Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students come to class late.

There is no consequence to being late.

The consequences associated with a behavior help determine whether or not that behavior will be repeated. If the consequences are negative, the behavior is less likely to reoccur. This applies to coming late to class. If instructors fail to respond to or penalize lateness, or do so inconsistently, the behavior is likely to continue.


Make your policy on lateness explicit.

Articulate your policy about lateness in your syllabus and on the first day of class. It will be easier to respond firmly and authoritatively to lateness if your policy is clear and in writing.

Have consequences for lateness.

There are a number of ways to penalize lateness. Some instructors institute a lateness policy along with their attendance policy (e.g., two late arrivals count as one absence). Some simply draw attention to the behavior or register disapproval when a student enters late (e.g., pausing, frowning and making a pointed comment or posting a sign on the door such as “You’re late; please be quiet when you enter”). One instructor posts a note on his classroom door with a task – generally something mildly embarrassing like singing a verse from a song – that students must do to gain admittance if they arrive late. Another way to handle lateness is to give short quizzes at the beginning of class; students who come late will miss the quizzes and lose the points.

Make the beginning of class meaningful.

Make sure there is a clear benefit for students who are on time by getting started on time and beginning with important, relevant material. Don’t waste the first few minutes of class; this only encourages lateness!

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