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ESL Classroom

How to maintain order in your ESL classroom

The first few weeks of teaching English are fun and exciting. Students will stand up and clap as you enter and give you gifts as you leave. Teachers will shake your hands and administrators will take you out to fancy dinners.

You will think the students and staff are transfixed by every word that leaves your mouth. Your lessons will be acclaimed as brilliant and you will be asked to give advice to the native Chinese teachers about their lessons.

Everyone will watch you and everything you do will be considered interesting and funny.

Enjoy those first few weeks while you can!

Eventually, the novelty will wear off and you will just be another warm body in front of the class. It may happen gradually but it will happen.

Students will begin to fidget and whisper and stare at the ceiling. You will feel that you are losing your edge and you may question your teaching skills.

Don’t worry! Every teacher experiences these feelings eventually but it is important to learn how to control your classroom after the initial interest has dissipated. Here are some tips to help you maintain order in the classroom:

  • For the younger grades, inform your school you need a Chinese staff member to sit in on the class with you and keep an eye on the students. It is difficult to maintain control of a classroom if you are alone with a bunch of students who can’t speak English.
  • Make sure you set the ground rules early. Don’t wait for the novelty to wear off. Be stern about the rules at the beginning and set the tone for the entire semester. Your initiative will be well worth it!
  • Clearly spell out the consequences for bad behavior. Consequences might include standing in a corner, losing out on playing a game, writing sentences in a notebook or calling parents. Consult with your school administration about what is appropriate.
  • Never show favoritism. If your brightest student in class is talking or making a disturbance, he or she should face the same consequences as everyone else.
  • Use positive reinforcement as much as possible. One way to do use positive reinforcement is to give a piece of candy to the quietest boy and quietest girl at the end of the class. You can dub these gifts “quiet awards.” If the students get a little noisy during class, you can remind them you are always watching to see who will win the quiet awards. Another method is to promise the students you will play a game with them if they are quiet. Make sure you followup on this promise.
  • Divide the students into groups and have them compete against each other for the title of “Best Behaved.” This is a method used by ESL and Chinese teachers alike. You can draw columns on the blackboard and add or take away stars depending on students’ behavior. This encourages students to be quiet for the team’s sake.
  • Make sure your lessons are interactive and understandable. Keeping your students involved in your lesson is key to keeping them quiet. If they are engaged in what you are teaching, they will be less tempted to make trouble. It is important for you to be enthusiastic about your lesson and make every attempt to teach in a way that is easy to understand. Many ESL teachers have used acting, singing, and dancing to supplement their lessons.

Don’t ever lose your cool. Being angry is ok but it is never appropriate to yell at a student or to physically touch them. Blowing up in anger will only cause your students (and the school) to lose respect for you. Choose your words and your actions carefully.

Finally, remember that every ESL teacher will have good days and bad days just like every student will have good days and bad days. There will be days when it seems that no matter your effort, students will just not pay attention. On these days, do your best to work through your classes and don’t get discouraged. Teaching English in China can be difficult but if you have the right attitude, you can enjoy yourself no matter what.

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