ESL Classroom Management Tips

Learning to manage and motivate a class is one of the more difficult things for new teachers to learn, and using appropriate classroom management tips can make a big difference, both for you and your students.

All students bring something of their learning history with them into the class. When students have studied for several years and–sometimes–become disillusioned with the education system, your skills in classroom management will be tested much more than with a younger less experienced class which is eager to please, or with an adult class. These ESL classroom management tips have been tried and tested by many ESL/EFL teachers.

There many possible causes of behavior problems in class. Here are some of the more common ones: 

  • boredom, caused by lack of challenge or too much challenge
  • lack of understanding; problems at school, in other classes
  • problems at home
  • feeling tired or sick
  • unhappiness with relationships with other students
  • anger at being forced to study
  • a strong desire to be somewhere else
  • too much pressure to perform well
  • disillusionment with some aspect of education or life.

The computer classroom is in some ways one of the harder classrooms to manage because of the difficulty in seeing students’ faces.

Classroom Management Tips – The Class

How you carry out the class itself will affect how well your students will behave or misbehave during your class.

Class Preparation

Class preparation won’t solve all your problems, but it will reduce them. A poorly prepared class will usually be less focussed and less interesting, and it’s much easier to lose this type of class than it it is to lose a well organized class with interesting activities at the right level of challenge.

Interesting ESL Activities 

One of the main jobs of a language teacher is to find interesting ways for students to practice the language. Use stories, choose interesting topics (those which are relevant to the ages and interests of your students), games, projects, jokes and songs. Blend these with your course book activities, and you should be able to create an interesting course. 

Use your imagination, create and collect new activities frequently. Giving clear instructions in language which the students can understand is also very important.

Repeat Popular Activities, but not every week.

Balanced Challenge

Students can become disruptive if they are too challenged or not challenged enough. The activities you prepare must be at the correct level for your students. This takes practice and assumes you don’t have a wide mixture of levels inside your class (which is unfortunately common in some schools and different from mixed ability, which is to be expected).

To some extent, getting the right balance comes from experience, but careful planning increases your chances of getting it right. Remember too, to make use of the experience of other teachers in the teachers' room. If you're not sure about what activities to use to teach a particular language point, or whether the language you plan to use will be too difficult for your students–ask. Also check some of the activities here on Tesol Zone.

Classroom Management Tips – Managing Behaviour Problems, the use of Rules, Roles & Responsibilities

Despite preparing well, behavioral problems will still sometimes occur. Establishing rules, roles and responsibilities in the class will help you deal with this.

Rules for ESL/EFL Classes

Class rules are important, especially when teaching children. Sometimes language schools have their own rules, but often you will be able to create, or add, your own rules. An effective method is to have the class create their own list of rules and punishments.

Children are very sensitive to fairness. So, it’s very important to be fair when you are enforcing the rules.

What Types of Rules Should be Included?

  • This will vary depending on the culture, school and teacher, but the following are some possible rules
  • No eating in the classroom
  • Only water may be drunk
  • No Chinese/Spanish/French/Turkish etc
  • No shouting
  • Don’t be noisy
  • No fighting
  • No silly behavior (you can define this as you wish, as long as you’re fairly consistent)
  • Turn off mobile phones in the class
  • Ask if you may speak [L1]
  • No pushing or shoving
  • And add any other rules which seem appropriate for your class…

How Should You Deal with Broken Rules?

Despite having rules, they will sometimes be broken. A gentle but firm approach generally works best, and it’s usually best to begin with a gentle reminder, and then build up to more serious responses.

Possible Responses and Punishments

  • A look and a moments silence is often enough to get students to stop doing whatever it is they're doing.
  • Ask the student to stop. Explain that he/she is breaking the rule, and provide specific feedback about the problem.
  • Shouting can work, but it’s often counterproductive–and can make you lose your voice.
  • If the poor behaviour continues, ask the child to stand up, and only sit down when he or she’s answered a question.
  • Take points off their team or give points to the other team (if playing a game or having a contest).
  • Another way is to write the student's name on the board when they misbehave. For each additional bad behaviour, add a cross. Students with more crosses get more homework. It’s often useful to erase a cross if the students try to improve their behaviour.
  • Sending a student out of the classroom should be the last resort, and used in cases of fighting or swearing, when the students need to calm down. Don't send students out of the classroom for minor problems, or you won't have anywhere else to go–in terms of punishment–and you will begin to lose credibility as a teacher.

Don’t go over the top with rules and punishments; they’re useful, and sometimes must be used, but they should not be the automatic choice.

The role of rewards

Rewards can work, and many teachers use them, but I’m careful of giving treats to children as a way of influencing behaviour because it can result in children who will only do something if they’re ‘paid’ for it, which is not healthy.

Roles and Responsibilities

Give students responsibilities in the classroom. Sometimes disruptive students are disruptive because they are not challenged enough. Ask them to help weaker students. 

Students can also be given other small tasks helping the teacher in the class. 

Classic Classroom Tip

The classic teacher advice–and good advice–is to blame the behaviour, not the child. Never make a child think that they are bad, only that their behaviour is unacceptable.

A traditional layout is actually easier to manage than the computer classroom, although other seating layouts allow for better interaction.

Classroom Management Tips – Body Language and Other Personal Factors

Be aware of your own body language–because everyone else is. Muggers choose potential victims according to their body language, and so do students☺︎ They may do this unconsciously, but they do it. So, how can you avoid being a victim in your own class?

Confidence shows in the way you act, speak and hold yourself. Even if you feel nervous (as many of us do at the beginning) act confidently because this will help you, as well as your students.

Should the teacher stand or sit during the class?

The feeling given to the students when a teacher sits, either in the corner behind a desk, or even at the front of the class, is quite different from the feeling given when you stand at the front and maintain eye contact with your class. And it will make a difference. 

When presenting new language, explaining practice activities or dealing with a discipline problem it would be strange not to stand. Head down, sitting in the corner and speaking over the microphone (if you have one) is not inspiring. However, that said, there are certain circumstances when it’s best to sit.

Classroom Management Tips – Outside the Classroom

The school management, parents and other teachers also play a part. The first step is probably to speak to other teachers about any problem classes or students. If problems persist, then you may need to speak to the school management and/or parents.

 Other ESL Classroom Management Tips

See your students as individuals, learn your students' names (of course) and also learn their language learning needs and difficulties. It’s easy, as a new teacher, to become so absorbed in teaching as to forget the students. When students know you’re interested in them, they’ll respond, and your classroom management will become easier.

Finally, have fun. A positive teacher will always get a better response than a negative one. Good luck with your teaching☺︎

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