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How to Create a Student-Led Classroom Social Contract in Elementary School

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Photo of Alison Smith
Updated | 5 min read

Starting off the school year with a classroom social contract is a good way to let your students know what’s going to be expected of them in the coming weeks and months of the school year and what the consequences will be if they don’t follow the rules. Win, win, right? But all those classroom guidelines and even the consequences aren’t going to mean much if you don’t have student buy-in.

That’s why creating a student-led classroom contract can be invaluable. Instead of handing your students a list of class rules, then moving on to the next task on your list, consider working with your students to create this year’s classroom social contract — including rules not just for them but for you too!

A classroom contract that is meaningful to your students relies on you giving your students ownership of what goes in it. Your job is to launch it.

Explore Rules and Expectations resources ready to use in the classroom!

How Do Students Make Social Contracts?

We may have made you a little nervous with this idea. Rules for you? Made by your students? Let’s back up here for a second and talk about what it means when a student makes a classroom social contract. They aren’t gathering in a pod without you, drafting a bunch of nonsense guidelines that are going to let them eat a lot of candy and ignore their math lessons.

You want to create a collaborative learning experience, right? When students make social contracts, learning is more collaborative.

How to Create a Classroom Social Contract

There are many ways to create a student-led classroom social contract with your class. This is just one tried and tested way.

Step 1: Identify Your Class WHY

Your class WHY is the purpose, cause, or belief that will drive you to create a student-led classroom contract, to implement it, and to stick to it.

Explain to your students that a classroom contract is a written or spoken agreement about how you will make the classroom a great place to learn and have fun. Ask your students the following key questions:

  • What is the purpose of a classroom social contract?
  • Why is a classroom contract important?
  • How will a classroom contract benefit you?
  • What would our classroom look, sound, and feel like without a classroom contract?

Step 2: The Three Pillars of Respect

The next step to creating a classroom social contract is to lay the foundations and to discuss the value of respect.

Many of the classroom expectations that will become part of your classroom contract will be based on what we like to call the three pillars of respect:

  1. Respect yourself.
  2. Respect others.
  3. Respect the environment.

Ask your students, “What the world would look like without respect?”

Download a Classroom Reward Chart that reminds students what they’re working for as a class. 

Step 3 – Picture a Perfect Classroom

Next, encourage your students to start mapping out their perfect classroom with the rules they want to see put in place in their social contract — this is where you really get their buy-in! This is still the brainstorming phase, so no idea is off the table (yet). 

An easy way to do this is with Classroom Contract Task Cards. The task cards have been designed with a small group activity in mind. The prompts on these task cards encourage students to think about how positive behaviors might look, sound, and feel. The behaviors are linked to respecting self, others, and the environment.

The Y-Chart Graphic Organizer is also crying out to be part of the collaborative learning activity — download and print one out for each student!

Here’s one way to do it:

  • Arrange your students into small groups. Allocate roles using Cooperative Working Role Cards.
  • Provide each group with one of the Classroom Contract Task Cards and a Y-Chart Graphic Organizer.
  • Encourage your students to brainstorm ideas and record them on the Y-Chart. Let them know that they can put anything down, including rules for you. 
  • The ‘feeling’ section can be a bit challenging for some students — just encourage them to think about how it would feel to practice that behavior.

At the end of the learning experience, draw out that in fact, life will feel pretty good in the classroom when there’s a united agreement to respect ourselves, each other, and the environment.

classroom contract ideas sticky note parking lot

Step 4 – Get Sticky Note Happy

By now, your students will be bursting with ideas about how to make your classroom a great place to be! What’s more, they will know why a classroom social contract is important and how they will benefit.

The next step to creating a classroom contract is to ask your students to think of three behaviors, or actions, that they would like to include in the contract. Encourage your students to start their sentences with ‘do’ rather than ‘don’t’.

It’s a good idea to steer your students’ thinking in the right direction by writing headings on the board that reflect areas of classroom expectation. What these headings are is entirely up to you and your class. My top pick for areas of classroom expectation areas follows:

  • relationships
  • work standards
  • in the classroom
  • taking part
  • speaking and listening
  • looking after the environment.

When your students have thought of three ideas, encourage them to stick them on the board under the corresponding headings.

Download a template for printing on sticky notes

Step 5 – Refine and Reduce Your Classroom Expectations

The next step to creating a classroom contract may be the hardest! It’s time to pick out the most important classroom expectations and put the others to one side. You’ll probably find that there are double-ups and also ideas that can be combined. There is no golden rule about how many classroom expectations you should have, but aim for no more than two per area of expectation in your classroom contract. Any more than this, and your students will find it hard to manage and you’ll find it too hard to implement.

When you have whittled your classroom expectations to a number that works for you and your class, you are there! Choose from our huge collection of Editable Page Borders Teaching Resources, print the contract, and post where students can refer back to the agreement. 

Classroom contract template

How to Keep Up a Classroom Social Contract

After all of this hard work, one would like to think that it’s gonna last. The reality is, that unless you make frequent references (we are talking several times each day), to your new classroom contract it’s likely to evaporate into insignificance.

Giving explicit praise linked to your classroom contract is crucial. For example, “I am going to give Lachie a table point because I noticed him looking at Sophie when she was speaking”.

Link your classroom contract to your classroom reward system, and reward your students for upholding their commitment to the classroom contract. Believe us; it’s worth every minute of planning, preparing, and doing

Explore our favorite positive reinforcement resources created by teachers for your classroom!

Banner image via Shutterstock/ – Yuri A


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