Many new TEFL teachers, perhaps motivated by the prospect of tiny hugs and drawings, are delighted to take on the challenge of teaching English children. Soon these teachers learn that cute as they might be, little learners make for big headaches if your class gets out of control. However, these classroom management techniques will allow you to channel their energy into positive learning.
1. Praise good behavior
Even more than adults, children love positive attention. While it may feel counter intuitive, zero in on the student who is behaving as instructed and praise how well they are doing in front of the class. Even if there is only one student who is sort of paying attention- this will work magic! For example, maybe you give a big thumbs up and say “Wow, Juan is listening!” while cupping your hands to your ears to demonstrate “listen”. Use of gestures and a peppy voice are as important as what you say so that even low-level students are sure to understand what you mean. Continue praising each student as they begin to adapt to the correct behavior: “Great! Now Irene is listening too! Fantastic job! Irene and Juan!”
2. Learn their names
This is essential in any ESL classroom, but with children it can make or break your classroom management. Decorate name markers on the first day to use in class for the year, or consider giving them a nametag to wear if your class is active.
3. Establish Clear Routines and Guidelines
Start every day with a daily routine, starting song, or welcome game. Make sure that it is simple, quick and fun for them. Develop and keep another routine for transitioning into new activities (maybe a clean-up song, or “Supply Captains” who organize the materials at the table…etc) and structure all class activities according to the same general pattern. For example, maybe after daily routine you always read a story, play a game, learn a song and then do a craft. Consistency with the structure of your class helps your students understand and adapt to your expectations which long term will make things run much more smoothly.
4. Adapt to short attention spans
Even the best-intentioned kids have much less ability to concentrate on a task than their adult counterparts, so it´s important to segment your class into many short activities rather than a few long ones. Luckily, children quite like repetition so feel free to repeat successful activities in future lessons adapted to new Target Language.
5. Never Yell
It´s normal to get frustrated, but aside from the damage to rapport negative feedback can bring, raising your voice, threatening big punishments or even punishing the class as a whole are all just ultimately ineffective strategies. Particularly because it is unlikely your students will even understand what you shout at them and might instead just disregard you- making everything much worse! In the case of a particularly bad student who does not respond to your best positive efforts, consider speaking to them, their parents, or other teachers privately.
Approach the problem beginning with good feedback, with the aim of trying to get to the bottom of the situation. For example, “Susana, I know you are very kind and I love that in class you are great at making friends. I feel confused when I see you speaking to others while I give instructions because I know that you know it’s better to listen. What’s going on?” Often, reminding your students that you are on the same team and that your problem is with their behavior and not them personally changes their attitude completely.