Welcome to Step 1: Classroom Management for Young Learners
In this Step I will do my best to list down some common TESL problems and some possible solutions. If you have experienced these problems before or are dealing with them now, hopefully this might help shed some light on what may be causing the problem and how you can solve it. I’ll also share some ideas and techniques that have worked wonders for me – and hopefully for you too.
It’s important to realize that Classroom Management is not a tool in a teacher arsenal like flashcards and blu-tac. It’s a skill that has to be practiced and perfected. Nobody just picks up a guitar and starts playing the Hotel California solo without taking several lessons first.
Here are some common signals that it might be time to flex your Classroom Management muscle:
- Students often complain of being bored or check the time often.
- Students fidget in their seats
- Students look confused most of the time and can’t/won’t answer questions correctly
- Students talk over you or interrupt when you’re talking
- You find yourself repeating instructions more than twice
- Activities generally take longer than they should to complete (games, worksheets, etc…)
“There are no bad students, only bad teachers.” – Mr. Miyagi
All these activities are often symptoms of other problems. Just like doctors it’s a teacher’s job to see the signs, identify the issue, and find a solution!
Let’s give it a try:
- Students often complain of being bored or check the time often – Usually a sign that they are either not being challenged enough in their studies or the material is over their head, or they have remained inactive for too long (80% likely with young kids), or the lesson doesn’t hold their interest.
Mix it up a little, try planning an easier or more difficult lesson. Play a new game! Get out of the usual classroom routine and try something new – ever held a fashion show or a debate? How about a game of Twister or a 5-minute yoga stretch? Find out what your students enjoy and are interested in and try to plan a lesson that is both effective and fun.
- Students fidget in their seats – Almost always a sign of boredom and getting antsy from sitting too long. I was guilty of this for a while until a colleague pointed out that a class goes by faster when the students are active and engaged.
Since then I’ve tried to involve the students by letting them help me set up activities. I also avoid planning 2 sitting-down tasks in a row since I find sitting down for 10-15 minutes to be the maximum for 4-8 year-olds. Try sandwich songs, games, treasure hunts, mill-drills, etc… in between tasks. Plan plenty of activities in advance to keep them busy!
- Students look confused most of the time and can’t/won’t answer questions correctly – Never a good thing. Is it possible that the material you’re teaching is too difficult or dry?
Take a closer look and your material and your delivery. If possible, talk to someone who has experience dealing with similar students – maybe their former teacher or their parents if possible. Appeal to their interests and use their favorite or least favorite things as a bargaining chip if necessary. For example: “I have 15 spelling words and 15 questions based on today’s lesson – I’ll knock off 1 spelling word for each question that you answer correctly.” – I’m sure you can come up with much better incentives that your students will respond to, keep trying until you find one that works.
- Students talk over you or interrupt when you’re talking – They either have no classroom rules, or not enough respect for your CM muscles. This will cause you a lot of headache if not remedied quickly.
Implement classroom rules on the first day. Be clear, firm, and consistent with enforcing the rules. Don’t try to compete or talk over your students. Wait until you have the entire class’ full attention before speaking (even better, get them to raise their hands before talking), they will eventually get used to it and cooperate but whatever you do – be consistent.
- You find yourself repeating instructions more than twice – Your instructions either aren’t clear and simple enough, or they weren’t listening when you were talking (see above solution).
In the CELTA course they teach something called CCQs: Concept Checking Questions. “How many minutes do you have? Who is your partner? Should you write fast or slow? Can you ask your friends for answers?” etc… The point is to ask short, simple questions that the students can answer in 2 words or less. Having them repeat the instructions back to you for bonus points might be beneficial too. Remember to keep all instructions short, simple, and extremely clear – draw it on the board with stick figures if you have to.
- Activities generally take longer than they should to complete (games, worksheets, etc…) – This could indicate that the students don’t fully understand the instructions (why CCQs are so useful), or it might be too difficult for them.
Find out what the problem is. Experiment with using CCQs and giving clear time frames and deadlines. Also consider using rewards like bonus points, stickers, extra coloring sheet, as incentives to complete activities on time and well. Form teams and pairs evenly for more difficult activities so they can help each other out and everyone finishes around the same time. Don’t be afraid to cut the activity off at the deadline, the effort is the most important part.
If you recognize some of these signs from your classroom, don’t be alarmed or discouraged. I’ve experienced all of them at least once and practice is a fantastic teacher. If none of these sound familiar then congratulations! You are either one of those special few who are super smart and have the lucky Classroom Management bone. Or maybe you were just really paying attention and devoured this lesson from your TESL/TEFL/CELTA course.
Last words of advice:
Start early, start strict, and save yourself a world of trouble.