The ‘Three Requests’ Technique for issuing consequences

Consequences are an essential classroom management strategy: students need boundaries. But one of the biggest problems with addressing misbehaviour through the use of consequences is that many students quickly become outraged if they are given what they perceive to be an unfair punishment with no apparent warning. Heated arguments between students and staff trying to control them are commonplace and can escalate to serious incidents.

The following simple script eliminates the problem of students reacting badly to being given a consequence by ensuring that members of staff operate within a framework of total consistency -students are given a fair warning and a chance to change their behaviour. The student no longer feels they have been treated unfairly and the staff member can relax knowing that they have a very simple step-by-step scripted response to calmly refer to whenever confronted by a student who refuses to follow instructions.

I have witnessed this technique play a major role in turning a Pupil Referral Unit round literally overnight from a ‘zoo’ - where the extremely damaged and challenging students literally ran wild and where the committed but powerless staff were in tears - to a centre of excellence where students came to lessons with smiles on their faces and enjoyed the opportunity to achieve. Needless to say, the staff enjoyed the changes too. ☺

Let me introduce you to the ‘Three Requests’.

The ‘Three Requests’ Technique is a stepped response that leads to a known, prearranged consequence such as time out, phone call home, detention etc. It can be used with any pre-existing behaviour policy or hierarchy of consequences.

These are the main benefits:

i) The member of staff has a very simple script to follow which promotes total consistency – both on a personal level and between other members of staff.

ii) The script means staff members ALWAYS have a response they can calmly rely on even when under immense pressure – they don’t need to try and think of something to say on the spot, they just use the script.

iii) It eliminates the need to shout, lose your temper and repeat instructions over and over again.

iv) It prevents the issuing of sanctions and punishments which the students would consider unfair and which would therefore lead to further confrontation.

v) It is totally FAIR on the student. This reduces incidents of confrontation while giving them a very clear warning that their behaviour is unacceptable.

vi) It gives students a series of clear warnings giving them the opportunity to address their behaviour and make appropriate choices. 

vii) In my opinion, having used this classroom management strategy in several settings for many years, this is a very effective method for gaining compliance from extremely disobedient and challenging students who display entrenched behaviour problems.

How to use the Three Requests Technique:

The best way of explaining the process is by way of an example:

Let’s consider the following response to a student who keeps getting out of his chair and walking round the room.

The teacher, on recognising that Joe is agitated about something, first tries the many preventive strategies she has at her disposal. She tries offering more support – she asks him if anything’s wrong or offers him more help with his work. She gives him a work target, offers him limited choices such as an alternative seat, praises other students in the room etc. Joe continues to get out of his chair and walks around the room bothering other students. Clearly a firm boundary is needed so it’s time to bring in the consequence.

The teacher says (in a very calm tone) …

“Joe, you’re out of your chair. Please return to your seat and get on with your work.” [Pause] “If you want to get in the lunch queue on time with everyone else

you need to go back to your seat now -otherwise I’ll have to keep you back for five minutes after the lesson.”

The teacher turns away for a few moments to look at another student’s work and also to give Joe time to follow her request without losing face in front of his friends.

Joe, continues to walk round the room. At this point the teacher moves closer to Joe and repeats her instruction in a calm, non-confrontational manner…

“Joe, I’m asking you for the second time to return to your seat.”

At this stage it is crucial to maintain a calm voice – the teacher doesn’t need to raise her voice or get angry – she just lets the script do the work.

If Joe complied at this point the teacher would reinforce the fact that he had followed instructions by immediately giving him some praise to reward his behaviour. She wouldn’t berate or lecture him for not following her initial instructions and she wouldn’t ignore the fact that he had managed to take a very positive step by changing his behaviour. She is a smart teacher.

However, if Joe didn’t do as he was asked at this stage the teacher would ensure she had his attention and the instructions would be repeated one last time…

“Joe this is the third and final time I’m going to ask you to sit down and get on with your work.” 

It is important that the instruction is brief and direct, but again, that the voice isn’t raised or accompanied by an emotional reaction of any sort. The teacher remains calm and lets the script do the work. She doesn’t get drawn into debates, arguments or explanations. Joe knows exactly what he has to do to avoid a consequence; there is no need to provide any further reasoning.

If Joe finally managed to follow the request, he would be praised as above.

If he still persisted in behaving inappropriately he would then be notified of the consequence.

“Joe you were asked 3 times to sit down.” (Hence the name ‘Three Requests’). “You haven’t done as I said. Go to time out.”


“Joe you haven’t followed instructions. You must go to see Mr. Blakey.”


“Joe you haven’t followed instructions. You will be joining the lunch queue 5 minutes late.”

After issuing the consequence the teacher would then look out for any demonstration of positive behaviour by Joe which she can then praise. The approach must be to give attention to the right behaviour whenever possible and to apply the consequence in a calm, non-emotional way.

Points to bear in mind...

I have seen this very effective classroom management strategy misused and so want to offer the following pointers:

i) Don’t use the three requests for secondary behaviours. If the technique is over-used it will cause more problems than it solves. By secondary behaviours I mean the smirks, the comments made under the breath, the sighs and the rolling eyes from pupils in response to a consequence you’ve just given them. Ignore those – don’t get drawn into an argument and certainly don’t start going through the script again.

ii) Don’t rush through the three stages. I’ve seen teachers scream: “First time, second time, third time... time Out!” This is clearly wrong as it gives the pupil no time to process each request. Don’t get angry if they ignore you the first time, or even the second time. That’s the beauty of this, you don’t need to. Just let the script and the known consequence do the work for you. 

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