Effective classroom management

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

This article proposes five golden rules for effective classroom management to help you create a strategy for young students learning English.

Are you an ESL teacher with classroom management problems? I hope not, but it might be the case if you are reading this. 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?

Why is classroom management a 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? Or 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 are discouraged and do not think they can learn English, so they misbehave to hide their lack of confidence. Or, perhaps the naughty child feels that the teacher does not like them. Alternatively, are pupils demotivated because they rarely get any praise?

Be the boss

One thing is for sure; you must be the boss, because, like a young puppy that will try to become pack leader. For sure, if you are not in charge, then the children will be. And that’s the last thing you want! Unfortunately, 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. Consequently, after a period of grace that usually lasts for one lesson, the children stampede right over them. This loss of respect can be a bit of a shock!

There are many techniques and strategies for effective classroom management. But, ultimately, you have to develop a style that fits your philosophy in life and that works. In addition, you must comply with the rules of your school or establishment. If your school has rules that you disagree with, and will not change them, then look for another job! The school should be your ally, not your foe.

The only REAL Effective classroom management solution

Rather than a technique, the key to effective classroom management is ESL teacher’s innate ability to earn students respect. If students like and respect you, they will naturally behave well because they want to please you. So how can an ESL teacher make this happen?

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 embarrassment 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 learning English but also in 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 and clear in establishing the rules from day one. Refuse to go on teaching until your rules are applied. It is vital to be consistent in applying your rules. If you are inconsistent, yell, lose your cool, suddenly punish a child unexpectedly, put them down, be sarcastic or embarrass them, students will know that they cannot trust you.

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, share 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, or who their favourite band is at the moment. The children will feel special because you have taken some of your time to speak to them. If the children think that you know them, they will feel that you care about them. Now tell me, 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 pupils you do not like, put yourself in their shoes and do whatever it takes to replace your negative feelings with feelings of compassion for that student.

Classroom Management Rule 3

Get closer to your EFL / ESL pupils.

Never spend an entire class up at the board or behind your barrier of a desk. Instead, perhaps during a writing task, take some time to ask a few students how they are. Maybe ask them if they need any help. Alternatively, tell them that they are doing well and put a couple of ticks on their work.

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. So never, ever use destructive criticism. Far too many human beings lack 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 entire dialogue is negative. Be conscious and make sure you do not fall into that trap. Focus on the positive and apply the universal law of ‘you attract what you focus on.’

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

Use names

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


RewRewarding students is all part of the process; however, a reward does not necessarily mean taking them out to pizza. ESL teachers are usually not paid adequately for their work without spending 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, or a star on their work. Other rewards might be displaying a particular student’s work on the wall, giving someone a seat of honour, and naming a student of the day or week. Special tasks might be 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.

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. Of course, just standing there talking at the board will not interest many children anyway, but aside from that, you’ll miss the children who mainly learn from tactile and kinaesthetic experiences. By using a variety of ESL classroom games, you will, by default, dabble in auditory, visual, kinaesthetic, and tactile skills. Thus you will engage all your pupils at least some of the time.

The other advantage of ESL classroom games is that they engage and motivate the children. If a child is enjoying the learning process, they are FAR more likely to pay attention! However, it is important to choose appropriate games for your class size and classroom configuration.

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 textbooks or on 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 enjoy the whole 40 minutes and demand 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 Effective 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.

For a few further tips on classroom management, please browse this post: a disruptive student

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