Classroom Management in Young Learner Classes
During my career as an ESL teacher I have come across plenty of teachers who dread teaching children. Because they are naughty. Because they cannot concentrate. Because all they want to do is run around and make a lot of noise. Having taught kids for six years now I wholeheartedly agree with all the aforementioned complaints. It takes however a few things to bear in mind to make your YL classes work like magic.
Teamwork, games and the sense of competitiveness
Students love competitions and YL are no exception. The only difference is that they love them even more! Hence you should take every opportunity to turn any activity into a contest. Start up by dividing the class into two or more groups. Give each team a name e.g. oranges and apples or red and blue. Very YL tend to forget which group they belong to so use colored chalk to mark their desks. On the blackboard write each group's name and give them an equal numbers of points for a start. Warn the students they you will erase their points if anyone from the group shouts, walks around, keeps talking, does not raise their hand etc. Tell them that points will be added if group members speak English or complete tasks successfully. Reward the kids for every positive thing they do. Keep in mind that rewards have a much more encouraging and motivating effect than any form of punishment.
Demonstration not explanation
Whatever your experience may imply, always remember that children are not adults. Consequently different techniques have to be used to explain to the students what you require. Forget checking instructions and wordy explanations. As an alternative, resort to demonstrations or ask a stronger student to explain what s/he understood to the other students.
Rules and routine
Children need order and quickly get used to routines and habitual activities. If you notice that e.g. blowing a whistle gets their attention, keep practising that. Try to start and end a lesson in the same or similar way or have some always repeating elements in it. For instance, a good starting point is dividing a class into groups and a good finishing point might be counting the points and drawing stars for all the group members on the poster. Be strict about the rules you want the students to follow as well. For example, let them get used to the fact that you will give coloring worksheets only to the students who have already taken out their crayons.
Encouraging the usage of TL
Try to make students use TL (target language) from the very first classes. Expose them to the basic phrases and repeat these each time an opportunity comes up. Ignore the students who insist on using their mother tongue and they will sooner or later adjust to your behavior. Reward the ones who use TL by giving their group points, clapping or verbal praise.
Getting the students' attention
YL classes tend to be noisy by definition so raising your voice or shouting has a poor chance of success. Instead, try using sound making objects - toy musical instruments (drums, maracas, trumpet), whistles, rattles, bells etc. Not only will you save your throat but you will bring some fun to the classroom as well.
Praise and rewards
Nothing works better for students than a decent amount of praise. When it comes to kids however feel free to praise them all the time for the smallest things they do or say properly. They might not be able to understand "very good", "great" or "excellent" but they will surely get "bravo", "super" or "perfect". Thumbs up, clapping hands and a huge smile on a teacher's face will definitely help the kids realize that they did a great job and made you pleased. Create a way of rewarding your students as well. Draw smiling faces, stars or use stamps or stickers to show your appreciation. Put up posters on the walls with the students names to keep record of their good work. Never stoop to bribery or material rewards. Sweets or mascots may make young learners do quietly what you order but once you forget the reward or want to quit the procedure a tragedy will follow.
Drama and acting
Do not be afraid to make a clown out of yourself. Teaching YL more than any other type of teaching requires acting skills. Make faces, use body language and your voice. While presenting new vocabulary and drilling it is possible to make kids repeat words even ten times only by changing the tone of your voice. Thus if you want them to repeat the word "papaya" sound angry, quiet, interested, helpless, hopeful, surprised and so on. There is no way that they will not enjoy it.
A little fluffy helper
Sometimes course books offer mascots or puppets thematically connected to the topics covered by the book, so do not be afraid to use them. Otherwise find any old mascot of yours and bring it to the classroom. Give it a name and age, and as the lessons proceed create its likes, dislikes, favourite food, color etc. Young learners get attached to mascots very quickly, especially if you bring it to every class and let the students touch, hug and talk to it. My students love offering our puppet water and got very concerned when Boo (its name) got ill and had to go to hospital!
Young Learners have loads of energy that we adults sometimes lack. It would be unwise not to use such a benefit though. Therefore make them move as much as you can. Think of games that involve running, races, coming to the blackboard. If you use songs or chants create movements to accompany them. Not only will it be a vent for the kids' energy but it will also enable them to memorize the new vocabulary better.
Always have an extra activity ready for the fast finishers. If kids have nothing to do they usually start walking around, talking etc, which is something we should try to prevent from happening. The extra activity does not have to be a worksheet though. You might tell the student(s) to draw the teacher, the classroom or his favourite animal in his notebook for instance. They might also be asked to help you organize your materials before the lesson is over or clean up the classroom.
Problematic students are the nightmare of every teacher but there are ways to deal with them. First, remember to praise any naughty kid for any good thing they do in front of all the other children. If necessary exaggerate! "Look everybody! Leyla has her notebook today! Well done! You are a very good student, Leyla! I'm proud of you!", and so on. After a few weeks they will crave your praise, so then feel free to use that. Make little naughty-no-more kids your helpers. Let them distribute the worksheets, play with the puppet etc.
Smile! Hug! Pat the students' on the heads! Whatever happens, try to be positive and optimistic. Make an angry face when the students are naughty but don't shout. Children have to know that you are also their friend.© Anita Kwiatkowska 2008