Friday, July 13, 2012

The Power of Routine PART 1- Classroom Management Tricks that Work with Young Learners

The Power of Routine PART 1: Classroom Management Tricks that Work with Young Learners.

Have you ever thought about an ideal class of young learners? Let’s get carried away and imagine what it could be like…

*    Students try to speak English during the lesson
*    Their desks are clean and neatly organised
*    They never get distracted by the surrounding objects or people: they don’t play with toys or stationeries, they don’t talk to their friends
*    They pay attention and listen to instructions
*    There are no fights or tears when you choose one person to answer the question
*    They work quietly
*    They remember to go to the toilet before the lesson starts
*    They always do their homework and never forget to bring their books
*    They are motivated and willing to participate

Teachers working with kindergarten or primary children often express their feeling of dissatisfaction. Although they are well-prepared and full of ideas their lessons fall into pieces. Why? Maybe because teaching children means facing a reality where they tend to behave just the opposite to  the list presented above. Unsurprisingly, successful lessons with young learners require getting them into classroom routines first. Only then can you follow with “Hello, what’s your name?” So spend as much time as you need to drill the behaviour patterns to make the dream of an ideal class come true (or almost true).

The first steps of classroom management

Effective classroom management takes time and requires consistence. It’s a process which needs to be well-planned to bring expected, or nearly expected, results. So before you rush into the classroom with your new vision sit down, have a cup of tea/coffee, analyse, reflect and draw conclusions.

1.    Think what bothers you – it might be the noise level, the lack of attention, uncooperative behaviour.
2.    Picture in your mind what change in behaviour you expect. Visualise in detail how the class should behave or what your lesson and the classroom should look like.
3.    Choose one of the methods and decide how to use it in your classroom. Buy necessary gadgets, prepare posters or pictures. Make it work like a system: think of the consequences for breaking the rules and rewards for following them.
4.    Explain the rules in the class: make it clear what you expect, show what it means if you stick to or disregard the new rules. Then drill them, rehearse them, play with them.
5.    Apply the new routines daily, with every minute of your lesson. Be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your valuable teaching time at first. Gradually you will notice the benefits they bring and how automatic they have become.

Classroom management with young learner can and even should be creative, colourful and interesting. The best way to motivate children to change their behaviour is to treat the routine as another fun activity. These are a few ideas how to deal with the most common classroom management problems.

Train Carriages Race

The easiest way to start fresh with classroom routines is to introduce a comprehensive system. A system which has clear rules, explains rewards and consequences and leaves no room for exceptions. It will help you to solve or minimalise all the problems at the same time.

Step one: before the lesson

Prepare a list of labelled laminated images representing the key issues in the classroom, for example:

1. quite
2. clean desk
3. listen to teacher
4. work hard
5. change places / tasks quickly
6. homework
7. helpful and friendly

Step two: during the first lesson

Divide the class into three – four teams according to the rows they sit in. Assign a colour for each team and give them a train carriage in their colour. You can use colouring pages from the Internet such as Then ask students to cut it out and write their names on the carriage.

Step three: during every lesson

At the beginning of every lesson attach these laminated pictures to the board. Prepare chalk/markers in the colours representing each team. Whenever you see they work nicely put a plus in their colour next to appropriate picture. Make sure you give points for keeping desks clean, sitting on the carpet without elbowing and quarrels who will sit next to the teacher. If, on the other hand, you spot they are rowdy or break the rules don’t say anything, just walk towards the board with the chalk and wait a second or two. If it doesn’t help add minuses.

Step four: at the end of each lesson

Finish the lesson two minutes earlier and spend this time summing up their behaviour. Count up all the pluses and minuses. And then rearrange the train carriages on the classroom display. The team with most pluses is the first followed by carriages with fewer pluses.

Step five: benefits

The system will only work well if it is tempting enough. That is why I use an extended version. If a team gets five pluses during one lesson I make a decorative hole (with a special punch) in their train carriage. Even if they later lose their first position the special hole is there forever and anyone visiting the classroom can see how they work during the lessons. When the team has two holes on their carriage I write a short note of praise for parents. Collecting five holes means that the whole team can choose a fun activity for the last 15 minutes of the lesson.

Keeping desks clean

Keeping a clean desk in a primary school is a serious issue as children spend half of their day in the same classroom. So when an English lesson starts at quarter to twelve you can’t believe your eyes: open fold out pencil cases with all the precious things lying around in a nice disarrangement, half eaten sandwiches, bottles of juice, projects, pictures, enormous soft toys, collections of Pet Shop toys or Lego Star Wars bricks, books on all subjects. And English books are still in the school bag! The problem is not so much in having all those things on the desk but in children being constantly engaged in touching, playing with or showing them to friends. Start waging a war against cluttered desks and in a split second you will be pleasantly surprised that a few tricks may work like magic.

*    The train system is a constant reminder to keep everything clean and organised. Check the desks a few times during the lesson and give pluses or minuses.
*    Start a lesson with a clean-up song. It’s best to have something energetic and catchy. A good choice is Indiana Jones theme or 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem “Wavin flag” by K’naan. Play the song and it will be the signal to get organised, take out their English books, put unnecessary things away, place everything in one corner of the desk and close the pencil cases (in the first or second grade I strongly oppose to keeping pencil cases open because they are the temptation children can’t resist!).
*    A clean desk fairy might unexpectedly pay a visit and reward the neatly organised desks with a sweet or her own picture (find suitable stickers or images on the Internet) which children stick at the end of their English notebook.
*    Sometimes these are not the desks that are the problem but the general mess: school bags in the middle of the class, pieces of paper or tissues on the floor. Think of a place in the classroom which looks messy or disorganised, for example an apple core lying on the floor by the bin. Play the song and say “There is a “mystery spot” which needs to be clean again”. Children start cleaning and whoever finds the mystery spot gets a plus/point for his/her team.

Attention getters

I used to believe my voice is strong enough to make the whole class quiet. During the first lesson I realised that the more I raised my voice the louder they were. Actually it’s not the power of voice that counts (though it is helpful) but the routines which get their attention and make them concentrate.

Use a variety of objects which instantly make everyone quiet such as whistles, wooden castanets, bells, tambourines, rattles, maracas. Most of these can be bought at school supply stores or music shops and are relatively cheap. They are easily heard and you may create the whole system, for example one bell ring means look at me, listen and don’t move, two bell rings: close your books and organise your desks, three bell rings: sit on the carpet.

You may also use chants which are extremely useful and effective as they keep the kids engaged.
Teacher: Hands on top (children raise their hands and put them on their heads)Students: Everybody stopThis chant works like magic because putting hands up means that you can’t hold crayons, pens, pencils, toys etc at the same time.T: If you’re listening clap your handsSs: (clap their hands)T: If you’re listening touch your nose Ss (touch your nose)It’s not a chant but it works in the same stimulus – response way. You can clearly see when children join in with the actions. You can add more actions or repeat the previous ones until you are absolutely sure you have everyone’s attention. That activity works really well as children feel a natural desire to join in when something is happening.T: One, two, three eyes one meSs: One, two eyes on you

T: One, two

Ss: Eyes on you

T: Three, four

Ss: Talk no more

T: Ready to rock

Ss: Ready to roll

T: Hocus Pocus, everybody

Ss: Focus

T: Macaroni and Cheese, everybody

Ss: Freeze

You might try a technique introduced by Harry K. Wong called “Give me Five” where each finger represents a desired type of behaviour starting with the pinky: eyes on speaker, mouth quiet, body still, hands free, listen. Prepare a poster with a hand and pictures illustrating what type of behaviour each finger represents and hang in the classroom.  Students might also trace the shape of their hands and decorate the fingers with pictures symbolising each rule. When you want to get students’ attention say Give me Five and go finger by finger saying One – eyes on speaker and so on. After every finger, make a short pause and check if students actually perform the action. When children are more familiar with the technique it’s enough to say Give me five 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 making sure they behave properly.


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