Do you ever wish your students could regulate their behavior without you having to take away from valuable teaching time to discipline them?

If you think clip charts are a great way to achieve this, we would like to share the pros and cons of clip charts to help reflect on your own behavior practices.


You might be thinking to yourself, “My teachers used clip charts when I was in school, and I turned out alright.”

Even if it worked for you, it is not best for students that have been harmed and continue to be harmed through this practice. Educators should not publicly display each student’s behavior status in a classroom for their peers and other adults to see.

Suppose you're a parent, administrator, or teacher using "clip" charts in your classroom as an educational tool for student behavior management. In that case, this article will help explain why many professionals no longer recommend these kinds of tools.

Why You Should Ditch Clip Charts Pinterest

What is a clip chart, exactly?

Clip charts generally monitor and regulate student conduct in the classroom. These tools can be a simple classroom management strategy, but the true impact of clip charts is arguably negative. Keep reading, and we’ll explore the negative implications of clip charts in-depth.

A clip chart rewards positive behavior and discourages poor behavior in students. This type of behavior regulation tool is used by teachers, other school staff, and even parents at home.

Each student is given a clothespin or “clip” that bears their name or classroom number for the clip chart. Students will typically begin the day on the chart’s ‘Ready to Learn’ level, which is often green.

Students will then move their clips up or down the scale based on their conduct during the day. A progression or regression of optimal classroom behavior is displayed by the movement on the clip chart.

The wording on clip charts may differ from teacher to teacher. It’s common for clip charts to implement a color scale, with each color representing a different level of either positive or negative behavior.

The order of the colors may also differ from teacher to teacher, but two clip chart colors (red and green) are prevalent.

Below is an example of a typical clip chart:

But wait, don’t clip charts work?

It depends on who you ask. It also depends on the quality of disciplinary effect you want to achieve. While there is a difference of opinion on the efficacy and necessity of any type of clip chart in the classroom, perhaps we can all agree that we ultimately want our students to behave positively and not impact the learning experience of others negatively.

Below are a few reasons clip chart proponents support the continued use of clip charts:

Clip charts reward good choices

This can be true. Clip charts can reward good choices.

Clip charts encourage improvement

This can be true. Clip charts may encourage students to self-correct when moving down on the clip chart.

Clip charts promote positive behavior

This can also be true. Clip charts may inspire students to choose good behavior over bad behavior overall. But at what cost?

Clip charts are ideal for busy teachers

Depending on who you ask. But again, what are the trade-offs? It certainly is quicker to move a clip instead of digging deeper into behaviors, but does this cause lasting change?

Should you give up on clip charts entirely?

While clip charts intend to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, they don’t teach better behavior.

Advocates of PBIS would argue that teaching better behavior – as opposed to only "rewarding" good behavior and punishing bad behavior – is the best alternative for educators to maintain discipline in the classroom.

PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support, and it is a proactive technique that schools use to improve school safety and encourage positive behavior. The goal of PBIS is to prevent rather than punish. At its core, PBIS encourages schools to teach positive behavior practices to kids in the same way they would any other topic, such as reading or math.

According to the Center on PBIS, the foundational principles of PBIS at Tier 1 are to:

  • Effectively teach appropriate behavior to all children 
  • Intervene early before unwanted behaviors escalate
  • Use research-based, scientifically validated interventions whenever possible
  • Monitor student progress
  • Use data to make decisions

If you are a parent or educator, you should strongly consider replacing clip charts because these kinds of tools go against what we know about what truly drives students to behave.

And to add temporary good behavior doesn’t solve the issue. The most beneficial disciplinary achievements to the academic setting and students are lasting positive behavior and healthy positive behavior. 

The reality is that we are not going change behavior simply by punishing students for stopping what adults consider to be bad behaviors and rewarding students for exhibiting what adults think to be good behaviors. For example, we cannot reward or punish trauma out of students. We also cannot reward or punish skill gaps out of students.

Using clip charts in the classroom can harm children who have experienced trauma. Clip charts may also humiliate students and demand strict, forced obedience rather than authentic improvement.

On the surface, clip charts appear to be straightforward ways to communicate when students engage in undesirable behaviors. They may seem helpful at first since advancing a student's chart level is linked to an immediate decrease in unwanted behavior.

In the long run, however, clip charts have various adverse side effects.

Keep reading, and let’s explore why clip charts are so damaging.

Clip charts are ineffective in changing class-wide behavior

Some teachers may see a reduction in unwanted behavior, but this is not always the case for students who require specialized behavioral intervention.

Who's always in the red?

Who always has a sad face?

Who’s always talking?

Who’s always getting into stuff?

Who’s always in trouble?

Who’s always upset?

Clip charts and sticker charts don’t help influence positive conduct if we can easily spot these students. These charts identify but do not correct, coach, or give support to build skills or give replacement behaviors.

Clip charts contribute to labeling and stigmatization

Students maybe be labeled as troublemakers by their classmates when they get clipped down often.

Future troubles and biased discipline may be more likely due to such stigma, especially for children of color. We also need to consider implicit bias and its role in which students get rewarded, and possibly even more damaging, which students are getting punished.

If most students clipped down are students of color, students with disabilities, or children who have experienced trauma, clip charts may contribute to societal inequities later in life.

Clip charts focus on public corrections

Teacher evaluations are not discussed with the entire faculty during faculty meetings or displayed in staff break rooms. This would be considered public shaming in some cases, favoritism in other cases, and so on.

We should consider whether student assessments should be made public for the same reasons.

Clip charts are public student evaluations that are always visible to the public. If we don't want it for ourselves, we should probably avoid doing it to others.

Public reprimands successfully shame students and effectively and unfairly throw children under the bus.

Clip charts can intensify anxious behavior and decrease engagement

Because clip charts attract so much attention, students – even those who consistently maintain a green status – may focus more on the chart than on the lesson.

One test is to observe how clipped kids and the rest of the class react as soon as a student’s clip status changes.

Do the children become more actively involved in the lesson right away, or do they withdraw, further reducing their engagement? Worse yet, do the students start to do positive actions or behaviors only because they might get rewarded for it? Once students realize that they might not get rewarded for behaviors that are typically expected for success in the classroom, such as following directions, they might not see the value in doing these behaviors. At this point, an educator has created a culture of extrinsically-driven students.

Clip charts provide class-wide attention for unwanted behavior

Clip charts may inadvertently increase rather than decrease the prevalence of unwanted behavior.

If children act out to gain attention, they might see the clip charts as a way to achieve that attention, even if it is negative attention. Worse yet, they might treat it as a status symbol to be the lowest on the clip chart.

Clip charts don’t teach the correct way to behave

Being clipped has no bearing on what to do, or how to do it, in order to replace the undesired behavior. Many behaviors are attributed to social-emotional gaps or numerous other causations, which clip charts can not solve and do not help to identify.

Bottom Line…Just Say No to Clip Charts

Clip charts have been a popular teaching classroom tool for many years. They were developed as a tool for demonstrating and encouraging behavioral growth and commitment to school norms. They do not do what was intended and need to be replaced with evidence-based tools and strategies to create lasting change.

We explored how such approaches are incompatible with a PBIS teaching or parenting style, and more importantly, how these approaches may harm your students' productivity and overall mental health.

In an upcoming blog, we will provide some evidence-based solutions that are more likely to improve student behavior while keeping the school environment safe and enjoyable.


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  • I’ve never thought about clip charts from the point of view you presented, and it makes total sense! Thanks for the new perspective!

  • Laurie Speed says:

    It depends on “whom” you ask.

  • I glad I did not have clip charts when I was in school. It would have brought out my stubbornness and I’d clam up and disengage from the class.

  • Ines Malti says:

    I used this perspective for research for my school counseling internship in my senior year of college. As a para in a self-contained special education (Life Skills) classroom, this was very enlightening. I can understand how this method of behavioral management would likely be ineffective in general education classrooms, but it has proven to be very effective in regulating behaviors in the classroom I work in. I do recognize there are weaknesses to clip charts! Thank you for providing this perspective!

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