Elementary students often behave in
a disruptive manner in the cafeteria. Misbehavior is
especially difficult to manage in this environment
because the cafeteria aide must focus his or her
attention on not one but 100's of students at a time.
However, we believe that students can learn to act
responsibly through a system of training and
reinforcement. In cooperation with school administrators,
our staff has monitored cafeteria behavior at Sabal Palm
Elementary and developed reasonable intervention's to
deal with short and long-term problems.
We interviewed several local schools
to find out how they structured student behavior in the
cafeteria and on the school bus. Based on what we
learned, we came up with a list of "essentials"
for managing students in these often unstructured
procedures and routines were instituted,
and the school was serious about
enforcing them consistently.
monitors were well trained, active, and
- A system of
rewards and consequence was utilized.
- Each class was
assigned a specific time to go the
cafeteria for lunch (e.g. 11:00, 11:04,
11:08). This eliminates long lines and
substantially reduces disruptive
- A standard
enter and exit traffic pattern was
bringing their own lunch went directly to
their assigned table.
- All students
were assigned seats.
- A cup was
placed on the table for the first 5
minutes, indicating no talking. This
ensures that lunch is eaten. Also, since
at any one time 2-3 classes will be not
talking, overall noise level is reduced.
Aides keep time so that cups are removed
after 5 minutes.
- 5 minute
timers were also placed on the table, so
students can monitor how long they need
to stay quiet.
- Clear rules
were set for appropriate and
inappropriate behaviors, such as how to
sit, eat, what to do with trash. There
was quite a bit of variety in the rules
between schools, the key being that the
kids knew the rules and the rules were
consistently enforced with consequences
- Each monitor
was assigned a "zone" for which
he/she was responsible for managing.
- Each monitor
was expected to manage their zone for the
entire lunch period, rewarding
appropriate behavior and attending to
inappropriate behavior (eye contact;
physical proximity; "moving in"
to address misbehavior, etc.).
- Each monitor
was responsible for determining rewards
and consequences and for handing out
slips, banners, smiley faces (see below).
established a "signal" for
immediate quiet and taught children to
respond to it (e.g. lights out for 5
seconds; or the "Give Me Five"
- An "Evaluation
Card" for each table for each lunch period
was used. A popular card uses Smiley, Neutral,
and Frowney Faces for evaluation of class and
individual behavior, plus space for comments and
names of students demonstrating (+) or (-)
behavior. Tables earning "Smiley Faces"
all week earn a special reward on Friday (Lunch
with teacher, names entered into a drawing for a
coupon for "Big Mac", TCBY, etc.).
These rewards were determined by teachers
individually. Every three weeks (or some standard
time period), tables earning the minimum number
of Smiley Face evaluations receive an additional
special reward. Tables with enough (e.g. 80%)
Smiley Faces at end of each nine week grading
period will receive a very special reward (e.g.
ice cream social event).
- A "Good Cafeteria
Behavior Banner" can be earned at end of
lunch period if all tables from a given class
exhibited positive behavior. The "Good
Cafeteria Behavior Banner" is displayed
prominently in classroom; award winning classes
are announced the next morning over the intercom.
- Classes receive a
green slip (good behavior), red slip (bad
behavior) or no slip (ok) at end of every lunch.
Green slips were taken to office and classes
announced that afternoon over the intercom. Slips
were then taken to classroom and displayed on the
wall. (This school tried several rewards for
green slips, such as ice cream, that werent
effective. Their kids have responded remarkably
well to the recognition of having their names
called out and having the slips pasted on their
- Cafeteria monitors
were trained to use a variable interval schedule
to "catch children at being good" (e.g.
when a bell rings or a whistle blows, the three
best behaving tables will receive a recognition
award). At the end of the week, all tables who
received positive recognition and no frowney
faces receive a school recognition award.
- Recess was granted
after lunch for well behaving students. Students
identified as displaying inappropriate behavior
are assigned "Walk Squad" (Student
walks a 20 yd. X 20 yd. square for the 10 minute
- Disruptive students
who do not respond to correction will be sent to
"time-out" at second infraction;
continual or more serious infractions will result
in 2-3 day suspension from cafeteria
- Cover windows of
cafeteria so that children outside cannot look in
and distract those already in the lunchroom.
- Use tape or paint to
make squares on the floor, so that students in
line but far enough apart that they are
physically separated and cannot touch one
- Put baskets with
napkins, utensils, straws, and condiments on each
table so children do not need to get up to
retrieve forgotten or additional items.