How to Set Behavior Expectations With Your Online Students

     –Written by Janet Cooper

Setting expectations with your students in relation to behavior is important. Doing so can create a positive learning environment and it ensures that your student gets the most from their lesson. If students know and understand what their teacher expects, it gives them confidence. Students are more likely to stay engaged and participate in a positive, secure learning environment.

Remember, there is already a common understanding between student and teacher, but our students need clarity. It’s our job to let them know what we expect in relation to behavior in the clearest way possible. If we inform the student, we encourage the student to be responsible for their own behavior, and this shows we trust them.

Your student knows they should watch and listen to you and are expected to speak English. You may think that the language barrier makes things complicated, but it does not have to. There are many ways we can set and communicate behavior expectations while saying very little:

  • Make a strong first impression. Center yourself in the camera and sit up straight, with good posture. Smile and welcome your students to engage them but use your voice tone to instruct your students and use commands, as necessary.


  • Introduce the student to the lesson as this gives them insight. For example, circling the letters in a phonics class and pointing to your lips, saying ‘H’ and ‘/h/’ introduces your student to the lesson content. When storytelling, I tell my students that they will be storytelling today and I do the actions of opening a book or use an actual book to model this. This prepares them for the lesson.


  • Use simple instructions to set behavior expectations. For example, you might say ‘Repeat’, ‘Match’, ‘Read’, ‘Look’, ‘sit down’, ‘listen’. All of these inform the student to act.

For higher level students, you will be able to give more specific instructions by questioning them: ‘can you repeat that please?’, ‘what do you see?’ and ‘can you listen to this please?’.


  • Use TPR. This can enhance your instructions and allow you to model what you want the student to do. TPR is extremely useful for low-level learners but it can also help higher-level learners understand trickier ideas too.


  • Use facial expressions. They can indicate if your learner is on the right track. If you smile and give them a thumbs up or a high five, it encourages positive behavior.

  • Address your student by name. You can follow up by issuing a command or instruction. You can enhance this further by modelling. If your student is low-level, they will still understand their name, so combine their name with simple instructions and TPR.


  • Praise is important! It’s always best to praise good behavior and not react if a student is not behaving well or lacks focus. Praise lets your student know they are meeting your expectations.


We have the star reward system of course but there are many ways to give praise, so get inventive! One of my regular students loves to play a game of ‘I went to market…’ and another ‘Tic, Tac, Toe’ so I implement these games using the lesson vocabulary as a reward.


Finally, you can use the feedback report to set behavior expectations. You can add any comments or concerns and outline your future expectations here. If you prefer, you can make notes to the student’s learning advisor, so that they can communicate any behavioral issues. This means the next time you teach the student, they will know what to expect.


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Edgar HernandezIngrid FontenotKristinaAnisia-RalucaPaul Lobue Recent comment authors
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Paul Lobue
Paul Lobue

Thank you for the suggestions.

Anisia-Raluca Cojocaru
Anisia-Raluca Cojocaru

Very useful information! I use some of them in my classes as well, but there is always place for improvement and this post helps it! Thank you, Janet!


Great tips! Thanks!

Ingrid Fontenot
Ingrid Fontenot

I also use secondary rewards. Today I taught a teenage girl, and I used artificial flowers as a secondary reward. The young teen was thrilled to receive the flowers especially since we were reviewing the seasons and things people can do during the seasons. So, I’m just passing this along for those of you who teach teenage girls. You can put the flowers in a vase or tie a pretty bow around them at the end of the lesson. Believe me, my teenage girl really enjoyed receiving the flowers.

Edgar Hernandez
Edgar Hernandez

I am sure this will increase the quality of my lessons. Thank you teacher Janet.