The five golden rules of classroom management

Naughty kid getting ready to throw a paper plane in the classroom

Are you an ESL teacher with classroom management problems? I hope not, but if you are reading this, it might be the case. Have you got a handful of troublemakers who wear you out? Or has the whole class taken over and you find it hard to teach anything?

This article proposes 5 golden rules for good classroom management to help you create your plan or strategy with your young students learning English.

Why the classroom management problem in the first place?

Firstly let’s look at reasons why the children might be misbehaving. Are they bored? Does learning English not engage them? Are they fed up with sitting at their desks? Do some of them have behaviour problems such as ADD and disrupt the class for others? Maybe the children find English hard and do not think they can learn it so they hide their lack of confidence behind an excuse of misbehaviour. Maybe the naughty child just thinks that the teacher does not like him or her. Or maybe the children are not motivated to be good because they are never praised when they are well behaved.

One thing is for sure; you must be the boss, because, like a young puppy that will try to become pack leader, if you are not in charge then the children will be. And that’s the last thing you want! Some newly qualified ESL teachers go out into the classrooms today like so many sacrificial lambs! They want to be nice, fun and friendly, but they fail to establish class management rules and boundaries from day one and the children stampede right over them. This can be a bit of a shock!

There are many techniques and strategies for good classroom management and ultimately you have to develop your own personal style that fits with your philosophy in life and that is also effective. In addition you must comply with the rules of the establishment you work in. If your school or institution has rules that you do not agree with and you cannot change them then look for another job! The school should be your ally not your foe.

The Only REAL Classroom Management Solution

Rather than a plan, strategy or technique, the vital key to good classroom management comes from the ESL teacher’s attitude and decision to earn the love and respect of your students. Think about it, if students like you and respect you they will naturally behave well and pay attention because they want to please you. So how can an ESL teacher make this happen?

Good Classroom Management Rule 1

Be a mentor not a friend and earn the children’s trust by being
firm, fair and consistent.

Save yourself the humiliation of trying to be the students’ best buddy, they will probably laugh at you behind your back. Rather be their mentor, a model for them to copy, not only in terms of learning English but also in terms of how you expect them to behave. You are someone they can trust and come to for help. Err on the side of being strict, especially at first. It is harder to become strict if you have been casual and lenient.

The children will trust you if you are consistent, clear in establishing the rules from day one and consistent in applying them. Refuse to go on teaching until your rules are applied. If you are inconsistent, if you yell at the children or lose your cool, suddenly punish a child unexpectedly, put them down, be sarcastic or embarrass them, they will know that they cannot trust you.

Good Classroom Management Rule 2

Show your EFL / ESL pupils that you care about them.

At the same time as being firm and fair in class find opportunities to talk to your ESL students informally outside of class time – for example sharing a walk over to the canteen or down a corridor. When you get the chance ask the children how they are, what sports they like, who their favourite band is at the moment and so on. The children will feel special because you have taken some of your time to speak to them. If the children feel that you know them, you know what they like, what they can’t wait to do when they get home and so on, they will truly feel that you care about them. Now tell me, seriously, how much more likely are they to behave when class time comes round? In fact they could even feel embarrassed for playing you up!

Another way to communicate that you care is to look at your pupils, make eye contact and smile at them. If you have some ESL pupils you do not like in your class put yourself in their shoes and do whatever it takes to replace your negative feelings with feelings of compassion for that student.

Good Classroom Management Rule 3

Get closer to your EFL / ESL pupils.

Never spend a full class up at the board or at the front, behind your barrier of a desk. Instead, perhaps during an ESL writing task, take some time to sit in next to different students and ask them how they are, ask them if they have anything in particular they would like to ask you that they have not understood, or just tell them that they are doing well and put a couple of ticks on their work.

Good Classroom Management Rule 4

Praise and encourage good behaviour

Children respond far better to praise than criticism, which only makes them shrivel up inside and feel worthless. Never ever, ever use destructive criticism. Far too many human beings have a lack of self-love, as it is, without propagating it further in the classroom. There is so much good that you can do as an ESL teacher by increasing your pupils’ self-esteem through praise and encouragement.

If you listen to a rather shocking number of parents, they spend their whole time telling their children to stop doing this or stop doing that, and the whole dialogue is negative. Be conscious and make sure you do not fall into that trap. Focus on the positive in order to draw more attention to it and apply the universal law of “you attract what you focus on”.

Make sure you give plenty of praise and encouragement to ESL students who are well behaved. For example, give out tasks to students who are being good, thank them for being well behaved or for doing something quietly. If children are vying to get your attention say; “I’m picking Sarah because she has been so good today”.

If a student is being naughty avoid using his or her name. Children love the sound of their own names – it means they are getting attention. If Johnny is talking say, “I’m listening to Sarah now”.

Rewarding students is all part of the process. This does not mean taking them out to pizza. I personally am against rewarding ESL students in this way. To me it belittles the teacher to have to resort to such things, not to mention the fact that ESL teachers are usually not properly paid for the work they do without having to spend part of their salary on bribes for the children.

Instead use ideas that confer responsibility or distinction on the pupil such as: verbal or written praise, a positive note to take home to parents, a star on the work, displaying a particular student’s work on the wall, being given a seat of honour, being named the student of the day or week, being given a special responsibility such as running an errand for the teacher, doing the role-call, helping the teacher with a class activity, collecting or giving out materials, leading a group activity or tutoring another student.

Good Classroom Management Rule 5

Make your teaching style interesting and varied.

Tap into all the different ESL learning styles so that you reach all students in your class. Just standing there talking at the board is not going to interest many children anyway, but aside from that, you’ll miss the children who mainly learn from tactile and kinaesthetic experience. By using a wide variety of ESL classroom games you will by default dabble in auditory, visual, kinaesthetic and tactile skills and thus engage all your pupils at least some of the time.

The other advantage to ESL classroom games is that they engage and motivate the children. It’s obvious; if a child is enjoying the learning process then he or she is FAR more likely to pay attention! It is important though to choose appropriate games for your class size and classroom configuration.

The games also motivate homeless children living on the street to learn English.

From the Mkombozi Center, Tanzania: ‘For my experience, street children cannot sit down for 40 minutes and concentrate on the text books or on the blackboard or listening to the teacher, because their life on the street mostly is to roam here and there almost whole day.

But after trying your games we found that the children like them very much as they keep them fun and enjoying the whole 40 minutes and demanding to continue beyond the time set. The children were enthusiastic and motivated to participate fully. After the session I asked them how they felt about the games and they said, “Really great.”‘  Amani Masuki, Mkombozi Center, Tanzania

Summary of the Golden Rules for Good ESL Classroom Management

These six golden rules will ensure that your ESL pupils trust you because they know what your rules are and that you will apply them. Your pupils will like you because you show them you care by taking time to talk to them and by getting close to them physically. They will like you because you make them feel good about themselves and learning English through your encouragement and enthusiasm. Finally they will respect you for your stimulating teaching through the use of ESL games, ESL stories, songs or ESL plays that tap into all learning styles.

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