Proactive YL classroom management

By Alex Case

A previous article of mine on use of punishments caused an unusual flurry of controversy on the article pages, one I have been meaning to respond to ever since with an article or two on techniques that sound less nasty and hopefully stop you from getting to the point of needing punishments at all. One way of thinking about this is to brainstorm all the things you can do before there are behavioural problems- things that will stop that misbehaviour happening, make naughtiness easier to stop, or reduce the negative effects of children playing up. As these things are planned and sometimes carried out before the bad behaviour occurs, I have classified all of them as proactive classroom management techniques.

This article was inspired by a workshop at my school, so many thanks to all involved.

Lessons on good and bad behaviour
Good and bad behaviour in school is a topic of great interest to students that can be as good for teaching English as for improving behaviour. There are many story books on bad behaviour, e.g. Where the Wild Things Are and Not Now Bernard, and also songs on the topic. You can also read out your own ideas of good and bad behaviour in class (e.g. amusing things like “Jump out the window”, maybe with pictures or actions to back up the meaning) and get them to shout out whether each action is good or bad. Students can then make posters of their own ideas of good and bad things to do in class, maybe after brainstorming ideas for particular classroom objects (e.g. “Sit on a chair”, “Stand on a chair” and “Put your chair under the table”). Higher level classes can negotiate a list of class rules as well or instead. Please note, however, that all the ideas that involve discussing bad behaviour risk putting ideas into their heads!

Useful language
The other thing the techniques above can be useful for is teaching the language you will need to explain the rules, tell them when they have done something wrong, and punish them if necessary- all without using L1. Things you might want to teach in preparation for these things include names of classroom objects, actions that they should and shouldn’t do (e.g. “Sit down” and “Kick”), and adverbs (e.g. “Finish quickly” and “Walk slowly”). All these can be taught the usual ways, such as with TPR and flashcards, and connected to almost any topic, to be recycled if you do a lesson on school rules.

As well as making sure students know what they should do in class, you can plan specifically to avoid them being in the mood to do something they know is wrong. Moods you want to avoid include the students being:

  • Over-competitive
  • Restless
  • Bored
  • Overexcited
  • Distracted
  • Confused
  • Wanting attention
  • Tired
  • Hot
  • Annoyed by things being unfair

Techniques that work for some of these include:

  • Techniques to physically tire them out at the beginning of the class
  • A good balance of routines and surprises
  • Warmers and coolers
  • A flexible lesson plan that you can instantly adapt to react to moods, e.g. easily switchable stages or filler stages
  • Breaking things into smaller stages, e.g. explaining and demonstrating an activity bit by bit rather than doing a long explanation
  • Clearly explained rules (and maybe punishments and rewards), e.g. on a poster
  • Personal attention, even in a large class, e.g. with an entrance drill

Predict potential problems
As well as potential problems of student moods, you may also want to think about what things could get broken or distract the students. With that in mind, you could lock some things away, move other things to high places, pull down the blinds if you know there will be sports outside, and plan to make them put their bags at the back of the room rather than under their desks. It might also be worth brainstorming potential misbehaviour and ways of making sure it doesn’t happen, e.g. making them keep their legs crossed at all times so that they don’t move around on the floor and start annoying each other. One thing that often causes chaos is technology breaking down, so it is always worth having a plan B written on your lesson plan. Another thing you could brainstorm is things that students could do at the beginning of the class to stop disruption during it, e.g. planning to ask them all to go to the toilet before you start or getting all books out of their bags before they put them the bags on the hooks.

Before the class, you will need to make sure that everyone can see everything you want to show them, and that they get equal attention from you. You can do this by moving their tables and chairs (or planning how you are going to ask them to move them, e.g. by drawing a classroom set up on your lesson plan and writing the instructions language that you will use down), and by deciding which different position you will do each activity from (e.g. story time in one corner, grammar presentations from the board, and flashcards from the back of the classroom) before the class. Another issue related to student position is kids having a bad influence on those next to them. You can avoid this by telling each student where to sit, e.g. by putting name badges on each desk before they come in. Sitting boys and girls next to each other sometimes works for this.

Here are eight other tips for things you can do before class to make for fewer naughty children in class:

  1. Quickly learn names- to show individual attention and to be able to get the attention of those who are misbehaving (see Teflnet article on learning student names)
  2. Plan to start the class strict and then loosen up (meaning with a new class and at start of every class)
  3. Find out and use things done by their other teachers, e.g. standing up and chanting “Good morning teacher” at the beginning of every class
  4. Make contact with their parents, and let the students know about it
  5. Never rush anything, e.g. lining up to go home at the end of the class
  6. Avoid activities that gets them doing things they aren’t usually allowed to, e.g. TPR songs that ask them to run
  7. Plan a game to be used as a reward if they finish their work and are good during the class, and let them know that it might be coming up
  8. Plan the use of teams and points, and explain the system at the beginning of the class or term, including how points will be lost for bad behaviour
Written by Alex Case for April 2010
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • Rehmat Ebrahim says:

    Some good old fashioned advice…very essential. If you let them do things others don’t allow, will also make you unpopular with teachers. Following established patterns is good because there’s consistency, so let them raise hands, stand up to answer questions whatever is the established practice; at least at the beginning. Later you can change it gradually as long as there is a method in what you do so that the YL can follow it. They are at the concrete operations stage and can’t deal with ‘different’ behavior from the one expected because they don’t understand about where to draw the line.

    Sensible advice; doesn’t sound very appealing but is very effective.

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