Mark Beales

Regaining control of your classroom

Some discipline tips for when things start to go pear-shaped

Here are ten ideas for when you need to regain control of your classroom.

1. Write five lines up on the board. Each line represents a minute of game time at the end of the lesson. Every time a student is naughty or noisy, simply rub out a line. This works well with primary and some secondary classes. They soon get the message. Alternatively, draw a line that represents a fuse. Erase a little of the line each time there is a problem. If there is no more fuse left, there are no games at the end.

2. Get the following translated into the student’s mother tongue (L1 is the technical term). Give an English and L1 version to any troublesome students. Tell them to take it home, get their mother and father to sign it, then return it to you. 

Dear Mother and Father,

I was very naughty in class today. I was rude and disobedient. I was loud and disrespectful. I wasted my teacher's time and your money. I am very sorry.


PS: Please sign below so I can return this letter to my teacher.

Father:____________________________ Mother:____________________ 

Obviously, this can be adapted to suit the circumstances. This shouldn’t be done for minor problems, and shouldn’t be done too often. Students, especially troublesome ones, tend to be adapt at avoiding punishments, so if you do use this, be sure that someone calls the parents to confirm they actually received this letter (and to check the student hasn’t just faked those signatures).

3. Get a list of the students’ names. When they do something well, award a merit point. When they do something bad, deduct a point. At the end of each month print off a ‘certificate’ for the student with the most points in that month. At the end of the year you could offer a prize for the student with the most marks overall. Only ask students for answers if they are sitting quietly and not yelling out. 

Competition works well in most countries, and this method ensures that less able students can also take part. I used this idea regularly, making sure that a variety of students won the prized certificate. One of the main features of discipline is that it should be reward good behavior and focus on the positives.

4. Rather than berate a student who is talking too much, ask him/her a question relating to the lesson. This quickly focuses his attention on the task at hand and ensures you don’t waste time admonishing the student.

5. The famous yellow and red card system is often a winner. Get some coloured cards and every time a student is bad, present them with a yellow card, football-style. Two yellows equal a red and a punishment. Works especially well in all-boy schools.

6. Encourage students to speak English only in the classroom. Keep a list of who speaks the most English and who speaks little or none at all. At the end of each week give a small reward (sweets, etc) to the one who has spoken the most English. A variation of this is to hand out prize tokens to students who you hear using English outside of the classroom. Every month, you can then have a prize draw and offer a small reward to the winner.

7. This is ideal if you have a lesson just before a break. For any troublesome students, write their name on the board. If they continue to act up, put a cross next to their name. If they get three crosses they have to give up their break time. Take them to the staff room and give them extra work. A simple break-time task that takes no time to prepare is to give the student a picture or topic and ask them to speak about it for a minute.

8. If a class is finding it hard to get settled, get them to do a writing exercise, such as a journal. Give them a topic, such as ‘what I did last night’ or ‘five things I have learned this week’. Bear in mind that noisy games at the start of the class tends to make students hyper, whereas a writing or reading game tends to focus the mind more. Leave the noisy games until the end. Then it’s the next teacher’s problem, not yours.

9. Whatever you do, do not embarrass or ridicule a student.

10. Don’t compete with noise. Sometimes talking quietly about something of interest will ensure students listen. 

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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