Few tasks are as disliked by teachers as lunchroom duty. The lunchroom setting often presents more challenging management problems than the classroom: students might see lunch as a time to release pent-up energy, or they might believe that rules that apply in the classroom don't apply in the cafeteria. As a result, the lunchroom probably is the rowdiest place in school; sometimes the noise can be downright unbearable. It's not unusual for lunchrooms to get out of control.
Schools need to walk a fine line when managing students' lunchroom behavior. On one hand, lunch should be a time for students to relax and unwind and chat with their classmates; it's not a time to require silence. On the other hand, students still must show respect for their fellow students and keep noise at a moderate level. That demands a modicum of structure and a few basic rules. Failure to enforce those rules is an invitation to chaos.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Establish a lunchroom code of conduct. Let students know that you understand their need for a break from classroom rules during lunch, but emphasize that -- out of respect for their fellow students -- they still must follow some basic rules in the lunchroom. Tell them in clear terms the specific behaviors that are expected of them. Those might include rules about lining up, emptying their trays, cleaning their tables, and rules against running, shouting, and throwing food. Consider posting the rules in a prominent place in the lunchroom. Don't have more than five rules, and state them clearly and simply. You might invite lunchroom staff to this discussion to reinforce the importance of those rules. Also, let students know of any reward system used in the lunchroom, as well as consequences for poor behavior.
If lunchroom problems arise, hold a class meeting. Brainstorm with students what they can do to improve the situation; making sure to elicit their suggestions. Ask for a show of hands -- or, better yet, a written statement -- from students who agree to follow the plan. Students will be more likely to cooperate if they have some say in the solution and have committed themselves to implementing it.
Have students practice proper lunchroom behavior. Younger students or special education students might need practice in lunchroom protocol. If so, have them role-play such skills as walking to the lunchroom, waiting on line, carrying a tray, taking a seat, and so on.
Have students walk to the lunchroom in an orderly fashion. If students enter the lunchroom in a controlled manner, they are more likely to behave appropriately while eating.
Assign lunchroom monitors to groups. Rather than have monitors responsible for supervising all the students in the lunchroom, give monitors responsibility for specific groups. In that way, monitors can get to know the students they are supervising better and manage them more effectively.
Communicate with the lunch monitors. Ask them to let you know of any students who misbehave at lunch, so you can take appropriate action.
Praise or reward individual students. Compliment students who are behaving well and following the lunchroom rules. You might even reward them with tokens that can be exchanged for prizes or privileges. If you sense that some students aren't comfortable with public praise or rewards, acknowledge them privately.
Reward entire tables of well-behaving students. By rewarding tables of students rather than individual students, you prompt students to encourage their tablemates to behave well. You can do that in a variety of ways. You might allow students at the quietest table to get lunch first, or let the table of students who behaved best go to recess first. Or you might develop a more formal system, in which each table of students earns points for such behaviors as keeping their voices down or lining up properly. On a chart on the lunchroom wall, keep track of the points each table of students earns. You might give tables of students who earn a set number of points (or the table of students who have the most points at the end of the week), a reward, such as a special dessert.
Conduct a lunchroom raffle. Give tickets to students who are behaving appropriately in the lunchroom, allowing each student a maximum of three tickets per lunch. Have students write their names on the tickets and place them in a box. At the end of lunch or at the end of the school day, draw a ticket from the box and award the student with the winning ticket a prize or a special privilege.
Quiet students by raising your hand.Use the old standby to silence students or to get their attention. Raise your hand with two fingers extended to form a V. Tell students that when they see that signal, they are to raise their hands, quiet down, and look at you. If necessary, you might first get their attention by blowing a whistle.
Give a misbehaving student a gentle reminder; if she continues to misbehave provide a warning, and then a consequence. Let the student know what she is doing wrong and what she needs to do differently. ("Marie, you're making too much noise. I need you to be speak more quietly.") That might be enough to elicit her cooperation, at least for a short time. If she misbehaves again, give her a warning. ("Marie, I've spoken to you about your yelling. If I have to speak to you again, there will be a consequence.") Make good on your word if the misbehaving continues, perhaps by having the student miss part or all of recess or assigning her to a separate table for the rest of the week.
Place misbehaving students at a separate table. If a student continues to misbehave despite your efforts to obtain her cooperation, consider having her eat lunch at a separate table or in another room (with adult supervision) for a set period of time.
Provide fun activities after lunch. By keeping students occupied with activities they enjoy, you can decrease the opportunity for problems in the lunchroom. Consider putting out some quiet games, books, or art activities. Some other possibilities: have someone lead students in a song or have students come up to a microphone to tell jokes or riddles. If you provide a large-group activity, tell students that it won't begin until the lunchroom is quiet.
Play music in the lunchroom. Consider putting on background music while students are eating -- but make sure the music has a calming effect rather than a stimulating one. You might suggest that students bring in some of their favorite CD's to play; just make sure the music is suitable.