Unruly / disruptive teenage classes - what to do?

Help, tips and advice in teaching English

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Unruly / disruptive teenage classes - what to do?

Unread postby Chocmonster » 20 Oct 2009, 16:47

Dear Lucy

It seems that I now get both sides of the same coin - my last enquiry concerned small, quiet well behaved classes; now (same school, same classroom, different group) I am faced with loud, large classes and more than my fair share of disicplne problems.

The setup:

2 groups of young men taking apprenticeships, all between 16 (! - so young!) and 21/22 whose three year technical courses includes 3 years of cumpulsory English but no exam. Of the courses, one is in their second year, and, according to the school director, 'a bit wild'; the other in their first year and not yet as bad.

An administrative cock-up meant the last tutor and to leave and I've been rustled up to fill in.

About me:

See my previous posts.

My request: Tips and advice for improving class discipline and attitude which are proven to work with hormonally unstable (i.e. normal) young men who enjoy playing up to their crowd of friends, have to suffer learning a langugage they think they don't need, taught by a relative novice in a small hot room on a Thursday morning when we would all rather be elsewhere…

Specfic issues:

1. Near constant talking (in L1)
2. Professed 'zero' knowledge of English (vocal minority)
3. Mobile phones in every pocket (and loud protestations/denials of having touched it when confiscated)
4. Percieved irrelevancy of subject
5. Loudest (also lasiest) students negatively impacting others - snide comments, etc
6. Small room gets blocked eaisly - hard to monitor students at back

Ideas to try after half term (in ten days)

1. Consult students on preferred room layout - what would they like? I for one want to seat them in a circle as it will only give them one ommedite neighbour

2. Discuss some class rules - and agree on fitting punishments if broken.

3. I'm new to the school, and want to discuss what the support would be from the director if I want to send a student out of the lesson.

4. It's a 'team sport oriented professional school', meaning there is a huge emphasis on team sport, exercise and healthy living. I intend to take some of the lessons outside to get them running around a bit - better than being cooped up inside. If you have any suggestions…

In short, feeling close in age to the students (I'm a youthful 29); not having instruction on dealing with discipline issues, and expecting all students to be a younger version of myself (intelligent, keen, reasonable, devilishly handsome and modest) I'm finding it hard to cope.

Help me snap out of it!

Kind regards


 P.S. Sorry this is so long, I didn't have time to make it shorter!

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Re: Unruly / disruptive teenage classes - what to do?

Unread postby Lucy » 24 Oct 2009, 19:30

Hi Edd

An interesting question and it’s okay for posts to be long. It’s actually easier to answer, the more info you give.

Off the top of my head, I would say that with the age group you’re teaching:

Always keep them busy; make sure you have enough activities to fill the time. Take in extra exercises, activities for people who finish early. You can also allow early-finishers to do their homework in class. Whatever you do, keep them busy. Remember the devil and idle hands...

Try to make the fact that you are close to them in age work for you. If you arrive to class early, you can spend some time talking with them about any interests you might have in common; let them see the real you behind the teacher. This is okay when you’re talking informally with them; but, make sure that you are always professional when teaching them. Keep a certain distance; the balance won’t be easy, but I’m sure you’ll find it. You also have a great sense of humour; use this with your students – either in L1 or in English.

Move students around from one class to another. Tell them where they are sitting; this will prevent them from getting too familiar with their neighbours. As for your idea about discussing the room layout with students, I don’t agree with that approach. You should decide the layout and choose one that makes it easy for you to manage the students; e.g. you can see everybody and move around easily.

I think that your idea of discussing rules is excellent. Once the rules are agreed and set, remember to enforce them at all times. Remind students who break the rules. I think you have to be very firm about mobile phones. They’re just not allowed in the classroom and that is not up for discussion. How you deal with the phones can be discussed though. Let students decide whether they leave their mobiles with a member of admin staff during the class. Alternatively, you can have a box where students put their phones as they enter the room; all phones are switched off when they go in that box. Students might have other ideas.

I also think that your idea to get out of the classroom is a good one. Remember to set a task while they are out of the room and keep them busy at all times. You can also ask them to teach you something sports related. It can be interesting to reverse the roles.

Your idea to get support from the director of the school is excellent. She or he can also give you tips on how to deal with the students. You’re absolutely right to get your support lined up before you take action such as sending a student out of the room. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

All of the above will help you improve class discipline. Attitude with this age group often improves with time and when the teacher changes his/her attitude towards the students. This can be achieved by getting to know them as people; always treating them with the same respect you would accord any adult; don’t raise your voice; don’t be sarcastic; allow them to keep face at all times. I’m sorry if any of this is obvious, but I’m sometimes surprised by how teachers speak to students in this age group. Remember to praise all efforts to use English and good behaviour. If you have something to say about bad behaviour; focus on the action and not the person; e.g. say “please be quiet” (focus on unwanted behaviour); don’t say “you’re a noisy so and so!” (focus on the character of the person). Generally avoid negative comments with you are....... Be firm but fair with them. Don’t expect the students to do things that they are incapable of doing; always remember their level. This might include specific rules about the use of L1 and English in the classroom. For example, insist that all activities that you set are carried out in English. Brief chats in the classroom might be allowed in L1. Give students the language they need for the classroom: could you please pass the ....... You can see other posts I have written about such classroom meta-launguage.

I hope this will help and please feel free to write in again. Your questions are always interesting!


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