keeping it cool: Classroom management in the ESL classroom

Right now is having a blog carnival on classroom management.  It comes at a good time because the semester is just starting, and the first few weeks are really, really, really, important for classroom management.

I teach 1st years (high Schools in Korea have only 3 years and they are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year – they like to keep it simple here)  My students are just out of middle school, and they are still getting their balance for high school.  Some of them have had a foreign teacher, and some of them haven’t.  They have had to deal with different styles and different emphasis from their foreign teachers or this is the first time they have had one.

Many foreign teachers play games, or have the Korean c0-teacher translate everything. I do not do these things. I also do not give out candy to keep my students in line.  And yes these first few weeks I will be a lot more strict and “mean” than I will be later in the year. Mostly because it is a hell of a lot easier to lighten up towards the end of the year, than to try to get them in line at the end of the year.

I don’t think I’m a very strict teacher, but I do have rules, they are necessary if you want to get anything accomplished.  Ted at Ted’s TEFL teacher training blog ( ) has some good ideas, and he really talks about keeping your cool, and having clear rules.  Mine are the big three:  1. Everyone works together  2. Everyone does presentation 3. Respect each other.   When I come in the classroom the first thing I do, after I say good morning or good afternoon, is have the students repeat the rules to me, and then I put them up on the  board.  If students aren’t working, I go up to them and ask: “What is Rule 1?” or if they are talking when other people are doing their presentation I will go up to them and ask: “What is Rule 2?”  — I really don’t like it when students talk during presentations, so I often ask them to repeat what the student giving the presentation says.  (it is also good to help them with their listening skills).

But having all the discipline in the world won’t help you if you don’t have a good lesson plan, come to class unprepared or un-engaged, or (here in Korea a distressingly common problem) hung over.  If you don’t care, why should your students?  Also your lessons have to be relevant and actually have something they can use.  You also can’t expect  40 teenagers to just sit there and pay attention while you drone on. Seriously you have to mix it up.

Jenna Makowski has a post up on managing teens: and she talks a lot about varying the activities.  I agree with her in principle.  She talks in the blog post about playing games. Normally I do use games much in the classroom, although my probably copyright infringed version of “Clue” works really well.  My biggest reason for not using board games is that in a class with 16-30 students a board game is just not practical at all. The dice get thrown around and lost, the students either have to wait to long or if you put them in different groups keeping your eye on everyone is too difficult. So I modified “Clue” so students are in teams and each team has to ask the other teams for the cards they want, then I allow all the teams to “guess” who murdered “Mr. Body” and the team that has the most  correct guesses wins.  It sounds complicated, but it does work.    Ms. Makowski has some great ideas for grammar and vocabulary games.  I would add a modified “Taboo” for vocabulary – have the students have to give a definition of each word, and their team has to guess the word, and the team that gets the most words correct WINS!

Overall Korean students are very good. They usually don’t misbehave in the classroom much.  The biggest problem is sleeping in the classroom. (at least it doesn’t disturb the other students as long as they don’t snore) –  1/2 of my students don’t want to be in the English classroom at all. Still I’ve found that if I can give the students activities they are able to do, and the tools to do them, they will usually do what you need them to do in the classroom. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem here, but I haven’t gotten to upset about it. Most of the time if I find a student sleeping, I’ll ask if she is ill. Many times they will say “no”, but if they are, I let them sit in back and put their head down.  I also try to remember that I really have no idea what is going on in her life.  I don’t know if she was up all night because of a sister that was ill, or if she had to work to help the family out, or if she was left alone in the apartment and was scared of something or someone (my students are all over 16 so it isn’t neglect although that does happen here too).  I just don’t know. So I try to be compassionate.

To be continued.


2 Responses to keeping it cool: Classroom management in the ESL classroom

  1. Breda says:

    Thanks for the tips. I am so terrible with discipline and keeping order! 😦

  2. Seoulgrub says:

    I like your “rule routine” – I think I’m going to use it. In regards to the sleeping students, what if you make them stand up in the back of the classroom?

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