Information Bulletin Number 15


Effective Use of Time Out - Part 1


Many schools utilise time out as part of a hierarchy of consequences imposed for student misbehaviour. There are a number of differences between schools in the nature and extent to which time out is used. Schools also differ in their interpretation of the term "time out" and how this is used / what this means in practice. The following information, taken from Bill Rogers' book "Behaviour management - A whole school approach", may be useful in clarifying the purpose and effective use of time out.


Time out refers to the practice of removing a student from a situation in which he or she is being disruptive. The student is excluded from peers or the class group, to an isolated area either within or outside the classroom. Exclusion from the learning and social environment should not be used until other less intrusive approaches have been tried. These may include warnings, redirection, or clarification of consequences.


According to Lee Canter, the removal of a student from a situation in which he/she is disruptive, changes the environment, thus disrupting the behavioural pattern which serves to stop the misbehaviour. Time out provides an opportunity for the student to either regain control and reflect on his/her behaviour or get back on task without the distraction of other students. Time out may also provide the class and teacher with an opportunity to calm and continue the lesson.


The underlying motivation for student behaviour is to belong to the social group (Rogers, 1995). "Timing out" the student sends a clear message that the student's behaviour is so disturbing or disruptive to peers that he/she cannot be accepted as part of the group at that time. Time out is therefore a logical consequence for such disruptive behaviour.

Time out is an appropriate consequence when students engage in any aggressive behaviour towards others, whether physical or verbal, or persistent disruptive behaviour, such as calling out, which interferes with the right of other students to learn and the teacher's right to teach.


"Time out" may describe practices ranging from placement for three to five minutes at a spare desk away from others in the classroom, to five minutes outside the room - cooling down, to time out in a colleague’s room (buddy class or partner room) or office area, or withdrawal to a designated isolation room. These consequences are of increasing severity and are therefore used as subsequent steps applied within a discipline hierarchy.


Students should be taught the meaning and application of time out as part of the establishment of discipline rules and procedures early in the year. This information should also be communicated to parents.


Schools using time out need to consider this strategy as part of a whole school policy relating to the management of student behaviour. As part of this overall policy, the school should clarify and document the following information:


•           The school's philosophy regarding time out - why it is used.

•           When time-out will be used.

•           How time out can be implemented when students are resistant, aggressive or violent. How can we get them out of, and away from, the room if they refuse to leave?

•           On what basis does the student come back to the room and when (e.g. after cool-off time, at the beginning of the next period, after a statutory 10-15 minutes).

•           At what point are parents notified.

If time out is not achieving change in behaviour, what additional support can the school offer to key stakeholders?

Guidelines for application:

•           Use the principle of certainty rather than severity. Time spent by the student in time out does not need to be excessive. It is more important that the student knows that each and every time he/she chooses to misbehave he/she will have chosen time out. Consistency is more important than severity.

•           Issue a warning (clarification of consequence), then direct the student to time out within the classroom if he/she does not comply.        "David, you've chosen to go to time out for three minutes".

•           Stay calm and keep it brief. Mention the student's name and the direction or consequence. Don't lecture.

•           Avoid discussion or bargaining.      Use a "broken record" or refocusing technique if necessary, whereby the student's message and/or feelings are reflected back to him/her prior to repeating the direction. "I can see that you're upset but I need you to go to time out now". Provide take up time and expect that the student will comply.

•           Avoid arguments. If the student refuses to go to time out, choose whether to clarify a deferred consequence or use procedures for supported exit from the room.

•           Follow up with the student at some point after time out to repair and rebuild a working relationship by, for example, restating positive expectations.


Students should have a clear understanding of why they are in time out, what behaviour contributed to them being timed out, and what is required of them while they are there. Staff needs to agree on what happens during time out. Time out is not an appropriate time for counselling nor should the student be given a job or something to do during time out which is reinforcing. The student should experience isolation, withdrawal and an opportunity to cool down and reflect on his/her behaviour. The experience should be as non-reinforcing as possible.




Rogers, B. (1995). Behaviour management: A whole school approach. Gosford: Scholastic.

Canter, L. & M. (1993). Succeeding with difficult students: Strategies for reaching your most challenging students. Santa Monica: Lee Canter & Associates.


Effective Use of Time Out - Part 2


Time out in class


Withdrawing disruptive students to an isolated spot within the classroom for temporary exclusion from the group supports other students' right to feel safe and to learn without undue or persistent interruption. A designated time out area within the classroom will normally consist of a table and chair physically isolated from the rest of the class. Students should be directed to the time out area or "think spot" for a set period of time. This does not need to be a long time. Many teachers make use of egg timers of 3 or 5 minutes to denote time in time out, allowing the student to self monitor, or the student may be directed to return when he/she has calmed however the teacher should shill have an optimum time in mind. During time out students are "cooling off" and ideally thinking about or evaluating their behaviour. The student in time out should not interact with peers or participate in the lesson.


Students should be clear about what is required of them during time out. They may be required to sit quietly and do nothing, although this may be reinforcing for some students and work against the effectiveness of time out. Alternatively, students may be required to do academic work, or complete some process for formally evaluating their behaviour, such as a "think sheet". A "think sheet" provides a structure for the student to reflect on his/her behaviour. A think sheet usually consists of four questions, focusing on: what did you do (focuses on behaviour relative to consequence), what rule did you break or what right did you affect, what is your explanation (right of reply), and what do you think you need to do to fix things up (consequence or restitution). These questions may be presented in a number of ways, the final question may focus instead on "what more appropriate behaviour will you choose next time", or "the right thing to do would have been". The teacher may also wish to ask "what can I (the teacher) do to help you". The think sheet should then provide a framework for discussion and problem solving between the student and teacher.


The direction to go to time out should be given without public shaming. Going to time out in and of itself is the consequence. Public shaming will guarantee that the student remembers only the severity of the consequence not the certainty of the link between behaviour and consequence. If the student is too upset, angry or aggressive it may be more appropriate to use exit time out. After time out the student should be accepted back without recrimination for a fresh start. Repairing and rebuilding of the teacher-student relationship is necessary at some stage following time out. This may be done by clarifying behavioural expectations in a positive way.


Exit time out


The next level of time out is time out outside of the classroom, whereby the student is required to leave the class group completely for a set time. This may range from five minutes cool off time outside the room to more formal exit from the room to a colleague's room or time out area. If the student is directed outside the room, he/she should be ignored by passing staff - not lectured or questioned. The discipline process should be left to the class teacher.


Exit from the room


More formal exit from the room, to a buddy class or time out area, requires collegiate support and a well-planned process. The school must clarify such issues as how the student will get there - on his/her own or supervised, who monitors the student in time out, an exit process for removal in crisis situations and how, for example, administration will provide support for the process.


Time out in a buddy class


Many schools utilise a buddy class or partner room system whereby disruptive students are sent to time out in a colleague's room. This is a more intrusive process than time out within the student's own classroom and as such should follow in-class time out in the discipline hierarchy. If colleagues are used in this way, where possible, the student should be sent to a well run classroom, of the same or older year level. The student should not participate in the lesson or interact with the receiving class. The student should remain in the colleague's room for a specified time and do academic work or a reflective "think sheet" process. Following time out the student should be returned to his/her own class for a fresh start.


Time out rooms


Students may be exited from the classroom to a .designated time out room. This form of time out would normally be for a greater length on time - a period for example, or until the student has "worked it out" with the teacher. The school again needs to consider: how long students will remain in time out, who supervises students in the time out room, what students will do in time out, what records will be maintained and how such records will be used to monitor student behaviour (e.g. recidivist offenders for whom an alternative strategy may be necessary).


The school must plan for all contingencies when using any form of exit time out, including what will happen if the student refuses to leave the classroom. If the student refuses to leave the classroom the teacher may need to consider the appropriateness of other strategies such as removing the rest of the class. In this case the disruptive student is left supervised while a contingency plan can be put into place - such as contacting parents for removal or sending for physical backup from administration staff for example. Students are more likely to settle without the audience but are unlikely to back down if directly confronted in front of peers without the opportunity to save face.


In some instances the teacher may be successful in getting the student to comply by giving the direction to move and then giving the student some take up time - that is, moving away and expecting that the student will follow rather than standing over the student waiting for compliance. The direction should be given with a choice to comply or face further consequences. However, the school should have a crisis plan for contacting parents in the event the student further refuses, or have a plan for physical removal of the student from the room if necessary. This plan should specify for example, who is involved, how they will be contacted, where the student will be taken and how parents will be notified. These plans should form part of the hierarchical discipline process.


Time out in the playground


Time out may also be a useful consequence for misbehaviour in the playground. Excluding the student from the play area for a specified time is a logical consequence for being unable to play appropriately or safely. Students may receive time out for aggressive behaviour or fighting for example. Time out in the playground may define sitting on the bench or some designated area within the playground. Students are directed to time out by the duty teacher who may record names in a behaviour monitoring book. These records may be monitored by the Deputy Principal, for example, who ensures follow up and follow through from playground incidents.


Once again schools using time out in the playground as part of behaviour management procedures need to clarify such issues as:


•           A suitable place for time out, including whether there will there be a staffed time out area for serious playground offenses and who will staff it.

•           A method for ensuring students go.

•           How long students will stay in time out.

•           How time out will be instituted if the student refuses to go and contingency plans for removal of the student from the playground.

•           The roles of duty teacher and grade teachers, especially in follow up of incidents.

•           How admin. Staff can support short and long term follow up.

•           How and when parents will be notified.

•           Follow on consequences - apology, restitution.

•           Methods of monitoring and recording.

•           Alternatives for repeat offenders. Repeat offenders may need to face more intrusive sanctions e.g. partial withdrawal from playground.


Further information regarding time out and other behaviour management practices can be obtained from your contact school psychologist.




Rogers, B. (1995). Behaviour management: A whole school approach. Gosford: Scholastic.

Canter, L. & M. (1993). Succeeding with difficult students: Strategies for reaching your most challenging students. Santa Monica: Lee Canter & Associates.