How to Manage Elementary School ESL Classes

How to Manage Elementary School ESL Classes

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Classroom management is one of the most difficult aspects of being an ESL teacher. First, there are the cultural differences of what methods and punishments are appropriate. There is also the language barrier. To me, it's also no surprise that the classes with the most discipline problems also have the highest number of kids who dislike English.

If you're an ALT working in a public school in Japan, you'll most likely be team teaching with another Japanese teacher. In this case, you won't really be required to maintain class control but you may find yourself teaching alone sometimes. So let's take a look at classroom management and see if there is something that you can apply to your class.

Fact #1: You can't control everything.
And you shouldn't try. I know there is a tendency, when your standing in front of your class, to want every eye and ear to be glued and hanging on your every word. It's just not going to happen. Kids have tons of energy and an active imagination so if a child makes an occasional remark to their neighbor or is fidgeting in their seat, don't worry about it. It's when they forget that they are in English class...

Fact #2: A fun class is an orderly class.
Motivation. It's common sense that children who enjoy the activities that you have planned, are more likely to cooperate with the lesson. Be creative and full of movement. Do things that are unexpected. In Japan all of our class begin with a robotic, simple greeting. ALT: Good morning everyone. Class: Good Morning Mr. Ralens and Ms... What if the ALT said Good monkey or Good afro hair (afternoon) instead. Are your kids listening?

Fact #3: A well planned class is an orderly class.
Plan your lessons in a way so that every minute of the class is accounted for. Every second that you need to, "think of what to do next," during class time is a count down to class meltdown. You'll also need to consider the age of the students as you plan your class. A class for first grade students should have many (between 6 and 7) different activities (skits, singing, games etc.) ranging from 1.5 minutes in length to no more than 7 minutes in length. This is probably also appropriate up to fourth grade. Fifth and sixth graders can enjoy activities that last longer than seven minutes.

So what should you do if you find your lesson plan coming up short and there is still class time left? Should you find that your lesson is between 5-10 minutes short, you'll want to maintain an arsenal of backup activities that are flexible enough for nearly any topic and that require little to no setup or explanation. Some of these activities include the What's Missing Game, Gesture Janken, and silent skits (the actors act out the skit silently while the class speaks out the dialog).

Fact #4: Get serious.
Often times, you can bring a class back into control by rewarding the one or two students who are behaving. If Sally is sitting quietly and attentive, make a big deal out of it, and give her some extra points or a stamp or whatever. This works until about third grade. Inevitably, you'll face a student that will challenge your classroom authority. Thus it's useful to have a series of elevated actions so the student has a chance to correct their bad behavior before it gets too far out of hand. Often times, you can defuse a potential situation by simply standing near the offender to be (DEFCON 4). A dirty look (raised eyebrow) and writing that student's name on the board also works. The next level above that is to move the student to a different seat, separating them from their friends or whatever it was that was distracting them from the lesson (DEFCON 3). DEFCON 2 is immediate game over and time out. DEFCON 1 is getting kicked out of English class and/or talking with the homeroom teacher about the student's behavior. If you find that the student is still misbehaving, you could negotiate some loss of recess time for that student. Overall, it's best to plan your lesson well, with appropriate and fun activities, so that you don't enter into the DEFCON scenario. If you do find yourself there though, make sure the student understand that the problem is with the behavior not the student and never hold a grudge.

The bottom line is this: distraction is better than reaction. If you plan your lessons well, with plenty of fun and interesting activities, the children will be so wow'ed (distracted) by the fun they're having that, other than small spats, there shouldn't be any real need for corporal style discipline.

On the other hand, when a student decides to challenge your authority, it's like boiling water. As the water heats up, there's one bubble and then another and another and before you know it, you're cooked. If one student gets away with misbehaving, you'll soon have a whole class room of students misbehaving.

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