In Defense of the Clip Chart

Morning all,

So I've been reading lots of posts about behavior clip charts in the classroom, especially questioning their effectiveness. As a former classroom teacher for students with behavioral challenges, this topic is near to my heart. Recently Based on some common arguments against using behavior clip charts, here are a few thoughts on why we SHOULD use behavior clip charts in the classroom and how to use them EFFECTIVELY

  • Many bloggers, teachers, and parents have argued that behavior clip charts do not change behavior, they only track it. I disagree entirely with this logic. The purpose of this method is to hold students accountable for their behavior while directly providing consequences (read: punishment and reinforcement) immediately after a child exhibits a behavior. Yes, it does provide you, the educator, with some informal data about how a students' overall school day went, but does not nearly provide the whole picture. If you are using a clip chart as your only method of data collection, I urge you to reconsider. If you are interested in finding the causes and/or solutions for your students' behaviors, you should be taking much more specific behavior data. This chart is less for you and more for them.
  • Another argument for the dismantling of the classroom clip chart is that it is punitive to students who don't (or cannot) adhere to the classroom expectations. My concern with this logic is that, if you are strictly looking at a procedure as "punitive" then you are not able to see the potential positive effects of these procedures. Yes, when students misbehave and their behavior is corrected, they may become embarrassed. Just like anything else. If a student is unable to consistently follow a specific expectation due to say, a neurological dysfunction, then that needs to be recognized by the educator. Not everyone functions in the same way, therefore not everyone has the same set of expectations. For example, if a student with ADHD has trouble following the direction to sit in her chair "appropriately" and is consistently marked down on the clip chart, maybe its time for you to change your expectations for her. The expectation for your other students may still be the same, but instead of constantly punishing a behavior that is otherwise not detrimental to the learning community, and frankly may be out of the child's control, why not change your expectations for that rule for that individual? You as the educator need to be flexible and differentiate for each student, both academically and behaviorally. You need to ask yourself: "What are the reasons this student is not adhering to these expectations?" It is not the clip chart's fault. It is the fault of the educator for not properly implementing the procedure. 
  • Some opponents argue that by having the chart have the potential for punishment (generally the yellow, orange, and red portions of the chart), the assumption is made that the student can and will misbehave. I wholeheartedly disagree and frankly am confused by this logic. Misbehavior happens. That's why these charts exist. Young students are impressionable and nonverbal cues have been proven as an effective way to remind students of the expectations. No assumptions should ever be made. As an educator, your classroom climate should ensure your students always feel as though they are in charge of their behavior. The idea that by having a behavior plan in place (in this case, a clip chart), that the students are going to misbehave is concerning. That means that the chart is responsible for the students' behavior, not themselves. That's a slippery slope!
  • Some argue that even though we try to make the chart seem positive and that it is just a "reminder", it can still be embarrassing. My response to that: Yes. It can be embarrassing. Just like your "quiet space." Kids are smart. A time out is a time out. If they are required to go to the "quiet space" as directed by an adult, it is viewed as a time out, because it is. It's time away from the activity, regardless of what you label it. Now, don't get me wrong. I used "quiet spaces" in my classroom throughout my teaching career. I love them, and utilize them the same way many of you do. However, I know what the kids view it as, try as I might to call it something different. It's okay to utilize this strategy in your classroom, especially if it works. It's also okay to utilize a behavior clip chart even though kids may actually be held accountable for their behaviors.
  • Many argue that a student may become "anxious" or their undesirable behaviors may increase as a result of seeing their clip go down the chart. If this is the case for one of your students, I have a solution. Provide a personalized clip chart- one in which no one else sees it but you and the student. I have done this with a small version on the student's desk and only their name. If you have a particular student who when they end up on Red (or whichever color you have as the "lowest" point of the chart) their behavior increases or responding stops all together (basically, they shut down), adjust the chart accordingly to provide it for the child. We are teachers. We are experts and differentiation. This, just like academic curricula, needs to be individualized to support all of our students.

These charts do not solve the problem. They do not teach alternative behaviors. That is your job. You can't expect a child who continues to move down the chart because he keeps calling out that he knows what he's doing to earn the new color. YOU need to teach him the replacement behavior. And then, every single time he engages in that replacement behavior MOVE THE CLIP UP! If you are using the behavior chart effectively, you will be punishing inappropriate behavior and reinforcing appropriate behavior. This is a teaching moment!

Absolutely clip charts can feel embarrassing or demoralizing -especially if the students are going home feeling defeated. This is a reflection on the implementation, not the behavior strategy itself. However, when implemented appropriately and effectively, they are an extremely helpful behavior tool to aid in non-intrusive supports for each and every student.

Students are individuals. They should be treated like that. What one student may get a "yellow" for, another one may not. We are doing the students a disservice if we treat them all the same, expect the same behaviors, and especially overlook certain behaviors because we don't want to student to feel sad.

NONE of this is to say that your Behavior Clip Chart will solve every behavior problem in your classroom. Of course you should be doing everything in your power to set up your classroom to be as engaging and reinforcing as possible. Additionally, using strategies from other behavior and social curricula will only make your classroom more responsive, responsible, and happy. Whatever you choose to do, please don't write off a legitimate, effective behavior tool just because some teachers disapprove, or worse, are not implementing it correctly. It is all in how you use it.

In related news: Check out my blog post on my tips and tricks for using my clip chart in your classroom!

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic. What do you think of clip charts? Do agree or disagree with my post? Speak up! Let's start a conversation 


  1. hi, very good points! I have a question, at our school, the clips can go up and down, is this the way these charts are generally used everywhere? My only concern has been that moving up and down can be based on an adult's patience that day. thanks for this insight, Paula

    1. Great question! In my experience, it does work best if the child can earn his clip spot up and down the chart. This way the child doesn't "sabotage" his efforts, because there is always the chance that he can turn his behavior around and end on a positive note. I'm not sure how you use the system, but many educator's keep the clip in whichever spot it lands up throughout the day, unless it needs to be moved again. One way to help ease your concerns about being biased (based on your level of patience - it happens!) is to "restart" each period, or section of the day (before lunch/after lunch for example) and move their clip back to green, regardless of where it ended the previous time period. This allows the student to have a fresh start, and lets the student know that they are in charge of keeping their behavior at or above green. This takes the responsibility off of you to have the child "earn" their spots back up to green. It's like a mulligan, and if the child continues to land below green, it's due to their behavior, not your frustrations or limited patience.

      Hope this helps!

  2. I don't like public behavior clip charts *at all*. In a public setting, students get competitive, start to judge the other kids, and point out who the "bad kids" are. As you said, that could be the fault of the teacher not properly moving it up and down and adjusting for students with behavior challenges, but it bothers me to hear 2nd graders saying things like, "John was actually on green today. John's never on green. John's always on yellow or red..." My friend's son came home with a statement like that and she rightly responded, "Well, that may be so, but we shouldn't judge John based on his behavior chart color. We're all different and he might have a harder time staying on green than the other students do..."

    I strongly believe that when it comes to personal feedback, positive feedback should be public and negative feedback should be private, whether it's in the workplace, at school, home, or anywhere else. Weight Watchers may call out members who met a positive benchmark, but they're not going to announce that Susan gained 2 pounds last week. None of us would want to be reprimanded by our administrators in public, but if we accomplished something positive, we might appreciate a shout out over school social media.

    I like the idea you mentioned of a personal one between just the student and the teacher, but that method could become difficult to manage for an entire class. For me, the easiest thing to do is give frequent specific praise to all of the students and subtly help the kids having a hard time get back on track.

  3. Rae thank you for sharing your thoughts, I am very interested in reading about clip charts. Today my 7 years old after being in yellow in school, asked repeatedly not going back to school and with tears on his eyes express the shame that he feels when his peers point at him as a bad boy. You said that clip charts "can feel embarrassing or demoralizing-especially if the students are going home feeling defeated and this is a reflection on the implementation, not the behavior strategy itself" . I believe he is not learning and internal sense of right and wrong from this and even more this public shame experience is causing him to feel as a victim, which is exactly the opposite of behavior chart . I'm really curious about the strategy in my son's classroom and I wonder what would be the most effective approach to the teacher.


Thanks for the comments! I look forward to reading them :)

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