Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Behaviour Issues in the ESL Classroom... Some Suggestions And Ideas

Over the past two years teaching ESL in Korea, I've had like any teacher in any country, a lot of good days but also a few bad. However, the difference between us teachers abroad, especially those of us teaching in a country that doesn't speak our native tongue, is that we have this thing called the 'honeymoon period' that lasts a little longer than compared to the average teacher back home who started teaching for the first time or at a new school.

This is because of the new country and new adventure we've embarked on as part of the teaching abroad experience. Everything is new, we're often the new and perhaps strange foreigner at our school and so, for the first few weeks -perhaps even months - we are still a novelty in the classroom...however, it does fade and we face those days that every teacher encounters - the day(s) our students are *gasp* badly behaved. 

Now, I do not claim to be some amazing know-it-all teacher - I try my best and especially appreciate when other experienced teachers give me tips and advice. I've also got a few teachers in the family, my mother included -so I grew up around teachers and I am lucky to have them as support if I have a question or want advice.

So, in this post I'd like to go over some of the class management methods and ideas that I have used or heard about and would like to try. If you've got more you can suggest - that has been tired and found useful I'd love to hear more. 


1. Team A vs. Team B
I heard this from a friend recently because I was having some recent difficulties with my grade 5 classes especially. She told me how she had used team A and team B in her class and it worked quite well. I also love this because it's rewarding good behaviour. It's always better to have positive re-enforcements rather than negative.

First, at the very beginning of class separate the students into two teams. I just motion to cut the class in half with my arms, by standing in the centre. The teams aren't always equal but it's not important I find, as long as it's round about the same. I quickly tell them they are team A and team B on the other side. Then I explain the "game". I tell the students, after drawing up a tally table on the board - that they will be awarded points if they are good. This means listening, hands up for asking/answering questions, quiet, no talking when the teacher is talking, etc. Then I offer a prize for only one team, the winning team. Which for the first classes was candy... I had to start the bribe high. lol  But now, I have taken to giving out stars for our 'star system' that leads to a school coupon if they get ten stars. And also, I've let the team leave early or they can start the game before the other team, they choose the song, etc. (See Star Management System here). 

Usually, because I teach ESL beginners at elementary - I say "Point for being good. Point if you listen. Listen - point. Hands up - point! No talking when I am talking - point. Good students - point. If you are the good team I will give you a candy." 

Now,  I have done it for the past  month and I admit, for one particularly naughty grade 5 class - it was not so successful in the beginning. There's sadly a group of boys in that class that have been so unruly, even their home room teacher has turned to drastic measures and parents are involved. But it has started working, in the 2nd week of doing this.

However, the good news is = for all my other grade 5 classes, this worked. And it's working well. I have quickly stopped the candy and been fine giving out stars. Also, I don't promise them anything any more, they sort of get into the routine that they are on a team and want to win. Also, the students have done most of the discipline! The team members will tell a student to hurry and open their books. Have their pencil ready, etc.

At the beginning of class now I'll quickly remind them what team they're in and then I'll say something like "Open your books to page ___, get your pencil ready, hands on head. Team A? Team b? who is finished?" And I will award the team who is ready first with a point. I have loved how fast they get ready now, class can start and we don't waste time getting them settled any more.

Of course, you can do this with more than 2 teams, and if you have your class set in rows or groups you can do it by row or group. 

DON'T fall into the "minus point" trap. This is never as successful as simply awarding the other team points for being good - better, than the opposing team. Negative points are exactly that - negative and empty.

2. Clean Up Crew

My 6 grade students and 5th grade students are in many ways worlds apart when it comes to disciplining them. The Team A and B doesn't work as well with them as they are (sadly) growing into teenagers who have a don't care attitude and like to rebel. Yep, a few of them are happy to sacrifice the candy for their moment of being unruly and smart mouthed...of course, this is only a select few that I can count on my hand. But nonetheless, it ruins it for the rest of them. So instead I made a little 'clean up crew'. I wrote "Clean" on the board and then warned the students that if they are behaving bad, I will write their name under the word clean and that means, they stay behind for 5 minutes (or more) to sweep the floor and wash the desks. They do not like this. I also tell them, once their name is there, it can be wiped off the board, if their behavior improves, so they can work their way back to being good.

This works especially well with those who are distracting during activities, not listening, not participating , talking when I am talking, etc. And I also warn, that if the person who is making a nuisance gets a line under his name, that means the CLASS will stay to clean. This also can be rubbed off. So much like the team A and team B method - the class starts getting really agitated with the main nuisance maker - that they do my disciplining for me. I've also when I've had specific problems with boys - instead of class staying, I say boys stay (or vice versa if that happens) and then 2 lines is the entire class.

Another suggestion from a friend was if you have the students who are sitting next to the nuisance maker or in the nuisance maker's group (if you arrange your class in groups) to be punished with him.

Once again, you can do the team a and b method with this class clean up - by letting the winning team go free and the losing team cleans.,,

3. The Gift


This is a rather odd but useful strategy that I've only used a few times and I was quite brilliantly blown away with how well it went. It was really useful during review or end of year lessons where the kids are harder to control and don't care as much.

A friend of mine told me she did it at high school especially during days they had to revise grammar and not so exciting English. This was usually before testing.
She said, she'd wrap up a cheap notebook, comic, pen ,etc in wrapping paper. She said she liked to use some funky wrapping paper and a bow to really make it look special. Then, at the beginning of class she showed  the gift and said that if the class worked really well, she would pick one name out of a box. (She prepared the names on pieces of paper and put them in a box). The name picked would receive the gift. She then told me however, that she sternly warned her class that if they were not participating, paying attention or not listening - no one's name would be picked and no gift.

She was quite strict so there were a few occasions where no gift was given. But I've yet to be that strict ! It's harder, as I have the little ones. Now, usually I give a candy and a sticker that I have wrapped up or put in a little goodie bag - but a little notebook or pen would be nice too.
And yes, it really does work! The amount of students who wished for the exciting chance of being called - a 1 in 20 or 1 in 25 chance , was amazing. It's sort of , the thrill of being rewarded and feeling lucky in the same boat I guess. I guess a reason why we all play the lottery ...even though the chances are so small.


4. G.A.M.E

This is probably not new to you. I do it every now and again and for the most part it works fast and easily. When we start the lesson I say we have a game planned and say the usual positive "let's finish this first and do it well, then we can have a game". Sometimes, I am met with the cheeky "no game" which is really annoying - but once the game starts those remarks are left deep in the past as they are usually said by those most active in the games. When I start the game I write the word GAME in capitals on the board. I say that if they are not listening or talking when I am talking, we will stop the game and do review work. So, I rub out a letter whenever they play up (are naughty) and if the entire word is erased, the game stops. I've never got to the letter 'M'.



5. "Prize Line" - By Joanne from Head Over Heels For Teaching blog,
This idea definitely sparked my interest.

Now  you can read more about it on her blog and also find lots of other amazing classroom and teaching ideas. It's basically a line of gifts on a close-line and you award students over a longer period of time with the gift. They can be gifts of snacks, candy, etc.

Essentially I like this for a camp or special end of year classes, review before tests, etc. And because I live in Korea where snacks are so cheap. Take a look at her site for more info.



I also saw some interesting ideas on Education World. Com and picked those that I would perhaps use and made it more ESL Korea teacher relevant. Here's 2 I am thinking about...

6. Pasta Discipline 

Similar to team A and B but not required to be in teams. You have a jar or some container that is clear. You fill it with a little macaroni every time  the class does something good. If you manage to fill the jar within the lesson the class gets an award.

Apparently, it's key to let them decide what to "win". I guess I would offer these three choices:


  • English gold star for everyone in class. (10 = English coupon, they can buy a small gift with it)
  • We can watch a 5-10 minute Mr. Bean Episode / just for laughs gag clip next class. (This is great if I've already found a Mr. Bean /gag video that I was going to show anyway! haha! - many match the textbook!)
  • Any game of their choice (from what they have played before in my class) for next class.

You could do this with Team A and B as well. 


7. Three Strikes
I like this one, but for us English teachers who may only visit a school once a week, it might not be as effectual as those of us who are at one main school and therefore see the kids all the time and can then carry out the system constantly.

You give the students three cards with their name on it. If they behave badly, they put one of their cards in a container or fish bowl. Once all three cards are in the bowl they are punished. The students with 3 cards still, by the end of the week or lesson, whatever suits, should be rewarded.

I think you could do this by writing their names on the board instead - don't need to prepare the cards. Although there might be something special in that, the cards allow the students to feel more in control of the choices they make in class.

Now this is where it's tricky as a ESL teacher in Korea.
One of the more frustrating things about my job is that I am not in their "team" when it comes to discipline. There is no detention and many home room teachers don't want to be bothered when it comes to students in their class who need extra discipline. I find I am at a loss to really enforce any consequences other than the occasional cleaning time within the 10 minute break they get to have between classes. So the 3 card system can only work if you have some sort of punishment that you are able to enforce over time. I don't know if 40 minutes would get any of my students 3 cards - if it did, that's scary.


 Activities that are useful to review but are not games and can be used also as...dumm dumm dumm- class punishment.

Now before you get all holier than thou on me and lecture me on how we should never turn learning into punishment and create a negative association to learning - YES, I agree one hundred and fifty percent BUT I am human and I am a teacher who sometimes cannot simply ignore the fact that my class has been completely undeserving of a game I have worked hard to make fun for them...and they still have to bloody-well learn something during this lesson!

Here are some of the activities you could have on hand or quickly make up when your class does not deserve that game!

Fill In The Blanks - Writing Lines
Last year a 5th grade class of mine was being really naughty. Not listening, not caring and just in a foul mood. The class eventually had a fight break out between two boys and I had to physically restrain them. These were FIFTH GRADERS! I know, sad and shocking. I found out later something had happened in the playground that morning and I had just been the unlucky teacher to have them first period for reading club... poor me!

Anyway, so in my frustration I decided that no one deserved a game let alone my amazing one (if I do say so myself). :P

So I quickly wrote on the board a bunch of the key sentences that they were studying in their current English lesson and I purposely left blanks for the key vocab they needed to practice. I wrote about 25 sentences total and told them to work in silence and when they finish, to show me at my desk. If they started to talk I added sentences and the class quickly stopped- that's why it got up to 25, it was 20 to begin with.

This not only punished the class, it was a review - actually learning! We completely stopped the game - and they didn't quite believe that I would do it. But, I followed through with my warning and they were definitely disappointed to be writing lines. Writing lines without blanks is just copying and not really for absorbing information - so I recommend adding blanks that will force them to think about what they write. Plus, you can do it with any topic, any time.

This can also be a nice warm up or warm down for a class - that's not a punishment. You could spice it up to be fun by encouraging originality and definitely doing less sentences.  It's really all in the way you present and your attitude,  In fact, recently I had my class write 2 sentences for an end of topic activity on food, and they were encouraged to be as strange or over the top as possible - and it was an enjoyable non-game activity. See my post about it here: Creating Class Menus: lesson Help Yourself.

Unscramble 
This can take some brain power! And always double check your spelling!

For a last minute 5-10 max activity that reviews spelling and gets them to behave, I write on the board, a bunch of sentences and words that are scrambled. This can be effectively used as a punishment if you have decided to stop a game or other activity because they are not behaving.

It's easy to do, you can go up to the board and hold a textbook in front of you and quickly write a bunch of scrambled words and sentences. Start with words so that the students can start right away and words take less time than writing scrambled sentences...do these later, after about 10-15 words.  E.g. Help yourself = yroulefs leph

You can make it as difficult as you like. I'll do about 20 and have them writing silently in their notebooks then they check with me.
 I usually give a prize to the first 3 or 5 (depending on class size) that finish - that is however, if I am happy with the class. If I have had to do this as a punishment I don't give any prizes.

Sort The Pattern

This one may take preparation but is useful to have on hand as a quick warm up /warm down or in event of a punishment once again.

You simply come up with a bunch of patterns for the class to solve. This can be easy or difficult. It is quite fun for the more advanced students I find and they have actually asked to do this again! So...maybe a punishment for some...lol.

Example patterns that have worked for my ESL students, low level:
I'll tell them to add at least 10 new words. Unless it's impossible like the alphabet one.


  • A,B,C, 123, D,E,F...
  • one, three, five, seven, nine...
  • January first, February second, March...
  • two, four, six...
  • one, two, four, eight...
  • Z, Y, X, W..

Test, Dictation, Spelling

Other simple ways to review a lesson without a game...and perhaps, without "fun" because your class is playing up. Is to do little tests. These can be easily done via dictation. Ask your students to take out their books and listen to the word, and they have to spell the word you say. You can tell your students, if they are being unruly - that they will do 10 words and if the class is talking you will add more words. You can also threat, that if they aren't listening they will have to stay to clean and/or the entire class will do another spelling test next lesson for 3-5 minutes.

They pipe down fast with the last one! No one likes spelling tests...well, that I know of. 


You can make this fun by having them do this as a warm up but only do 3-5 words. Or draw a few objects on the board, ready for when they arrive and have them sit down and spell the words in their notebook - matching your drawings. This can be a good way to review new vocabulary every lesson and you can let them use their textbooks so it's a review - not a punishment, only if you want it to be...as I said, it's all about your delivery. I would also give out points to a team or stars to students who finish first with correct answers.

Impromptu Quizzes 
I did this recently with an after school class - and it wasn't a punishment, it was for some easy English fun. (The computer broke down and I wasn't able to prepare anything extra). I gave them mini-white boards (paper is fine) and asked them quiz questions revolving around alphabet letters and what words start with what. Here's some of the questions I asked:

  1. A food starting with C. 
  2. An animal starting with B.
  3. A country starting with E.
  4. A word starting with S with 4 letters.
(They were scared of spelling but I said, if you can't spell it, draw it, and then we can check spelling later.)

This went really well, as we brainstormed multiplue answers for each question and even my shy students who had original ideas quickly got into it and felt the buzz of coming up with answers that were new and different. Plus, we revised some vocabulary from our textbooks - especially country and food names as we study this in grade 5.You can repeat the questions but change the letters easily. Try to have some answers in mind that they'd know. You can even turn it into a game by awarding points to original answers only.

Alphabet Stew

I've done this game with adults and kids. You give them this worksheet - or have them write the alphabet themselves on a paper or whiteboard.

 Next give them a topic - animals, countries, jobs, foods, 4 letter words, etc. And they have to come up with as many words for each letter of the alphabet as possible. You can play where they do one word per letter or multiple and give them a set time. Allow them to use words from their books also. It's a good way to practice spelling and vocabulary.


Hope some of these help! Let me know of anymore you use and know work well. Appreciate it!

Let's never resort to this...... LOL, but tigers are brilliant aren't they?


 And hopefully, you're classes don't resemble this...all the time...Happy teaching, everyone!

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