Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Classroom management has to be one of the hardest skills to learn as an ESL teacher and it takes time to master. But whether you're a new teacher looking for help or an experienced teacher looking for new ideas, these five tips can help you take back control!
Tip number one: Ask Why?
If you see unwanted behavior in your class, then the first question you need to ask yourself is, why? Why do you think you see that behavior in the first place? As the teacher, it is effortless to stand at the front of the class and put this behavior down to "bad students." However, in reality, there is always a reason behind every kind of misbehavior in the classroom. Young students are still learning to control themselves and are very reactive to their environment. In 80% of cases, the reason behind misbehavior is you. So before taking a look at any other classroom management ideas, take a moment to stop and review your class by asking the following questions:
1. Is your class boring?
Be honest with yourself...You might think it's fun, but if the majority of students aren't engaged and following along, then perhaps it is not as fun as you thought. It is when students aren't involved, and you lose their attention that you start to see that misbehavior. If there are just a few students that you struggle to keep engaged, then likely your planning is not to blame. But if there are several students that you are struggling with, then in most cases, making some adjustments to your class structure and planning can make all the difference.
2. Are you teaching at the right English level?
If you are teaching above a student's level of English or if you're teaching below it, then students either get bored because the lesson is too hard or because they're just not challenged. If you have students with mixed levels, then it's essential that when planning your lessons, you think of ways to adjust the kind of questions and activities to suit each student or group, which brings me on to tip number 2.
Tip Number Two: Preparation
It sounds simple, but this is one factor of classroom management often overlooked. Preventing misbehavior is far easier than trying to correct it, and preparation is vital. You might think that you have prepared, you have your lesson plan written down, and you have a rough idea of what you will teach ready in your mind. But unless you have thought every factor through its very easy to lose students' attention or even worse not be able to capture students' attention at all. So when planning your lessons make sure you consider the following;
Materials: Do you have all the materials needed for class? Are they in the right place in the correct order? Have you tested to make sure that your music will play, how are you going to play that music? Even stepping away for a moment to press play can mean losing your students' attention and focus.
Transitions: How are you going to transition from one section of the class to the next? If your students are young and most especially if they have a lower level of English than try to minimize inconsequential language. If using too much jargon that students can't follow, you will lose their attention because they don't understand what you are asking them to do. Simplify your instructions through a chant and use TPR and actions that are easy to follow.
Attention: How are you going to keep everyone's attention throughout the class? One mistake that many ESL teachers make is to plan lots of entertaining games that only involve one or two students playing at a time. While other students are waiting to have their turn, they get bored and start to misbehave. Try to think about how to use games in a way that helps to keep all students engaged. You might be able to have the class chant questions together or to complete an action when one of the students playing answers a question correctly.
Seating: Have you thought about the students' seating? In most cases, students like to sit with their friends, but sometimes certain friends can be distracting and so we need to rearrange the class seating plan. A fun way to do this is to play a game such as SWITCH. Games like this make switching seat fun and will avoid any reluctance students might have to move seats away from their friends.
Tip Number Three: Consistency
Now we all know that our class needs rules, but you need to let students understand clearly what your expectations are. These rules should be clear and short; you don't want a long list of do's, and dont's that is too long to remember. Try using some general rules that help guide students' behavior. An example of this might be 'be a good friend.' 'Be a good friend' covers everything, talking over others, not listening to others, sharing with others, showing good sportsmanship.
But, it is vital to be consistent in enforcing the rules you set. If you don't tackle unwanted behavior as it happens, every time it happens then, students won't change their behavior. It's also essential the all the teachers in the classroom are on the same page. If one teacher says no and another says yes, then students will listen to the teacher that gives them the answer they want to hear.
Don't be afraid to stop an activity If you're teaching, and students are talking over you or have forgotten a rule. Attention grabbers are a handy tool here. At the beginning of class, show students a fun attention grabber to get everyone's attention. If students are talking or if they get a little over-excited, then use the attention grabber to bring back everyone's focus. An example of an attention grabber is Alligator chomp. The teacher shouts out, "Alligator Chomp!" and all the students reply together, "Chomp, Chomp." Use attention grabbers to calm students down or to stop the class and address any unwanted behavior.
Tip Number Four: Reward Systems
Rewards systems are a great way to motivate students, but they aren't enough if used by themselves. Teachers must be using positive reinforcement consistently during the class. Highlight the kind of behavior you want to see and praise those students in front of the whole class. Once other students see you giving recognition to this kind of behavior, they will start to behave in the same way.
In terms of rewards systems, there are different ways of implementing them. You can have reward systems for individuals, for teams, or the class as the whole. Try using an award system that encourages students to either work together in teams or as a class together. The goal is to add peer pressure into the mix. If you have one student that is not listening or is talking and losing points for the class, then other students start encouraging that student to listen and participate.
Tip Number Five: Confidence
It's normal for new teachers to feel nervous; a group of young children can be intimidating! But, as far as the students themselves are concerned, you are a professional! So the key is to present yourself with confidence. Thoroughly preparing for your class using the tips mentioned will help you feel more confident about your lesson.
Most importantly, don't be afraid to make mistakes, because you will make mistakes, we all do. But don't let mistakes knock your confidence. Give yourself the time to learn, adjust, and improve with each lesson.
For further reading on ESL classroom management, you can take a look at ESL Classroom Management Tips: For Teachers of Students Aged 6-12
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