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Principles of ESL Classroom Management

Experienced teachers will have their own tried and tested principles of classroom management that they have developed through thousands of hours of trial and error. However, one of the biggest obstacles that face new teachers is the understanding and application of these classroom management strategies. 

The biggest mistake that I have witnessed (and made myself) is trying to imitate the exact style of other successful teachers. This is not always a guarantee of success, as successful classroom management depends as much on the personality of you, the teacher, as it does the theory. 

You need to develop a teaching style that you can be confident in maintaining throughout the school year and beyond. Consistency is key, and the easiest way to be consistent is to teach and manage your classes in a manner that suits you and that you are comfortable with. This is easier for experienced teachers who are well aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, but for new teachers it can be quite daunting. Although it is daunting, it is one of our “TEFL Teacher Essentials”, and mastering it will stand you in good stead for your teaching career. In this article, I have highlighted three principles of classroom management that you should give consideration to before you teach that first lesson.

A teacher making simple classroom rules

1. Keep Rules Simple 

ESL Classroom rules should be straightforward, easy to understand and leave no room for misunderstanding. You need to always keep in mind that English is not your students native tongue, so do not make your rules oto eccentric, extravagant or extreme. Also, remember your audience. A Grade 1 class is going to need a different set of rules to Grade 6, so make sure you tailor your rules to suit them.

That being said, some classroom management principles and rules will be evergreen. Almost all age groups can deal with rules such as “Speak English”, “Raise Your Hand” and “3,2,1 Quiet”. With older students you might want to get them to buyin to your classroom management strategy by having them design the rules for the classroom. Remember, as your students get older your lessons should be more and more of a two-way conversation. Getting your students to define their own rules shows you value their input.

2. Motivate and Incentivize

Once you have established your rules for your classroom, you will have your next challenge – how to motivate your students to adhere to the rules. This is a tricky principle to navigate in a classroom as it can be impossible to motivate all the students by the same incentive. Also, what works as an incentive one week may not always work the next week. 

Using a points based system can work to keep your students focused and maintain awareness of the classroom rules. You can tell the students that if the whole class achieves 20 points for good behavior by the end of the class then they will get a reward. For some classes it may be more appropriate to  allocate points to individuals, pairs or teams. This will be determined by the size, age and personality of the individual class.

You will then  need to consider what reward is suitable for your class. You may be limited in what you can offer, for example it is unlikely you are going to be able to cancel homework for the entire class! There are some rewards that will usually guarantee the attention of your students though. 

Firstly, dedicate the last 5-7 minutes of your lesson to “reward time”, and include this in your lesson plan. Secondly, decide upon the appropriate reward. Younger students (Grade1,2,3) may be satisfied with simply singing a song, or watching part of a TV show (Mr Bean is always a winner!). Older Primary School students may prefer competition and you can reward them with an English language game – Team Teacher China’s PPT “Bomb” games are always incredibly popular. Finally, the older students probably have an incredible amount of homework to be getting on with. If you can offer them an extra 5-10 minutes to get some of this work done they will always be extremely grateful!

Dice spelling the word teach

3. Discipline with Consideration

Occasionally, you are going to need to discipline your students. This is the nature of teaching – unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to have perfect behavior from every student, in every class, every week. Different teachers will again adopt different methods to discipline. Some common practices are to have students stand outside the classroom, have them write pages from their textbook, assign extra homework or to have them miss the “reward time”. All of these are fine for students who are being a little naughty/mischievous and usually just the threat of these punishments will be enough to keep their behavior in check. 

Personally, I found that punishments could also be used to build rapport with the entire class. For example, having a student do 20 jumping jacks while singing a song will keep the class invested in your class and also improve the attention to your rules! 

For more serious infractions you may also use the threat of reporting the students misbehavior to their class teacher, head of year or even to their parents. Ideally you will never have to use these, but in extreme cases it may be necessary. This should really be the last resort for you in your classroom management strategy. Remember, the more you use a punishment the less impact it will have.

Tom Bogues

Tom is the Director of ESL Job Center. He has been working in the TEFL industry in one form or another since 2016 and is now using that experience to match quality teachers with quality schools across China.