BTR-TESOL Unit 3C - Managing Classes

by Iva Crookston



objectives of this unit

the least you should know

new culture

different proficiency levels

interacting together

not paying attention

not participating

negative and disrespectful behavior

comprehensive questions

video examples

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

print and paper based resources



This unit focuses on a crucial topic for effective teaching. Good management of the learners in your classroom is foundational for all else that you do as a teacher. If you don't establish the proper learning atmosphere or keep students on task, paying attention to what they need to do to learn, all your other teaching methods and materials may be in vain. That is why the inability to manage classes of learners is the number one reason why novices get frustrated and give up on teaching.

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Scenario: When things go wrong in the classroom

James, a graduate student from the USA, accepted a job as an English teacher at a high school in Brazil. Happy to teach an intermediate level of a new Business English class, James started working on the class content. Based on engaging and fun teaching methods he had experienced at college, James started creating groups in which students would work together during the semester. His curriculum was based on interactive tasks such as students preparing presentations, working on group projects and creating dialogs.

Very soon he found out that not only were the students at different proficiency levels, making it very difficult to work in groups, but they also seemed hesitant to engage in any group work. Besides that, students hardly ever participated in class, answered questions or paid attention to the lecture. Students were playing with their cell phones, texting each other and carrying on discussions during class. They seemed to show no respect towards the teacher. James was disappointed and lost, not knowing how to pursue his curriculum goals and maintain discipline that would create a good teaching-learning environment.


How would you respond to this situation?

What might be the reasons behind the students’ behavior?

If similar situations occur in your class, does it mean that you are not a good teacher?


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Objectives of this unit

As you work through this unit you will:

  • Discover possible reasons why your students react the way they do.
  • Learn helpful ideas to solve common classroom management issues.
  • See how to approach students of different proficiency levels within one classroom.
  • Understand how to approach cultural differences in your classroom.
  • Feel more confident in the classroom.

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Classroom management: The least you should know

As you work with English learners from different parts of the world you will most likely experience some of the class management challenges James from our scenario experienced such as:

  1. New culture (different teaching and learning styles)
  2. Different proficiency levels in one class
  3. Students who are not used to interacting and working together as a part of a learning process (Previously their success and learning was individual)
  4. Students not paying attention to the lecture
  5. Students not participating in class
  6. Negative and disrespectful behavior from the students

No matter how difficult and impossible it seems to be to resolve those situations, there are ways to succeed. Let’s walk through these challenges together and see that you can do it! The following ideas won’t be necessarily based on the scenario, because unlike James you don’t have to experience all these challenges at one time. Therefore, we will address them separately.

1. New Culture (different teaching and learning styles)

Take time to get to know the culture, the new education system and the school or organization you will be teaching for. Some countries or institutions can even be hesitant letting you use new or different teaching methods so make sure that your boss will be comfortable with it. If possible, start preparing before you go abroad, so you have enough time to become familiar with the new system. It will help you to plan your lessons and prepare materials to take with.

If you will be introducing new teaching methods and activities, be patient with your students because it will take time for them to get use to the new approach and find confidence in it. A clear explanation as well as demonstration will save you time and help prevent confusion. Moreover, new activities should also be introduced by clearly stating the benefits so students become motivated.

Some methods often used in the U.S.A. but not in other countries are: group work, collaboration, giving presentations, stating their opinions, taking a stand, arguing, creating conversation or using computers to explore, read and get exposure to the language.

How to approach cultural differences

There are many cultural differences within one country, school, even a family, and culture is indeed an inseparable part of people’s lives. Be aware that culture affects the language and language effects the culture which means that culture is also part of language. You as teachers have to take that into an account, work with it and be aware that culture will affect your student’s behavior and the way they study and how much they understand certain subjects.

As teachers you need to know your students, what they like to do, what they usually do when they are not in school, what their motivation is for learning English and what their plans and chances are to use the language outside of classroom. All these aspects will shape what you teach and how you teach it.

Here are some other cultural differences you should also be aware of: classroom


  • subjects that are inappropriate to discuss in public or with a certain gender
  • the way feedback is given
  • what tone of voice and volume is appropriate in different cultures
  • the way you address students
  • appropriate greetings

Because in many cases your culture is going to be very different from the one you will be teaching in, it would be smart to let students teach you about their culture and you can teach them about yours. Students will come to understand who you are and get comfortable around and with you. They might also be more open to new ways of teaching or to new subjects. Your students will most likely be interacting with native speakers at some point and be exposed to the American culture. It will be very beneficial for them to see culture as part of the language and how helpful it is for language acquisition.

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2. Different Proficiency Levels in One Class

One of the most common problems in language teaching is students with different proficiency levels. Very often you might be teaching not only people with different proficiency but also large classes where it is difficult to give students personal attention.

Assuming that you have students at different proficiency levels, you might want to:

  • Prepare multiple versions of one activity with slight differences for different proficiency levels.
  • If the first suggestion is not possible, prepare some extra work so when more advanced students are done, they still have something to do.
  • Group students of the same proficiency level together and let them work on the activity together.

3. Students are Not Used to Interacting and Working Together

In many places outside of the United States, students are still encouraged to work separately rather than in groups. When sharing and collaborating, they might feel that they lose time that could be spent on individual study. If you think that group work would be beneficial for them, you might want to:

  • Start with smaller groups of students so everyone has a chance to participate.
  • Pair work would be a good start to teach students how collaboration can help them learn.
  • Carefully create tasks in a way that all students will be involved and have to participate.
  • Let students work individually on a task and then ask them to pair up and help each other to correct mistakes or present answers to each other.
  • If you see that students are comfortable with these kinds of tasks, you can move to activities involving bigger groups.

4. Students Not Paying Attention to the Lecture (closely connected to #5)

There are many reasons why students do not pay attention to a teacher’s lecture. Teachers should perform some kind of analysis, either self analysis or ask for student feedback to find out what the reasons are so they can be fixed. Some of the very common reasons are:

  • students are tired (time of the class)
  • the tone or volume of teacher’s voice
  • noise from outside or students speaking around them
  • less engaging tasks
  • unsatisfactory preparation for the class which makes it difficult for them to understand what is going on
  • unclear instructions so students do not understand what they are being asked to do, and they stop paying attention
  • lack of motivation.

Ways to get the entire class’ attention:

  • Stop talking till students notice the silence
  • Whisper “I am waiting” and get louder and louder
  • Do something strange that students would not expect you to do such as stand on the table or sit on the floor
  • Call students by using their names; sometimes students feel that they are part of a crowd, by calling them by their names you break the wall of anonymity
  • Change the activity and make it more engaging and motivating
  • Clearly explain the activity and make sure they undestand it
  • Watch your voice

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5. Students Not Participating in Class

Remember our scenario and the previous example? Maybe the fact that students do not participate in class is a culture thing; maybe it has something to do with the time the class is offered or maybe they don’t understand the instructions. Here are some techniques that encourage interaction in the classroom:

  • Ask students to read texts, stories or instructions; even though it might sometimes take more time
  • Ask them to show “thumbs up/thumbs down” whether they understand/ like the task or not
  • Come up with activities that require students to move such as “Everybody in favor please stands up!”
  • Check the understanding by asking “Do you remember what I said the 'European Union' was?
  • Use students’ names for different tasks. When creating sentences or dialogs you can ask: “George, how would you ask Maria if she would go to a dinner with you?” (Maria and George are students in your class)

Another common example that you might experience in your classroom is that after presenting a task to students, some of them won’t be working on it. Here are some things you might want to try:

  • You can give hints such as “Everyone should be working,” or “I want you to read the chapter and take notes.”
  • You can also request certain behavior by asking a question: “Would you please work on the article?” or “Would you please get to work?”
  • If any of these were not successful, you can also use demands such as “Get to work now.”
  • In most cases students will respond to either a hint, “I” request or a question. Try to avoid demands. If you have to use them, remember that the message you send is that there are consequences for disobedience. Make sure that you are able to follow up on them; otherwise students won’t take you seriously and your authority will suffer from it.

On the other hand, it is important to mention that there will be students in your classes who will try to dominate discussions and not allow others to take turns. Remember that as a teacher you can regulate discussion by calling on people or selecting proper activities where each student has to be involved.

6. Negative and Disrespectful Behavior From the Students

Negative and disrespectful behavior is something that every teacher will experience to some degree. A golden rule for every class is to establish rules. Make sure that students are familiar with them from the very beginning and they understand them. However, if the rules are not enforced, you might end up with the same problems you try to avoid. It is also very helpful to establish and maintain some kind of procedure or routine that students are familiar with so they know what to expect and what the consequences for poor behavior are. Based on that, here are some ideas that teacher might use:

  • Ask students to help with the lesson (they can write the notes on the board, pass out papers, etc.)
  • Talk to students after the class in private and ask for their opinion, for example: “Students in our class are having a hard time doing the tasks and it seems like you are as well. What would you suggest as a solution to this problem?” In this way, the teachers are asking the student to solve the problem and it might motivate them and wake up their sense of responsibility.
  • Make sure that you give all students, not only the disruptive ones, enough positive feedback; positive feedback should happen at least twice as often as negative feedback.
  • Call students by name and give them a specific task. You can tell them that they will be asked to answer a question and give them a time limit.
  • You can wait with your feedback after the class and send an email or a note to these students.

The teaching profession, because it is based on personal interaction with students, can become a very sensitive subject that might determine whether we and our students succeed or not. Our goal is to help build a sense of community and become responsible teachers by providing positive feedback and encouragement. However, if necessary teachers need to be able to choose less favorable solutions such as:

  • Ask students to leave the class and come back when they are ready to participate; you can also take off points from their grade for disruptive behavior.
  • In severe cases, after you talk to the student, you might want to contact your boss and parents. Don’t forget to ask for an opinion from your teacher colleagues. They might have been in the same situation and be able to help you.

Classroom management in these cases requires certain skills as well as self-confidence and preparation on the teacher’s side. We hope these ideas will help you to feel more confident in classrooms and come up with activities that will be beneficial to the whole class based on their proficiency level and culture.

Comprehension (and reflection) questions

  1. List three classroom management issues that can occur in your classroom. How would you approach them?
  2. How can setting up rules help with classroom management? Think of some specific ways to set up rules.
  3. Look at the list of classroom management issues from question one and consider what role culture plays in them?
  4. How can you prevent classroom management issues related to culture?

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Video example

This short video will demonstrate some common classroom management issues. As you watch this video keep in mind the scenario and the strategies on solving classroom management issues provided in this unit.

Click Here  

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Reflection and Responses

  1. What classroom management issues did you notice as you watched this video?
  2. Have you ever experienced any of these classroom management challenges as a teacher (or student)?
  3. Compared to the teacher in the video, what might you do differently to address these challenges?
  4. What classroom management challenges might you face in the future? How will you solve them?

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Where to go to learn more

Connections to other units in this program

For more information about culture, please see the following units:

  • Unit 8, "Working successfully within foreign cultural, educational, and administrative systems."
  • Unit 18, "Developing an awareness of teaching styles and cross-cultural style differences."
  • Unit 21, "Understanding your students’ language learning styles," including cross-cultural differences in learning styles, strategies and expectations
  • Unit 31, "Understanding and teaching about culture. Operating successfully in a foreign culture. Dealing with cultural differences and culture shock (in teachers and in students)."

For more information about how to approach students on different proficiency levels:

  • Unit 10, "Adjusting your spoken English to make it comprehensible and helpful to adult English language learners at various levels of proficiency."

Additional related units:

  • Unit 32, "Conducting effective and enjoyable conversation classes."
  • Unit 33, "Using songs and chants to increase participation, recall, and enjoyment."
  • Unit 34, "Using games, and other fun yet effective activities for English language teaching."

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Online and other electronic resources

Go to This website contains a lot of useful strategies applied in real life situations; also contains additional links to different classroom management related websites.

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Print and paper-based resources

8 Steps to Classroom Management Success – A Guide for Teachers of Challenging Students by George Kapalka - Includes a step-by-step plan that helps to improve students’ behavior. The techniques give simple instructions, using appropriate warnings, handling tantrums, creating behavioral contracts, and managing transitions, preventing disruptions, improving behavior outside the classroom, developing effective homework routines. - Paperback: ISBN 9781412968782; $30.95 - Hardcover: ISBN 9781412968775; $66.95 - Publisher: Corwin Press


100 classroom scenarios, techniques and activities to enhance classroom management in your class, 38 strategies to document academic and behavioral interventions, you will learn about new research in this field and you will be provided with assistance with students who requires special attention. - Paperback: ISBN 9781412937016, $40.95 - Hardcover: ISBN 9781412937009, $85.95 - Publisher: Corwin Press  

Shouting won't grow

Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites by Marcia L. Tale - The main idea of this book is “Stop shouting and start teaching!” - you will learn how: good planning helps to prevent classroom management related issues and enhance academic success of your students - to create an effective physical environment, develop a proactive classroom management plan, lessons and how to deal with different behavior problems. - to create your own management strategies - Paperback: ISBN 781412927802, $30.95 - Publisher: Corwin Press  

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