Every class is different, so ways to manage a classroom aren’t cut and dried: there’s no simple list of things that go wrong together with standard solutions. Teaching experience is a huge advantage as gives you the chance to try different teaching methods and find out which ones work. These suggestions can be experimented with and adapted to suit your own students.
Why have a plan?
It is of the utmost importance that you always make a plan. If any teacher goes into a class without a plan, it usually ends up improvised with no clear start, finish, or aim. The students can see this a mile away, and it can be hard to inspire them to learn when no clear indication of effort has been shown on your part.
A plan on the other hand shows the teacher cares and has a clear aim. The previous lesson aim is revised, homework checked, target language is taught and practiced and the students receive more homework. It is framed and there is a routine. The students will feel in safe in the hands of their conscientious teacher. It also means that you go into a class more confident and relaxed. Lesson plans do, however, need to be flexible as you never know what’s going to happen, but when you have a basic frame work this can be moulded to whichever situation arises. For instance, imagine you want to teach the past simple tense, but once start you find that students already know it. Then you can use the presentation part of the lesson as a review and allot more time on the practise tasks.
If students are late, waiting can disrupt the structure of a good plan and make the subject harder to teach. It’s best to start your class straight away, and use it to your advantage by asking the punctual students to explain what they’ve been doing to the latecomers. It’s a perfect real-life situation for them to practise speaking English.
Making a plan will take up a lot of time at first but, with practice, they’ll get easier. You can even save your plans and re-use them another time.
What is effective classroom management?
Effective classroom management promotes efficiency and a healthy learning environment. Set the pattern from the first day; recent investigation suggests the pace is set in the first two weeks, so there’s no time to waste. It’s a good idea to explain your expectations to the students; if they tell you theirs too, it can encourage more involvement and interaction. This may also show them how seriously you take your job and that you expect them to work hard to establish a working environment.
It’s also important to provide every student, not matter what their level, with the opportunity to interact in English and participate in all the activities. They all deserve the same attention.
What do we need to know about students?
In order to create lesson plans that are tailored to your students, you need to know more about them:
Why they are learning English
How they prefer to learn
What things they like doing in class
Outside interests: i.e. music & cinema. (this can help you find interesting topics as a medium for teaching the school syllabus)
This information helps you to plan lessons by focusing directly on students’ needs and preferences, promoting a caring and safe environment for learning to take place. You must also bear in mind the different ages and cultures of all the students, and choose materials and topics with care. In some cultures, students are expected to listen to the teacher and not ask questions, in such cases it is of vital importance to encourage them to interact in the class.
Creating a positive environment
Consistently reinforcing high expectations from the students will ensure that they know your expectations. Here are some ideas:
Provide a points and reward system. Put students’ names on a chart on the wall. Every time they make a big effort, do homework, and so forth, they earn a point (or for the younger learners, a star); then at the end of the month they get a reward. Be careful not to just award people for high quality work, otherwise the weaker students will get disheartened. So it’s best to award points for effort and hard work.
Pin the students work on the wall to see: if they know other students are going to see their work, they’re more likely to try harder.
Praise for good effort. This can work wonders and only takes a second.
Student of the week/month certificate. The advantages are obvious but, as always, there are some disadvantageous too; if one student earns the certificate several times and others not at all, it could be demoralising. So like all these techniques, be careful and sensitive.
Group rewarding. Try splitting the class into groups, and award each group points based on effort or performance. That way, students who are not under as much pressure. It can be very useful in difficult situations.
In any points system, always allow students to make up for points/stars not gained. For instance, if a student hasn’t done his homework, allow him to earn his point/star by re-doing his homework “with a little extra”. These techniques are great with younger learners and teenagers, and you could even use them to add a fun dimension to an adult class.
Moving on now to the materials and syllabus you use in class. No matter what the group level or age, it’s a good idea to focus directly on their needs and preferences as it’s often an area of complaint from many students. You’ll be surprised how often you hear someone say that they told the teacher that they needed to learn English for travelling and yet the teacher hadn’t focused on it yet. Focusing directly on students’ needs is more motivating and students appreciate that you’re thinking about them when you plan your lessons. Otherwise, they may think you are not listening.
A few more important points in this section are:
1. Assess students based on their accomplishment of the objective and not with each other. It makes the class friendlier and less competitive between students, and promotes a more sharing environment.
Make your classroom activities diverse and interesting. Try to surprise them.
2. Organising your classroom
Seating arrangements depend on factors like your students’ age, culture, classroom size and the aim of the lesson. The horseshoe shape is particularly useful as it allows you to interact with all of your students, while your students have a clear view of you and the board. It is also easy to mix up paired work, as students can work with the person to their right and then change to the person to their left with no upheaval. It can be best to organise the seats/desks before the students come to class.
However, there are many classroom arrangements and they are all useful. For instance, Buzz groups are great for sharing information, while rows good for exams.
It’s always useful to chop and change groups, so that all the students get a chance to work with each other. The sharing and exchanging of ideas helps them become more of a group. You could even set a seating chart/rota to help with this.
For younger learners, sitting on the floor is great. The kids can wriggle and fidget all they want and pens and jotters/note books don’t fall on the floor.
Also before your students come in, make sure that you’ve got all the equipment you need (audio, video, etc) and that it’s all working.
3. Making rules & routines
Set the classroom rules on the first day. You could discuss this with the class and even ask them to make the rules themselves. This often prompts them to feel more involved in their own learning and take the rules more seriously. However, make sure there are consequences if they break any of them rules and that they are followed through. The students can even make the consequences, too, just make sure they’re fair and realistic! A maximum of 10 rules should be enough; it’s useful to put them on a poster for all to see partly as a reminder and partly as a good way to memorise whole structures. Remember to take into account the ages of the students: it’s best used with kids, but it can be fun with adults, too (if arrives late they put 50 cents into a box, then at the end of the month it can pay for the drinks!)
4. Maintaining motivation
Many students start the year excited about the new course and teacher, and it’s key to keep it like this all the academic year. Here are some techniques you could use or adapt:
At the end of every term, make a scrapbook magazine of their work. This could be for each individual student or a class magazine. You could also use it the following year so your new class knows what’s expected of them. Letting students design, set up and create the magazine from scratch will encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning.
Use new technology if you have it. Things like beamers and overhead projectors can add a fun dimension to the lesson.
Always check homework and provide timely feedback, otherwise students will feel you are not taking it seriously and they simply won’t do it.
Make sure your grading is consistent.
Students need to feel and see they are learning; apart from praise, a physical record of this is useful and many schools have tests and reports. Remember to inform student of this system well before the end of term and let them know in advance if they are in danger of performing badly. That way, you can help the students who are struggling.
Provide students with the tools to expose themselves to English outside the classroom: things like English theatre, International nights in pubs where people speak in English.
Don’t settle for any less than students’ best effort.
Quite a few ideas to work with, all of which can be adapted or improved depending on your particular experience and the students’ age or culture! This, together with empathy for your students will provide you with useful tools to help manage a classroom efficiently.