up and join the fun of discovering new ways to keep your kiddos making good choices!

Thanks so much for all of your questions on how I use my clip chart in my classroom. Those of you who have been following me know that I am very wordy... so strap in for a long post! :)

Ok. Before I begin, I will let you know that when I started using a clip chart last year, I first read this e-book by New Management which answered a lot of my questions. I am by no means THE authority on clip charts, but I do think it's super cool that so many of you are interested in how it works for me!

Establishing your expectations...
One of the first things you need to do as a teacher is decide what is going to constitute a "clip down" and start thinking about which student choices will allow a "clip up". My "clip down" is much more defined than when students "clip up". I like this for two reasons- 1.) they know exactly which choices will earn them a movement down on the clip chart and 2.) they have an idea of what they need to do to clip up, but because it is more loosely defined, they are constantly aware of their choices and I'm not locked in to a situation where every time they do one thing, they will automatically get to move their clips up. I hope that makes sense.

In the beginning...
In the beginning of the year, kids got to move their clips up like crazy. I even let one or two get all the way to the coveted "pink" on the first day of school! I am very lengthy and descriptive about why I let kids "clip up". I might say, "Wow! John, you heard me ask you to push your chair in before you lined up and I noticed that several kids forgot, but you followed directions right away! It really helps us move safely in our classroom when kids push their chairs in. Please go move your clip up," and as he goes to move his clip up, the 10 kids who forgot to push their chairs in immediately go back and follow directions... without me having to say one word to them. For the first month or so of school, it goes like this- me giving very specific feedback about positive choices so that they can vicariously learn exactly what types of behavior I expect in my classroom. In the beginning of the year, lots of kids get to move up but few actually get to the top. I used "the top" very sparingly. All of my kiddos had gotten there at least once by the end of the year, most twice, and some three or four times.

Maintaining in the middle...
After your clip chart routines are established, it is really important to continue the intermittent rewards during the middle of the year. I say things like, "Tony, I appreciate how you raised your hand before you gave your answer. That helps things move smoothly when we take turns speaking" and I might let him clip up, but I might not. Intermittent rewards are so important for the clip chart. My kiddos learn that we don't always get a reward and sometimes we just do things because they are the right thing to do.

The power of the clip chart when things are crazy!...
Wow did this clip chart save my sanity at times this past year! My kids LOVED the opportunity to move up on the clip chart and, because they knew that I might notice them at any time doing the right thing and I MIGHT ask them to clip up, I could usually see them consciously trying to exhibit the expected behaviors in the classroom. However, when they were not, the clip chart was an easy way to corral them back in. I would just say, "Oh no! I was just about to ask someone to move their clip up, but when I turned around, they weren't making that great choice anymore! I'll keep watching them to see if they have made a better choice". Sneaky right? Or I would say, "I'm looking for someone who wants to move their clip up by making good choices right now".

Why I LOOOOOVE the clip chart...
In the past when I used a red-yellow-green system, the only incentive at all to behave had to be intrinsic. They had to want to stay on green and, let's face it, we all know who our high-flyer kids are and they usually have been so burned by behavior systems like red-yellow-green that they believe they can't behave and so they don't try. Or, more likely, there haven't been sufficient opportunities for them to figure out what it means to behave because they aren't even getting to see other kids recognized for making good choices! I know some people are very anti-extrinsic motivators, but the clip chart serves both purposes. It is an extrinsic visual motivator that gives such feelings of pride when they succeed at moving up. Kids learn how to make good choices and what it feels like to be proud of their own actions- especially when given specific feedback about their choices... not just "good job" or "good choice", but taking the time to explain what they did so that they understand it was their CHOICE that was good, not them as a person. The clip chart takes the focus off of students as who they are, but what their choices are. On a red-yellow-green system, only the "naughty" kids ever hear their names. This makes it so that those kids have a chance to be recognized for good choices too.

Here is a powerful testament to the clip chart. Mid-way through this past year I got a new student. This student came with a 10-page long behavior plan from his old school. I had to have a behavior meeting about him before he even started in my class! Now, I'm a very competent classroom manager, but I'll admit that I was nervous! He came in and responded extremely well to the positive environment in my classroom... and when he realized that he wasn't only going to be penalized for his choices (via a red-yellow-green only system) and that he was capable of making good choices that could earn him praise and happy feelings about himself, his behavior was GREAT! Not to say that he didn't have a bad day here or there, but I honestly saw none of the behaviors outlined in the behavior plan that came from the old school. I truly believe it is because the clip chart focuses on good choices rather than just consistently zeroing in on poor ones.

Making "clip ups" special...
In my classroom, when you make it to the top, you get a special sticker to wear home, a happy note, and you get to add a jewel to your clip. The class will also clap and cheer and share in the "clip upper's" excitement! Click here to go to my class website to download some happy notes for your classroom!

Making "clip downs" painless...
The point of the clip chart is for kids to learn how they can be responsible for their own choices. When I used a red-yellow-green system, my high-flyers had a very difficult time accepting the fact that they had to move down a color. Not only that, but I didn't allow you to move up if you changed your choices later in the day when I used that system. Now as a more seasoned teacher, I understand that I was completely and unfairly sabotaging those students and setting them up to fail. If a kid gets on "yellow" 10-minutes into the day, what incentive do they have to change their choices? None. By then, they'd already be feeling crummy and, if they don't feel their best they aren't going to be their best.

My students know that poor choices will earn you a consequence, but you have the opportunity to learn from your poor choices and change your behavior. I have found that, even when having to make a move to orange or (insert terrifying sound here) RED, my kids accept it on this system because they get it. They understand why they are having to do isn't just because Mrs. Bainbridge is mean, it's because the choice that got made was not acceptable.

In my class, moving to yellow is just a warning. Orange means a loss of 5-minutes of recess so we can have a chat about making good choices on a students' own time... NOT my class time. Red is a loss of an entire recess (15-minutes), the student has to write a behavior reflection, and I will make a parent contact either by phone (which the student will participate in) or note/e-mail.

Why it works for me...
In my pre-clip chart era as a teacher, I would leave feeling like I had griped at my kids all day and that, no matter how hard I tried to "get them to behave", it didn't work. The clip chart puts it on them. No longer am I just recognizing the bad behavior! And we all have kiddos who will get our attention any way they can get it- good or bad- and, as long as they are getting our attention, they don't even care that it is negative. This system allows me to get the behavior I want on my terms. Kids have to earn their behavior level in my classroom, I don't just give it to them based on how I am feeling at any certain moment. If a kid is having a bad day when they walk in my door, I can change it immediately by finding them doing one good thing and asking them to move their clip up for it. Instantly the chances of them having a meltdown or a horrible behavior day are greatly reduced. This system helps kids be responsible for their own choices. I love that!

Clip chart questions...
So, here are the answers to some questions I've gotten in the past regarding the clip chart...

Q-But what if a student moves to red? Can they really move back up on the clip chart?
A-Yes. They will still receive their consequence which, for my students, is a loss of an entire recess, behavior reflection to go home and be signed, and a parent contact. It has never happened that a student has moved to red and then had such wonderful choices that they have moved too far back up the clip chart... so for those worried about that, I don't see it happening. The beauty of it is that you control when they move up. So you can allow a student to move back up at your own discretion, particularly if you leave the parameters for moving up more open ended as I suggested. I will add that if a student moves to red and later makes a good choice and gets to be on yellow they would not then get the yellow level consequence (-5 min. of recess). They would still owe me the whole recess.

Q-But what if a student gets to outstanding and then their behavior spirals out of control? Do they still get to keep their goodies for getting to the top?
A-Any kid who would have such extreme behavior should probably be on their own individual behavior plan. This has never happened in my classroom so I can't speak to my own experiences on this matter, but I wouldn't worry too much about it. I keep my high-flyers waiting to get to the top throughout the day... so if I can tell one of my kiddos is going to have a rough day, I set them up to be successful by allowing them to clip up a level early in the day. This keeps them on their toes, aware of their choices, and eliminates the "I'll never clip up" feeling that those kiddos sometimes feel.

Q-Does it take a lot of time to use a clip chart?
A-Not at all! The kids clip up and down themselves and all you have to do as the teacher is be aware of the choices being made in your classroom and then ask kids to clip up or down because of them. I would highly recommend being wordy with your explanations when you ask them to clip up. It truly helps the other kids learn what they need to do in a more internal way than just you telling them. I promise that when you say to one kid, "Wow! That piece of paper has been on the floor all day and everyone else has ignored it, but you picked it up even though it isn't yours. You really showed a lot of responsibility by doing that. Thanks for keeping our classroom beautiful. Please move your clip up!"... I promise that the other kids in your room will immediately look on the floor for trash and will be more aware of picking it up tomorrow!

Q-I'm a little concerned about posting the clip chart for everyone to see. Won't it bother the kids who are below green?
A-I haven't had any issues with this. My clip chart is posted in the back of my classroom and I know some teachers don't have student names written on clips- instead they have numbers. I think the kids would still know which number went with each student, but parents or visitors to the room wouldn't be able to see who was where on the clip chart. I think that it is a good visual reminder of choices made and a perfect visual for kids to see what they are striving for.

Q-Your colors on the clip chart are reversed from what they show in the e-book... how come?
A-I prefer having the "cooler" colors at the top. Red has a more threatening connotation, so I have that at the bottom of my chart and then it goes up in a kind of "reverse rainbow order"- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink.

Q-Would you please share your words on your clip chart?
A-Sure! You can find my clip chart files on my class website in the "c" section of my Teacher Files page. Ms. Fiorini is also working on themed clip chart sayings. You can visit her blog to see some. Soon more will be for sale at The Teaching Oasis!

Ok! I think that's it! If you have other questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I'll be sure to address them.


  1. I use this clip chart too and I also inverted the colors (not a child alive doesn't know "red" means trouble). I used it with 5th graders this year and it was AWESOME for those kids who just can't seem to control themselves well on their own. The opportunity to turn it around and clip back up is a huge incentive! I am going to use it with my 2nd graders this coming year and I know they will love it!

  2. WOW! That is a very powerful, visual system! Love it!! I will have to check out your e-book!! Thanks

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I've been seeing these but wasn't sure how it worked. I was thinking of doing one but wasn't sure how to get started! This info helps a ton! How do parents know how their child end their day? Also, do you have a note that you send home to parents explaining how the clip chart works?


  4. Hi Elisabeth- I do not send home a daily behavior note for parents. This is something I have never done... I think parents focus waaaaay too much on that. If a student has horrible behavior, I inform parents and if a student has outstanding behavior, I inform parents. But unless a student makes it to one end or the other of the clip chart, it stays between me and my kiddos.

    I do have a note explaining the clip chart. It's on my website. Here's the link to the page it's on-

  5. Thanks for all your insight! I'm planning on using the clip chart this year and I'm hoping I'm consistent with it! I have wondered about keeping a daily track of students' behavior for maybe conferences or any kids who are consistently yellow and orange--I keep going back and forth...I definitely don't want to send home daily reports b/c of time management and how crazy the end of day usually gets! Thanks again for sharing!

  6. I have something I use each day for that exact reason. I'll post it to share later today or tomorrow! Off to cook dinner now! :)


  7. Is there any negative connotation when you are asking the same few kids to "clip down" consistently? I love the idea of this system but am worried what parents/administrators would think for allowing everyone to see the negative reinforcement for repeat offenders? What are your thoughts...

  8. Awesome Christina! Thanks for such a great explanation. I'm so excited to get started!!!

  9. I use a similar clip chart, and I totally agree - the opportunity to move up is so important! The jewels are new to me though and look so fun. I'm wondering though - how many kids per day/ week make it all the way to the top? I make it pretty difficult (most days no one makes it to the top), and am curious to see if you do the same?

    Thanks for a great explanation!

  10. Hi Jess- my school is a PBIS school and we stay conscious of a 5 to 1 ratio- 5 positive to one negative... and I use a TON of positives in my classroom, so kids who move their clips down often get their "warm fuzzies" from me in other ways. This past year was my first with a clip chart and I don't think any of my kiddos ever felt bad about moving down- partly because of the good rapport I have with them and partly because the clip chart helps them understand how THEY caused themselves to move down based on their own choices. It truly is a great tool in teaching personal responsibility for choices.

    Hope that helps!


  11. Abby- "The top" is highly coveted and not often achieved. I want my kids to understand that to be recognized like that takes a lot of going above what is just a general expectation. Like you, most days no one made it to the top. I would say at most, one kid a week got to the top. Some days two kids would and other days no one would.

    They LOVED the jewels! Even my boys were super psyched to add one to their clips!


  12. Where did you get the jewels? Are they self adhesive?

  13. Erika- Yes, they are self adhesive. I got them in the scrapbooking section at a craft store.

  14. Thanks for joining my linky party! I am using this chart also!

    Lesson Plan Diva

  15. Love the clip chart! I've always used it! New Management is awesome! I was lucky enough to see him during my master's program. PLNU invited him to speak for our culminating meeting one semester. Do you know about/use whole brain teaching?

  16. Thank you for all the clipchart information! I've never used one before and am very excited to try it out this year in my new 2nd grade classroom...

    Learning in 2nd Grade

  17. Thanks for your great explanation of how the clip chart works. I am passing it along to my co-worker, rather than explaining the system to her.

  18. I found a behavior report with stars on another website and they said they got it from you. Do you have that available in word form anywhere on your blog or website?

  19. I actually just started a clip system in my classroom and love it. However, after only a couple weeks, it's falling apart! What materials did you use to make it?

  20. Mine is just made out of scrapbooking cardstock that is laminated. My teaching neighbor made one on Vista Print that is vinyl. Good luck!

  21. This was an AMAZING post. Thank you for taking the time to be so thorough!


  22. Thanks, Hadar! I just re-read it and it's pretty wordy... thanks for sticking in there! :)

  23. I just found this via Pinterest and THANK YOu. I have been looking for a detailed description of how this works. I am a little worried about trying it with 32 kids. RIght now I use the card system, which works ok, but I like the idea of rewarding the kids with good behavior.

    Question: Do you move all kids each day, or do most stay at the starting point?
    ✿Tiffani Time 4 Kindergarten

  24. After spending years teaching Special Ed preschool I will be teaching 1st grade next year (special ed). I love the idea of the clip chart and I plan to use it in my classroom. Just a few questions...first, do you have a letter that you send to parents explaining the system? Second, as students end the day on blue-pink is there some type of reward system that you use? Do they only get a jewel at pink? What do you do for ending at blue or purple? Do they earn some type of prize or reward when they have a certain number of days at a level? Sorry for all the questions, but I appreciate any suggestions you have.

  25. Thank you for posting about this program! Your explanation and freebies are amazing!!! I'm a new follower of your blog and your pin boards. I wrote about you in my blog. Go check it out:)

    kindergarten days

  26. I stumbled upon your blog through Pinterest. I love your explanation of the clip chart. Do you have a parent note explaining this that you would be willing to share?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...