Every teacher of young learners has probably been in a situation where classroom management was not exactly ideal. It may have been a game that made learners get too noisy, or a mingling activity that got a little out of control. As a teacher, I have certainly been in a situation like that and you probably have, too. In this article, we are going to discuss some ideas and strategies that can help us positively manage a classroom when we teach young learners.
It is important to start with something that seems obvious, but we should never forget: children are not adults. If we expect them to behave like us, we are going to be in big trouble. To successfully teach children, we must take their characteristics into account. Many people will associate classroom management with students’ behaviour in class – and it is indeed one of the factors we talk about when we talk about classroom management, but it is more than that.
Classroom management is not only about discipline. It is not only about making students behave the way we want them to. It is about organising an effective learning process. Nowadays, most of us believe that children should be at the centre of their learning process,
but we are still the organisers of this process.
So, the first step for successfully managing a classroom is planning. But how much planning can we do? We can plan the environment, activities, materials, patterns of interaction, instructions, and timing. To start, the environment should be welcoming, comfortable, safe, and organised, and there are two things that can help us with that: rules and routines.
We should have as few rules as possible. When we have too many rules, they might be too challenging for children to understand, remember and follow them. We also run the risk of making our environment less fun, and children may feel demotivated. This is not what we want. Too many rules also give the impression that they are not important.
We should involve learners into making the classroom rules. We can have students work together on a list of basic classroom rules, by eliciting what learners think they should or shouldn’t do in the classroom to help us create the rules. When we teach, we always try to put our students at the centre or their learning process, right? The same idea applies to the creation of classroom rules: they should be included in this process. Always remind learners that they helped create the rules according to how they think we should behave in the classroom.
Children have no awareness of unwritten rules, and we cannot follow rules if we do not know what they are. That is why it’s so important to make learners aware of the rules they should follow.
It is essential that any rules we establish are perceived as fair by the children and that we can actually enforce them. By the way, enforcing rules is extremely important in the classroom. Learning how to follow rules is part of the development of a child, they learn that we all follow
rules to live as an organized society. And they learn that breaking the rules has consequences.
Routines are patterns of behaviour in which everyone knows what they are expected to do. With young learners, routines play an especially important role, because they help children feel secure and confident in the classroom. Children are only just learning how the world works, so having routines help them feel secure and confident, because they know what they are expected to do. Routines foster a sense of community and belonging by making children part of a group, and promote cooperation, for example when we all help tidy up the classroom
Having established routines can be a shortcut for teachers because they help us save time, our energy, and our voice. Once we establish routines, children will only need a prompt to know what to do. We can create gestures, for example, or use pictures to represent different
- Activities and materials
When planning activities and materials, they should be engaging, because we need learners to be motivated. Demotivated children tend to get disruptive.
It is particularly important to consider children’s short attention span. Children cannot focus for a long time, like we do. So, it is best if we plan short activities. Another important aspect is planning different kinds of activities. This means that we should anticipate the effect that the
activities can have on learners. If we plan a game, for example, we should be aware that games tend to stir students, make them more agitated. So, after a game, it is important to plan a settling activity, something to calm them down.
Maybe you are thinking: OK, I have just discovered the secret to teaching children: I’m only going to plan calm activities, so they are always calm. But this plan does not stand a chance because of one of the innate characteristics of children: they need movement. Moving their
little bodies is part of their development. So, they are going to move because they need to move. That is why it is better to plan for this need for movement, rather than being surprised by children who cannot sit still.
They should be simple and short. In most cases, children have limited English, so it is ideal to keep instructions simple and with language they understand. They also should be short so learners can follow and remember them. What if you are trying to do a more complex activity with them? In this case, we should break down the instructions. Do not explain everything all at once. Break down the activity in different stages and give them the instructions for each stage. This will help learners follow your instructions. As much as we want out lessons to be student-centred, with young learners, we still need to lead them, guide them through the activities in the lesson. Modelling is another important aspect of giving instructions, as it allows us to check if learners have understood what they are supposed to do.
- Patterns of interaction
Patterns of interaction are the different possibilities in which students can interact with each other and with the teacher in the classroom. There are different patterns of interaction we can plan in the classroom:
- Teacher – whole group
The teacher interacts with all students at the same time. Although it is often said that Teacher – Whole Group should be avoided because it raises teacher talking time, it is also an excellent way of exposing students to quality input, drawing their attention to language items.
- Individual work
Sometimes we worry so much about planning communicative activities that we forget that students also need time to work on their own. It is important to include some individual work in our lessons, too.
- Pair/Group work
It allows students to work together and enable them to help and learn from each other while working collaboratively.
When students mingle, they speak to as many partners as they can. We should be aware that mingling can get noisy. It is usually an engaging activity. One way to have a more organised way of mingling is to create stations: we can group students and have some of them move to different stations while others stay at the station. Another possibility is the choo-choo train/train station: students are organised in two lines. One of the lines stay in place while the other moves, allowing learners to speak to more than one partner.
Above everything, more than strategies and techniques, we need to look at and see our students as individuals, to understand what will work for our classroom.
Halliwell, Susan, Teaching English in the Primary Classroom (1992), Longman Group
Moon, Jayne, Children learning English (2000), Macmillan Heinemann
Read, Carol, Managing children positively (2005), English Teaching Professional
Read, Carol, The challenge of teaching children (1998), English Teaching Professional