Last week’s post, Fixing a Broken Classroom Dynamic, was about the basic steps of determining and solving problems that arise in a classroom. After receiving a few requests for more specific suggestions to specific problems, I decided to write a follow up post.
This week I’m going to troubleshoot some common classroom problems. These are all issues that I’ve had to confront over the years, and though I’d like to take credit for all of the solutions, many of them came from talking to other teachers or managers during my time as a teacher. If you have a different suggestion, please post it in the comment section–collaborative solutions are always the best ones.
Common Problem Number 1: The Bully
Kids can be cruel. The reasons behind this are beyond the scope of this blog to try and reason out, so let’s all agree that kids aren’t evil, but they can be pretty nasty to each other. For example, just the other day I was covering a class and I encountered a particularly challenging eleven year old girl who knocked a younger girl half her size to the ground during an activity. Supposedly it was an accident, but as the class progressed I noticed that this female bully kept bumping the other girl’s seat with her shoe. It was clear she was doing this just because it made the younger girl upset.
There are a number of ways to deal with a bully as the teacher. One often overlooked solution is simply to talk to the student outside of class, tell them that the behavior is not acceptable and ask them why they are doing it. I don’t find threats a very effective strategy for dealing with classroom issues, but if you do make one (e.g. calling their parents) make sure that you follow through with it. If you don’t, that child will own you.
For less severe bully cases, a strategy that has worked for me is simply to make “respect each other” a classroom rule. There might need to be some translation to explain the concept, but after it’s on the list of rules, you can simply point to it every time the rule is broken. If a student continues to break the rule, have them sit next to the teaching assistant who can explain how they broke the rule.
Common Problem Number 2: Good Student to Student Interactions…but Not in English
Spending an entire class period speaking in a foreign language is tiring. However, if the students are only communicating to each other in their first language, they won’t improve. In my opinion, some teachers can be a bit too strict with rules about reverting to L1. The students are there with their friends, of course they want to chat from time to time or might even need clarification about the rules of a game or activity.
Instead of yelling at them not to use their first language, I find that it is more effective to explain to students why they should be using English for some activities. Show them the mechanics of an activity and how practicing a structure will help them remember it and feel comfortable using it. Explain to them what fluency is and how they can improve it.
Having said that, I do still have to remind my teens to speak in English from time to time. In some of my classes, we’ve adopted a classroom strategy of funny penalties for speaking in L1. For example, singing a song at the end of class, becoming the teacher’s helper, doing ten jumping jacks, etc. This has the added benefit of being very entertaining to both myself and the rest of the class. I suggest letting the class come up with their own penalties.
Common Problem Number 3: They Just Aren’t Learning Anything!
First of all, that’s probably not true no matter how much it may seem like it. More than likely, the textbook or curriculum being used is beyond their level. Discuss this with your DoS and then make a few changes.
Try to simplify the lessons and make sure that the next textbook they move to is at the same level. Another strategy is to slow down the pace. If they can’t remember all of the vocabulary or grammar, try cutting the number of new items in half and spreading it over two lessons. Again, discuss this with your manager first as doing this will throw the pacing out of whack.
Common Problem Number 4: The Students are Hyperactive
Some students simply do not want to sit down. They are so full of energy that it seems to ooze out of them. If the majority of the class is like this, as is common for YL, make sure that you use a lot of energy burning activities. Keep them active so that when they do need to sit and focus, they are already tired out.
If it’s just one student who has figurative ants in his pants, then make them the teacher’s helper. They can erase the board, hand out pencils, etc. to keep them active.
Common Problem Number 5: A Class Full of Chatterboxes
This can be a frustrating problem especially if the students are talking to each other instead of paying attention to you. One trick is to use attention grabbers such as a bell, clap or call and response. Once you ring the bell (or other) wait for five seconds of silence before moving on. If a student talks during that time, you can penalize the team.
Random group assignments are another way to get them to focus on the classroom tasks instead of hanging out with their friend. At the start of class, give students a number “1” or “2”. Then have all the ones sit together and all the twos sit together.
Common Problem Number 6: Shy Students Who Won’t Talk
Sometimes the opposite of a talkative class occurs. This is possibly more difficult to deal with than the previous problem. It’s easier to get students to be quiet long enough to listen to the teacher than it is to get silent students talking.
One method for dealing with this is to make the activities simple so that the student/s feel confident. If it’s a speaking activity, consider letting them keep their books open or have notes. Another thing to consider is that they might be intimidated by you. This is often true of very young learners when they first join a class. One way to help them get over this fear is to have them speak to a puppet instead of you. They might feel scared talking to teacher Nate (me) but they have no issue talking to Mr. Elephant (also me).
Be patient and give them time to talk. Sometimes they have the answer, but the teacher cuts them off before they can speak. This is often true of students who are perfectionists and don’t want to make mistakes. Let them take their time.
Common Problem Number 7: My Students are Bored
This is inevitable if you keep doing the same things. Try to keep things fresh by trying out new activities. Also, get them involved in the class planning. You can have them create games and activities and/or choose the topics that will be covered.
Figure out their goals and come up with ways to achieve them. If you’d like help with this you can gain access to several free resources by clicking on the buttons below.
The sharebook is an example of a book of activities made by the students themselves.
The survey is a method of finding out what interests your students. This will help to keep them engaged.