Teaching a new language to children is often an incredibly rewarding experience. Studies have shown that when children start learning a new language at an early age, they’re more likely to quickly acquire a native-like level. As a teacher, this is exciting to watch! On the other hand, teaching young learners comes with a unique set of challenges. For example, younger kids often have a shorter attention span and get distracted and disinterested more easily. Even if you’re a veteran teacher with lots of experience teaching English to adults, making the transition to teaching children can be difficult. By implementing a few practical classroom management techniques, however, you can keep your classroom on-topic and under control. Here are five ideas to help your young learners stay engaged and focused on the real purpose of the class: learning English!
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP 1:
One idea for classroom management with children is an activity called “houses.” At the beginning of the year, you can divide your students into groups. Call the groups “houses.” Have each group pick a name for its house. It’s a good idea to give students some options to choose from. Depending on the age group or level, you could choose names related to colors, animals, presidents, or cities. Try not to provide too many choices!
Once the houses are formed and named, you can have the students work together to make visual representations of their houses, using colorful paper, and then display the houses on the walls in the classroom where all students can see them. The houses will be used to keep track of points each group earns or loses for behavior in class. The house with the most points at the end of the semester or year (you decide) will win a prize or get a special privilege. Therefore, the next step is to work with your students to have them help you come up with the “classroom rules.”
Class rules can cover topics such as arriving on time and well‑prepared, not speaking the native language in class, helping others, raising their hands to speak in class, completing homework, and finishing tasks on time. These rules will then guide you when deciding when to give or take off points in each group’s house. You can take off points when students break any of the class rules you have established together. On the other hand, you can add points to a group’s house for good behavior. You can even devote some time once a week to play games and give students the opportunity to earn bonus points.
Houses are a classroom management tool you can work with the whole year. They are fun, they motivate students, and they are helpful for teamwork, self‑-management, and reaching goals. Students look forward to earning points in order to receive a medal, prize or special privilege once the semester or year is over.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP 2:
GIVE INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE HANDING OUT MATERIALS
If you need to hand out any kind of worksheets or articles to students as part of an activity, don’t make the mistake of passing it out first and then trying to explain the instructions to the class. Remember that young students get easily distracted. If they have a piece of paper in their hands that they can touch, fold, write on, read or look at, they will focus on that instead of paying attention to your instructions!
To avoid this type of distraction before the activity and better manage your class of young learners, hold the worksheets in your hand while you explain the activity instructions simply and clearly. Once you are sure all the students are clear on what they are supposed to do, then have a student hand out the worksheets.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP 3:
USE SIMPLE LANGUAGE
Always keep the age and English language level of your students in mind while speaking to them in class. Keep it simple! Use basic instructions and simple sentence/question structures. You can always add in some more complex sentences to train students’ ears and to enrich their language but be prepared to paraphrase and repeat these more complex statements.
• Here are some guidelines to follow to keep your language simple:
• Do not begin your instructions with “if” (“If you’ll open your books to page 10…”)
• Do not use modals (e.g. say “Open your books,” not “Would you open your books?”)
• Do not use phrasal verbs (e.g. “Read over the vocabulary words.”)
• Do not use slang (e.g. asking your students if they “get it,” rather than understand)
• Do not use complex relative clauses (e.g. “Those of you who have finished early can work with your partners now.”)
• Give examples when explaining instructions
In addition to using clear, simple language, you can also get students’ attention with a certain tone of voice and the use of body language. Finally, always check for understanding with some concept‑check questions!
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP 4:
ASSIGN STUDENT HELPERS
Young students love when they are asked to take on a role in the classroom, such as that of helper, “class captain,” or secretary. They enjoy doing the type of work the teacher does; it makes them feel important. Therefore, one effective way to recognize good student behavior is to reward them with this kind of helper‑role assignment. It’s a great way to make sure that the students are aware of their own achievements and successes.
To do this, have name tags ready so that the rest of the class can see who the helper will be that day. The helper will assist you with tasks such as passing out papers, taking attendance, or erasing the whiteboard. Be sure not to always pick the same student, though. Keep track of the students you have chosen and try to alternate through all of your students at some point in the year. Bonus: the chosen students will be anxious to tell their parents they were named helpers because of their good behavior in class!
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TIP 5:
NEVER ASSIGN HOMEWORK AT THE END OF CLASS
Yes, you read that right! However, I don’t mean teachers should not assign homework. Instead, I recommend you consider the timing. While it can be tempting to wrap up a lesson or activity by assigning the next day’s homework at the end of class, it’s not effective for classroom management. Before the bell rings, students want to go home! They can get noisy, distracted, and lose focus toward the end of class as they are putting everything away and thinking about leaving.
To overcome this classroom management issue, take the time to give homework at the beginning of class when your students have just arrived and are paying more attention. Be sure to use simple language, be clear, and ask follow‑up questions about the assignment to confirm students understand.
|Gabriela Torregiani has more than 22 years’ experience in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), having worked as both an onlineand classroom‑based TEFL trainer for about 15 years. She currently works with young learners as headmistress at St. Joseph School in Buenos Aires, Argentina and is the head tutor for the BridgeTEFL courses Teaching English to Young Learners and|
Teaching English to Teenagers.