Code Phrases for Success

The phrases that I am chatting about today will work in your classroom for in-person learning, but they are especially helpful for those teaching virtually. I used some of these code phrases as a special educator, but I've created a few more that have been useful as an on-line teacher. For behavior management, we have to limit the number of times we use a student's name or ask an open-ended question. Code phrases help reduce these occurrences.


Classroom Management


I've talked a lot about setting up spaces and materials for success. My blog posts have also explored the topic of how to build quality student-teacher relationships. Classroom management still needs to be planned for when teaching on-line. Just like being in a classroom, behaviors can get out of hand and students can quickly lose interest. As a classroom teacher, I had many word phrases that I found to be useful for classroom management. I've found, though, that not all of those phrases worked for an on-line classroom. I also had my own style of classroom management. Some of the phrases that didn’t work well for on-line teaching are: pay attention, focus, are you almost done, where did you go, let me know when you’re done. You have to be careful what you say when you are in a virtual environment. Students really are in control of what happens. They could just shut you off. 😞


To help my readers with classroom management, no matter the learning environment, I’ve rounded up my best-used code phrases and am sharing them today with you. These will help you avoid the power struggle during learning sessions. First, a code phrase is just a phrase that alerts a student to what reaction and behavior you expect from them at that moment. You should not have to repeat it, and if you use it consistently, it should immediately redirect their behavior to the desired one.


Favorite Code Phrases


  • Instead of: “Are you paying attention?” Use Code Phrase: “What is your job right now? I’m doing my job, are you doing your job?”

  • One of the most difficult things with students being online is that you don’t really know if they are staying on task. Are they really following directions? You really aren’t sure because you can’t just walk up to them and peek over their shoulder to see their work. So, you have to be creative. When I use this code phrase, I also like to mimic what the students should be doing. So, if a student should be using their letter board, I tell them that I have my letter board and show it to them. Then, I ask if they have theirs. The students get used to these code phrases and begin to really know what you expect from them. It also builds their independent learning. If you ask them what they are doing or if they heard you, that starts a power struggle that can be avoided.


  • Instead of: “Is everything alright?” Use Code Phrase: “Is it a little problem or a big problem?”

  • This is one of my favorite code phrases, and it actually was inspired from the social thinking curriculum by Michelle Garcia Winner. This code phrase puts things into perspective for students. For example, adults can become so frustrated in traffic when trying to get home that it could end up in a bump to the car in front of them. So, is being stuck in traffic usually a small problem? Yes, most of the time. Would an accident be a small or big problem? A big problem. Hopefully, you get the concept. 😉 We want to help our students understand that some things are not really worth getting upset about. If your student dropped their snack right before the lesson started, it could cause problems during the whole session. If you address it right away and help them understand that it is a small problem compared to them spilling water on their laptop, then the child can refocus on learning. This has worked so many times to help redirect a student’s frustration over a relatively small problem.


  • Instead of: “Are you done?” Use Code Phrase: “Teacher check”

  • Even with virtual learning, we have to hold our students accountable for their learning. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t be right next to your student seeing if they are on the correct page. “Teacher check” helps students become independent and responsible for their learning. Instead of having to ask students if they are done with their dictation or writing, I tell them to say, “teacher check”. I then ask them again, “what do I want to hear?” It is always a good idea to repeat each code phrase.


  • Instead of: “Sorry, we don’t have time for that, or we’ll talk about it later” Use Code Phrase: “That sounds like a great share!”

  • Students bring objects to our lessons so often, and they become a great distraction. Make a “share” a predictable end to a lesson. After a bit of time, students will come to see it as part of their routine. This is especially helpful when your student goes off topic and wants to talk about random things. They are important to your students so you should make time to help maintain a quality student-teacher relationship.


  • Instead of: “What do you have over there?” Use Code Phrase: “Is it a tool or a toy?”

  • It can really get you into a power struggle when you have a student who is using anything as a toy. The best way to avoid this situation is to establish what a toy or tool is from the beginning. This way the student knows when it is time for whatever they have in their hand to become a learning tool. Students don’t really want to hear their name called over and over again. They just want to play. (Speaking of, here's the link to the FREE baseball word card game for this week's share 😉) So, when they call it a toy, have them stand up and do a fun movement about five steps away from their computer and leave the toy there. This will help them avoid putting it two inches from their screen so it continues to be a distraction. Reassure them that you are excited to see their share at the end of the learning session.

I really hope these code phrases inspire and help you in your teaching. Come back next week when we’ll chat about another topic that I get lots of questions about…parent involvement and when it can interfere with learning.


I hope you have a great week!


Michelle @ Read to Rewire

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