We’ve all been there. In that class, with those kids- the ones who you’ve been with for a few weeks now. They’ve gotten comfortable with you, and you with them. They’re a wild bunch. Yes, you know you should have been stricter in the beginning, but how strict can you really be when they have no idea what you’re saying when you are trying to discipline? “That’s not nice” and “we need to share with others” just doesn’t go very far when not a word is understood. So what’s a teacher to do? A T.A. helps, but working collaboratively and effectively together is a whole other issue in itself. In the remainder of this article, I’ll share some ingredients for getting your class “under control”, specifically for ages 5-10.
By “under control” I don’t mean turning your very personable young learners into docile students who listen to and obey your every word, because simply put, kids are kids. What I do mean is employing a few strategies so that the time you have together, you and your students are learning and having fun, without you feeling like you need to make everyone sit down because they are being too silly.
Step 1: Start with body language, and a pinch more
The first and foremost tip that will go a long way may seem obvious, but it is often forgotten. After a time, expressions may turn to frustration first before attempted discipline. What is really needed instead are those quick disapproving looks. I’ve found annoyed looks don’t do anything in the long run. The child will repeat the undesired action in a few minutes, or even a few seconds. Stern looks and a shake of the head carry far more significance. The key here is to exaggerate. Your words may not count for much, so your face and body movements must do the talking for you. When you do use your voice, it also must be exaggerated. Gasps work well here, followed by surprised and dismayed looks. Again, it’s not necessary to use words expect for perhaps their name, which should be said just as stern as your look, so no need to shout!
This can be applied to a whole group, but it works best when only one or two children in the class are acting out.
Step 2: Stir in saying thank you
Moving on to a more positive technique, this one is as simple as it can get but I’ve found it achieves incredible results. Kids learning English learn the phrase “thank you” very early on and, if the course book doesn’t cover it for some reason, then just teach it yourself. When you’ve asked a direction to be followed, e.g. closing their books, and only a handful are actually doing it, then thank them. A genuine “Thank you, Sarah” and a smile shows the child you’ve noticed them, but more importantly it shows those around her that she has your positive attention, and I guarantee that the rest want some too!
Step 3: Churn your problematic students into star students
Usually by the second session with your students you know who you’ll need to keep on top of when it comes to behavior. Instead of looking at things from that perspective, why not try to make them your star student? This is especially great if the student has the “ring leader” type effect. Need to pass out papers? Ask for help from that student. Young learners still love to help the teacher and feel special for being chosen. Acknowledge them when they are doing something right and announce it to the class (use the previous technique for beginners). Hold up the student’s worksheet when they have completed even just some of it to use as a class example for being on track. It’s important to always distribute praise, so don’t overdo it, otherwise this technique will work against you. Children only like to be singled out to an extent. Done with the right amount of balance though, the students you thought were going to be the toughest will be the best!
Step 4: Add a happy face, sad face
This one gives each child individual feedback. It’s often used in primary schools, which is where I picked it up. It goes like this: draw a simple T-chart on the board. On one side is a smiley face and on the other is a sad face. Before the class starts, or as part of role call, put all the kids’ names on the happy side. If you have time, a small number of students, or after the kids know about the system, you can have them write their names themselves, making them even more accountable for their actions and behaviors. Either way, having this simple visual will make them more aware.
Starting positive is key and is less work in the long run (instead of waiting until a student does something well and putting their names, followed by others, in the middle of the lesson). Also, it gives kids a chance before being put on the “sad” side. Simply erase their name(s) when an outburst or other violation of classroom rules occurs. This should be sufficient in deterring continuation, but if not then rewrite their name on the sad side when needed.
Make the child or children earn their position back. Don’t hold out for too long though; if you only see the kids once or twice a week for a limited time, instant gratification is often the way to go.
Using the t-chart always lets the students know where they stand. Many children are intrinsically motivated so they want to do well.
Step 5: Mix in a change of scenery
The above mainly focuses on the individual student, but here’s one for the whole class. Many teachers do not have the luxury of holding children’s classes outside or in a different environment, but there are some easier ways to make scenic changes in the classroom, not in the literal sense with decorations, but in the moment while teaching.
- Have the children sit on the floor.
This provides an instantly different learning environment. Kids are usually stuck in their seats all day. Sitting on the floor creates more intimacy and the much needed difference to aid in paying attention!
- Have them stand up.
Then give them directions for a specific movement to hold while standing. If you leave kids just standing, you know they can’t resist moving, touching other students, etc. However, if you have them put their hands on their hands while drilling a couple new words for example, and then their hands up for the next couple words, and so on, then you’ll have more ears and eyes to work with.
These types of movements should generally be thought out beforehand so that you have a variety of different active and quieter activities. Consider it as part of your planning. However, as you know, it’s necessary to be flexible during the lesson, and to react off of the kids. If you need a change, change the setting.
Step 6: Enjoy!
These 5 steps can be used all in one class. The key is finding the balance between them. This comes with experience, but everyone needs a reminder from time to time. When everyone’s listening and doing what they are supposed to, it’s the best feeling in the world because it makes your job that much easier and enjoyable.
- Sharing Ideas on the VYL, by Kylie Malinowska and Cesca Key
- Competition Against the Learning Child, by Olga Cherrington
- Phonics in the YL classroom – by Katy Simpson
- YL Column: 5 Ways to Manage Your Littlest of Learners – by Kylie Malinowska
- Young Learners Column – Five ways to use songs in the YL Classroom, by Kylie Malinowska