Establishing Ground Rules in Learning

By Zafar Iqbal

Ground rules are acceptable conditions and behaviour for getting learning process done in a learning environment (classroom/training place). Ground rules can cover the behaviour of all stakeholders of learning activity such as students or trainees, behaviour of facilitator/trainer, trainees,  methods or processes used in the learning or substance of discussion and the way it this is discussed in the learning.

Examples of ground rules

  • Arriving on time;
  •  Returning from breaks on time;
  • Following health and safety regulations;
  • No eating or chewing gum;
  • Value each other’s opinions;
  • Switching off mobiles and electronic devices like games etc;
  • Not interrupting fellow-students/trainees;
  • Only having one conversation at a time in the class;
  • Avoid to swearing;
  • Ask for explanation if you are confused;
  • Evaluate ideas, not people;
  • Use laptops only for legitimate class activities (note-taking, assigned tasks).

Significance of  the Ground Rules

Ground rules establish the purpose of the dispute resolution process at hand and shape how learning will be processed (Maiese, 2004).  By setting down rules, participants or learners can ensure that these processes run more smoothly. Clear ground rules also help in discoursing pointless disruption in learning or training activity. The ground rules affect the kinds of interventions the teacher/trainer makes. Rules such as, giving every participant equal opportunities to speak, no interrupting and refraining from judgmental and mordant responses all help to create and sustain safe spaces for communication and promote a sense of security among participants (ibid).

Methods of Setting Ground Rules

Negotiated rules:

It has been described as the best method to establish ground rules when participants or learners are agreed on such rules. Ground rules should be negotiated with the learners because then they will feel motivated if they are involved, taking responsibly of them.  Facilitating the learners to discuss and agree the ground rules allows for negotiation and understanding of the limits, rules and conditions in which to effectively work and learn.

In order to connect the learners in the setting up process of ground rules, the teacher can divide the learners to envision rules. Afterwards, to ensure the participation of every group they could be included.

Trainer/ Teacher imposed rules:

The rules which are imposed by the teacher could potentially estrange the students and make them feel less respected. Such rules are not followed by the learners with true spirit.

Trainee/ Learner imposed rules:

In this method students or learners are given an opportunity to set the rules. This method could be applied in some experienced learners or adult learners; nevertheless, children can insist some rules which could disrupt the learning or environment of the class. Consequently, it is better to avoid such choice.


CTE (2011) Large Classes: A Teaching Guide: Establishing Ground Rules [online] available at:

Accessed on 02—6-2011

Gorski, C. (2011) Guide for Setting Ground Rules [online] available at:

Accessed on 02—6-2011

Maiese, M.(2004) what are Ground Rules? [Online] available at:

Accessed on 02-06-2011

N.A (2011) Ground rules [online] available at:

Accessed on 02—6-2011

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