Classroom Management – Kate

It Takes Two To Tango – Kate Cory-Wright

Kate Cory-Wright

Joyce Grenfell’s highly recommended “Nursery School” videos are an amusing insight into typical behavioral problems that take place all over the world. Two excerpts from her Going Home  and Free Activity Period

Teacher to Hazel and Dicky: Thank you Hazel for putting the chair straight for me. You’re a great help. And Dicky, thank you for closing the cupboard door for me. (Pause) Dicky, is there somebody in that cupboard?

Teacher to Susan: Susan! We NEVER bite our friend. Now say you’re sorry, Susan. No, you needn’t kiss him. No, you needn’t hug him. Susan, put Sidney DOWN!

While Grenfell’s classes are hilarious, the reality is not so funny. In a poorly controlled class, the best-laid lesson plans go wrong and your students learn little. Worse still, teacher exhaustion and demoralization usually follow mismanaged classes. On a bad day, we might sigh: “If they behaved better, I could teach actually them something!”

The number one question is: Do I really have a discipline problem? Dr. Andrew Littlejohn points out that: “Many ‘discipline problems’ are not problems at all – it is often the teacher’s reaction that makes it a problem.” Memories of myself as a young teacher make me smile now, but they didn’t at the time. Three teenage boys, who frequently “forgot” to bring their homework to class, drove me to despair. Years later I bumped into one of them, who apologized sincerely. His apology was enlightening: “I’m sorry for misbehaving, Sra. Katy. It’s just that we loved watching you get angry.”

Of course behavioral problems genuinely exist. Although they are commonly attributed to boredom or one student trying to attract attention, they often arise from a flawed relationship between students and teacher. Teenagers, in particular, need to feel that you are in charge. And young children are prone to pushing the limits, to see what is acceptable and what is not. One of my favorite scenes from the Grenfell videos concerns Hazel, who gets her finger stuck in the keyhole. As soon as Hazel frees her finger, Nevil decides to do the same, resulting in the need for a fire engine. Clearly, by calling Hazel “poor Hazel”, Grenfell unwittingly sends a message to the other kids that she will tolerate this action (and even provide sympathy!)

It’s very tempting to blame our students for behavioral problems. After a recent class with my young learners, I was dismayed to find the floor covered in orange juice (again). Initially I was annoyed with them, but the fact is, the juice incident was my fault, too. The rule was clear: we clear up together at the end of the class. However, by forgetting to ask the learners to clear up that day, I wasn’t consistent about my own rules. Consistency is paramount.

It is even more common for teachers to take responsibility for behavioral problems, but should they? Provided our rules are fair, rational, and clearly explained, then our students know what’s right and wrong. In such circumstances, Dr. Littlejohn advocates joint responsibility: “Approach the issue as their problem as well as yours”.  Discussions and classroom contracts are both effective ways to negotiate behavioral problems.

1. Discussions

A typical discussion might begin like this: “We have a problem. Our group work isn’t working, is it? What can we do about it?” Witha recurring behavioral problem, just one discussion might help you stop repeating yourself. Grenfell reminds us how this feels:

“Nevil, I said get up off the floor, please.”

“Hazel, dear. I don’t want to have to tell you again. Please come away from that door…”

“Sidney. Please take that paintbrush OUT of your ear”.

2. Classroom contracts

Classroom contracts come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the age and purpose, but they work the same way in principle. First, students and teachers brainstorm rules together. Next, after everyone has agreed, students make the contract and sign it (very young learners can put a thumbprint). Finally, place the contract in a visible spot. You can use posters, lists, spidergrams, Linoits, or even Wordles. Without doubt, contracts are more time-consuming than discussions. However, they significantly help reduce student-teacher tension. You are no longer nagging students to adhere to your rules, but rather to their rules!

Some practical notes:

1. How many rules should the contract include? Leslie Embleton, a teacher, once generated more than 30 rules during a brainstorming session with his 13-year-old students! He then reduced the list to ten key rules by negotiating with his students.

2. How long should the contract last? After a while, the contract loses its validity and novelty. So set an “end date”. After that, students can be asked to redefine the contract, focusing on areas that didn’t work well in the first contract.

3. What to do when students break the contract rules? If possible, hold a class discussion. Again, encourage student involvement and responsibility. Ask students: “You have broken rule x. What happened? What can we do about it?”

4. Should the teacher sign a contract? Some teachers fear they might lose control if their students ask them to complete a contract, too. Others see it as an ideal win-win scenario (“I promise to do X if you promise to do Y”).

As with all tailored solutions, only you know what works best in your situation. Good luck!


Grenfell, J.       Nursery School: Free activity period           (YouTube video)
Grenfell, J.       Nursery School: Going Home                       (YouTube video)
Littlejohn, A.   A-Z Discipline
Littlejohn, A. and Breen, M. P.          The Significance of Negotiation

Wikihow website

Corner on Character



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Classroom Management – Divya

The Science Teacher Who Wanted to Teach in English
– Divya Madhavan

Divya Madhavan
I have a story to tell you. It’s about a science teacher- we’ll call him Roberto. Roberto’s school decided that it would become more international and use English to teach other subjects. It would be good for the local students to be exposed to more English and it wouldn’t hurt to attract more international students.

Let me give you a bit more information; Roberto is in his late fifties. He started learning English in school when he was 12, stopped after university. He’s taken the odd refresher course- nothing formal. He has never lived in an English speaking country. Most of his students share his L1.

Although he has always taught science in his L1, Roberto was very enthusiastic about making the change and being one of the first ones at the school to do it. Roberto loves speaking English by the way, he makes the occasional mistake and misses the odd joke but he is very positive about being an English speaker.

Roberto conscientiously spent a lot of time with his English-language teacher friends to help him work out the things he wanted to say. He spent even more time looking up collocations that were specific to his field and ironing out translation details. All in all he was feeling pleased with his preparation at show time at the start of his new science course in English.

Now, I’ve built up the story enough for you to guess that something went wrong but I’m going to give you three choices as to what and I’d love to know whether your intuitive guess as a language teacher matches up with what happened in the end:

a) Roberto got nervous once he started teaching in English and ended up skipping some of the important material because he was so worried about speaking English well.

b) Roberto spoke perfectly confidently and said everything he wanted to say but got a lot of negative feedback from his students on the quality of his accent.

c) Roberto started teaching in English but because most of his students shared his L1, they all slipped into the L1 when it came to discussion and interaction. This made it difficult for him to stick to English later.

(Decide now if you’re going with a, b or c 🙂

Roberto uses English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). It’s a little different to CLIL because the goal was not to teach two things at once- science and English. Roberto only had to worry about communicating the content of his science lesson and measuring how much of the science his students learnt, there’s no explicit language learning goals in EMI apart from general exposure. The snapshot I’ve just given you of his life and language-learning history is a fairly typical one in Europe, especially for teachers of Roberto’s generation

EMI has had its highs and lows as an area of concern around the world. Some have argued that it steers a slow and steady demise of other languages in science and academia while others have said that it’s the inevitable way forward and we may as well learn to play the EMI game.

These viewpoints aside, EMI raises very real and immediate concerns of expectation management in the classroom when a teacher’s L1 is taken away from them, because guess what? The answer to Roberto’s story is b). He did a great job and to his total surprise his students thought his accent wasn’t up to standard and they claimed it ruined the content for them.

His English teacher friends had told him “don’t worry if you don’t sound British or American, we understand you perfectly”…. ” and besides even in ELT we talk about English as a Lingua Franca these days and being positive about getting the message across, not sounding like a native speaker”…. “The science is very clear and that (is) the main reason your students are there”.

But the question is what standard are Roberto’s students referring to here? Ben Goldstein dug a little deeper into this very question in his talk “No Listen the Ask” which I saw at the IH Barcelona Conference, where he discussed the problems with conceptions of language that are based on standard varieties.

Now, I’ve been trying to work out how Roberto’s hard work might have worked out differently ever since I met him. I haven’t and I doubt I will. His is just one story, and I hope you’ll agree with me that it might have had a, b or c as possible endings. I also wouldn’t dream of generalising from this one story.

Sometimes it’s good to just let stories sit and think about the questions they ask and not the answers we want them to give. So here are my three questions on managing student expectations in the EMI classroom;

  • How does a teacher manage student expectations when he/she loses the tool of mother tongue mastery in their specialised subject?
  • Is it fair that students are critical a teacher’s accent in English when the content of the lesson is understandable? (Is it fair when it happens the other way round?)
  • How can a school manage its EMI policy in terms of student expectations? It is something that policy can even manage or is it something that’s too deeply embedded in culture and society?


Classroom Management – Dave

Getting a KICK out of Classroom Management
with Young Learners  –  David Dodgson

Dave Dodgson
When teaching young learners, classroom management is one of the most important aspects of our lessons. Good classroom management ensures we can create a positive and secure environment for learning, which in turn allows our young students to be enthusiastic and motivated about their lessons. Poor classroom management leads to every teacher’s worst nightmare – out of control students who don’t take our lessons seriously and have a negative effect on everybody’s chance to learn.

So, how can we manage our classroom space to ensure learning English is a positive experience for learners and teachers alike? Well, the first thing to remember is that there is no one right answer. Different classes and different students need a different approach and what works well in one class will not necessarily have the same effect in another. However, there are some points we can bear in mind to help us get a KICK out of working with our young learners.


K – Know your role (not your enemy)

One error I made when I first started teaching children was to view them as a threat. It was almost as if they were they enemy, always attempting to destroy my carefully planned lessons and I was therefore overly strict and trying to stay in control. This, of course, was not the right way to approach the lessons as it meant I wasn’t giving my students a chance to show me they could behave.

After spending some time around young learners, I ‘softened up’ and took a more friendly approach. However, I soon found this is not ideal either as it caused some students to not take my lessons so seriously as they saw me more as a friend or big brother instead of a teacher.

So that is why I say ‘know your role’ – make sure the students understand you are first and foremost their teacher. Lessons can be enjoyable but they are still lessons and the students must be prepared to work hard. As a teacher, you need to have the authority (not in a super-strict, domineering way but rather a controlled effective way) to manage the lesson and ensure the students both feel comfortable and eager to learn. How? Read on…


I – Invite student input

One of the most effective ways to help students feel enthusiastic and secure in their learning environment is to give them a voice in important classroom decisions. Even with primary school classes, this helps the kids feel valued and listened to. I do this right from the start of the school year when we establish our class rules. I explain my rules to the class (only a few, short rules so as not to overload them) and ask if they agree that these are good rules to have. If not, I ask for their suggestions, thus initiating a useful discussion about what rules are for and why they are important in schools.

Then, in the interests of fairness, I give the class the chance to set some rules for me. After all, I have given them some rules so why not allow them to do the same in return? The only criteria I give them are that they shouldn’t go against the school rules and they mustn’t take away from our learning time (to stop suggestions like “You must show us a film every week!”) I put the students in groups and give them some time to come up with some ideas. They then discuss them as a class as choose which ones they want to have. Usually, they decide on rules like “Do not give us homework on Fridays” or “no surprise tests!” – rules I am happy to abide by to set a good example for them.

It’s not just setting rules either. I also involve my students in other decisions as well: if we have a choice between doing two or more different activities, I ask them which one they would rather do; I offer the choice of working in a group, a pair or individually; they can choose if they would rather submit a project as a poster, a PowerPoint slideshow, or a video… These are all choices that help my students feel involved and help me have effective lessons.


C – Consistency is key

Whatever class rules and routines you have, being consistent is always important. One mistake I made early in my teaching career was to make too many changes when things weren’t going well in class. I would try to change the rules in the middle of the school year or change the way I approached activities but this only caused more problems. Some students were confused by my sudden switches in approach and others lost respect for the rules and me because everything changed too often. Of course, we need to make changes and be flexible from time to time but if we chop and change too often and at seemingly random times, it can do more harm than good.

We need to be consistent not just in the rules and routines we have but also in how and when we apply them. It’s all very well having a rule like ‘put your hand up before you speak’ but if you sometimes allow a student to shout out an answer or speak out of turn, the rule will soon lose its value for everybody. Gentle reminders about rules and routines as and when necessary are always useful. Sometimes, a brief ‘hands up please’ will be enough. Other times, stopping the lesson and talking to the whole class may be necessary but the important thing is to ensure you are consistent.

Routines for starting lessons and moving between activities are also very helpful, especially with younger children. Such moments act as a signpost for students, which can be vital if they are beginners with limited language. My students, for example, know I will always write the materials we need for the lesson on the board before the lesson begins (this helps save time and avoid unnecessary books taking up space on their desks). They also know that when I raise both my hands I want them to stop whatever they are doing. Whatever you do, make sure it is part of a regular routine in the lesson and it will be easier for the students to understand and remember.


K – Know your limits

Finally, it is vital to know the limits of what you can do in your role as a teacher. Whatever approach you take in class or whatever systems, routines and rules you have, you must be mindful of what is acceptable in your school or in the eyes of your students’ parents. It is all very well having your own rules or your students’ rules in class but they should avoid going against school rules or cultural expectations.

For example, I know in my current school that sending a disruptive student out of the classroom is not an option as it is against school policy so I find other ways to contain such (thankfully rare) situations. On the other hand, I also know that as a native speaker, my employers and my students’ parents want me to speak English with the kids as much as possible so they are happy to hear that I limit use of Turkish is class considerably (which also helps cut down on chatting between students!)

It is also important to be aware of your limits when making promises of rewards for good behaviour or successful completion of a task or series of tasks. If you tell your students you will show them a fun YouTube video relevant to the current in-class topic as a reward for their hard work, you should make sure that the necessary equipment is working, the Internet is available, you allot enough time in the lesson and that showing the video is not going to cause a problem with the school administration. If you can’t keep your promises, your students will be disappointed and that will not help maintain a positive environment for learning.

As I said at the start of this post, there is no single right answer when it comes to successful classroom management. However, if we can bear the above points in mind, working with our learners and within the parameters set by our schools, and be consistent and responsive, we can get a KICK out of teaching our classes and our kids can get a KICK out of their language learning experience as well.

Classroom Management – Juan

Affective Postures and Practices – Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

Juan Uribe
How can we channel the lovely energy young learners bring to class? How can language be lived in a caring and empowering way? How can we promote affect but still have control of what happens in class?

Affective postures and practices make a big difference when it comes to fostering empowering and democratic language learning environments with young language learners. Here I share some affective and effective strategies you can live to promote authentic student engagement in your class:

Create welcome and goodbye experiences for every class and for the course for you and your students to appreciate these moments and make sense of what they mean individually and as a group. Students can feel through these the meaning of being part of a group.

Communicate expectations by having from three to five clear rules to be followed in class. Praise good behavior, allow time for transitions, and schedule individual attention to prevent discipline problems from happening. Pay also special attention to noticing and eliminating triggers that precede problematic behavior.

Establish Circle Time as a moment of communion in action in which students can bring out what is happening in their lives and can use language as a real means of communication to express themselves freely. This lively talk will not only acknowledge and validate students’ identities, but will also allow you to plan for relevant themes.

Allow students to mix English with their mother tongue in the early stages and help them say what they would like in English through modeling and shadowing. Have posters with frequent sentences on the walls to maximize language usage.

Make the use of activity cards a routine to share the activities and the order in which these will happen during the class. Activity cards allow the group to control time better, get ready for transitions, and also to talk about the different activities that have been planned. Allow students to make choices on what, when, and how they would like to learn.

Develop rapport by validating young learners with kind looks, having playful conversations, and talking about feelings. Listen and tell jokes as humor is a great way of connecting with young learners.

Create a stimulating pace of instruction by providing a rich variety of learning moments. Alternate easy and difficult, quiet and loud, individual and collective, seating and standing, free and structured.

Use a bell, chimes, clackers, or a rainstick to avoid having to shout to call students’ attention. You can also say “if you can listen to me, clap” and clap until the whole class is clapping with you.

Give instructions one at a time. Model what you would like them to do. Ask instruction-checking questions or ask a student to repeat in his/her words what they are supposed to do. This might seem redundant, but clear instructions maximize success and make sure all students are on the same boat.

Make your classes interactive by asking questions, giving students tasks, telling them to share in pairs. Make language concrete through visuals, movement, and realia.

Ask what students already know about a new theme before starting it, as it allows them to share their knowledge and to promote discussion within the group. Validating our young learners’ knowledge is essential to activate mental schemes and to promote significant learning.

Plan to have time left to talk about interesting experiences that students would like to share and discuss. Remember these are valuable moments and that you not teaching your class plan, but you are teaching young learners. Teaching less is more.

Recognize and acknowledge student effort and achievement by hanging their work, having a class journal, taking pictures, giving positive feedback, and celebrating their learning. Share all these with the school community and with their parents.

Engage students in different creative ways to reflect, evaluate, and self-evaluate behavior, cooperation, language use, and learning. Record and organize these in a class journal in order to show how their critical thinking has evolved.

Be present, honest, spontaneous, consistent, compassionate, and real.


Classroom Management – Bruno

Managing a Young Learners Classroom: Challenges and Perceptions – Bruno Andrade

Bruno Andrade
It goes without saying that children’s classes are difficult to manage. The success of your lesson will largely depend on how well you manage your kids’ behavior. Unfortunately there is no right answer when it comes to dealing with behavior, specially dealing with young people who have not yet developed community and social skills, and who do not have any personal reasons for being English students (they are there because their parents told them to, not because they have a specific goal in mind).

On the course of the years I have been teaching English to Young Learners, I have acquired a number of techniques here and there that might come in handy. First of all it is important to understand a bit more about behavior and your expectations towards it:


What kind of behavior are you aiming at? 

–       Behavior, relationships and learning walk hand in hand: Good and pro-active behavior is a result of learning and good relationships as wells as a strong influence on how kids learn.

–       School Staff, Teachers, Parents and Students have a different understanding of behavior: When new to a school, teachers must learn the behavior policies that permeate the school’s system and have a brief notion of problematic students/classes with past teachers. Besides that, sharing insights about behavior with parents is crucial since they need to have a grasp of the way in which home standards are hindering or helping their children’s learning at school. It is also of utmost importance that teachers share insights about behavior with students, this will surely equip them to ponder about and understand what makes people act they way they do. It can also build on their abilities to take responsibility for their behavior and to help each other behave better. A common understanding will not only provide a solid base for the school at large to promote good behavior but also to respond to inappropriate behavior.


What can you do to help better manage your YL class?

1 – Help children to take ownership of their behavior: collectively draw a Dos x Don’ts poster on the very first day of school. First elicit from students what they can do and then move on to the more serious part (donts). Do not ignore any contribution from students. Put them all on the poster but use a bigger handwriting or font for the ones you consider to be serious breach of the “contract”. Display the poster on an inside wall and refer to it whenever students break any rule. After some time you shall see that there will be no need to refer to them when students misbehave. If they don’t realize it, their peers will promptly remember them of it.

2- Don’t be nice (at least not during the first week!): Start being firm and demanding with your little ones.  Loosen up little by little so that your students believe that they earned your heart (even if they already had). This way they will value more the relationship you share and thus behave well when expected. Rapport is key to the development of a healthy relationship between students and teachers. You don’t have to love your students (and that goes for any age bracket), you must respect them as human beings. Learn their names fast, this way you will be showing that you care about them. Learn about what your students do outside school, their abilities, likes and dislike. Plan your lessons having your students in mind and always bring something that will surely call their attention to the class and motivate them continuously. Praise your students for quality of work and especially for effort. Use praise to encourage students as well.

3- Vary activities but maintain a routine: Young Learners need routine. Establish a routine for giving instruction. Preferably stand at the front of the class, using lots of body language and eye contact. Move around in other stages of the lesson so that you can see and listen to all students. Constantly change seating arrangements. Draw the design you want on the board and have students sit accordingly. Seating arrangements can help you set students apart on purpose or maybe unite a stronger with a weaker kid so that they work collaboratively. Surprise activities may become a card up your sleeve. Use them in order to change the pace of your lesson in case students get too excited. When moving from one activity to another, avoid screaming for attention and silence. Develop a signal that they will recognize and follow suit. E.g: turning off the lights or using a bell or any instrument such as a rattle or tambourine. Always have extra activities ready on your table for fast finishers. Never leave any student without something to do. Keep them busy all the time.


Teaching YLs Is No Easy Task.

The more we study about and work with them, the more we find out we still have to learn. As simpler as these strategies may seem, they can hopefully provoke a big impact in your teaching. Nowadays in the ELT market a good Young Learners teacher is seen as a multiple skilled professional who not only has the expertise and flexibility of a teacher but who is also sensitive enough to perceive, deal and work on the developmental differences that happen in every kid. These include cognitive perceptions and variations, motor skills, social, psychological and emotional characteristics. A photographer named Robert Capa once said that if your pictures aren’t good enough, it is because you aren’t close enough. The same goes for your kids. Get to know them better and you will see how drastically your lessons will improve.