TEFL Basics: Classroom management
As a new teacher, there is a good chance that you have not spent much time teaching without having worked with support from your tutors on lesson planning and the methodology that you will use. You may not have even taught without someone observing you and perhaps prompting you as to what to do as you work through the lesson.
Going in to your first teaching job can feel daunting - what if you get something wrong? What if you forget to put students into groups, what if the classroom is not laid out how you would like it, or what if the internet doesn’t work and you can’t use that activity you stayed up all night preparing?
What is classroom management?
These are all important aspects of classroom management: the way that a teacher creates a positive and effective learning environment for the students and their learning. Classroom management includes the following skills:
Organising the desks and chairs in a room to facilitate interaction
Knowing how to use the classroom space effectively
Having the right teaching tools and resources ready to use
Knowing how to use these tools effectively for different activities
Using teaching materials effectively
Pairing and grouping students to maximise interaction
Basically, classroom management is the organisation of the physical resources and the learners in the room, to ensure that everyone (including you) gets as much from the learning environment as possible.
Here is some advice in the three key areas of classroom management from above:
Using the classroom space
The physical environment where the students are learning plays a big part in how they behave during class. The more relaxed they are, the more engaged and confident with language they will be.
The physical environment can contain teaching resources: posters, verb tables, a phonemic chart, pictures and texts can be displayed on the walls for reference, or for specific activities. Don’t be afraid to refer to these yourself if you need reminding of a verb form or pronunciation feature - that’s what the posters are for!
Different classroom layouts might work for different types of activity. Think about the types of communication which can (and can’t) happen when chairs and desks are laid out in rows facing the teacher, if they are in a horseshoe shape, or if they are pushed to the side of the room and students are free to walk around and talk to each other freely.
When you plan a communicative activity, think about whether you want students to work with a single partner, a group, or to mingle with other students randomly. Prepare time to move the desks and chairs as you want them, and build this into your teaching routines. Students are surprisingly willing to help move furniture around if they know it will lead to a more fun activity, or more opportunities for learning.
Teaching tools, resources and materials
No matter what kind of classroom you are teaching in, you will need the same basic set of resources: A whiteboard (or smartboard), pens (physical or digital) and a way of erasing what you have written (either a board rubber or a smart function on an electronic board). Knowing in advance how much board space you have, the functionality of a smart board, and how to flip between functions, can save a lot of time and embarrassment, so make sure you have a chance to play with the resources in the room by yourself before you start teaching.
In addition to a handful of pens and perhaps a remote control for a projector or CD player, you will probably also be juggling a textbook or set of handouts for students. Find a side table or surface and keep it clear so that you have somewhere to put things when you move between resources. Always know where your board rubber is, and keep your hands free to gesture and point where necessary. Dropping 30 ordered pages of worksheets on the floor is not a good look.
Pairing and grouping students
As I said above, knowing when to group students differently for different types of task is a great way to mix up interaction in your classes, but it isn’t always easy to get students up and moving around between tasks.
When you give instructions for students to move, don’t worry about being polite - indirect language is grammatically complex and can cause confusion. Also, stay away from phrasal verbs and other idiomatic language (pop round, budge up, squeeze in) - this will go over students’ heads. Be direct and efficient with your language, and be specific about exactly what you want students to do (change places, move to this chair, stand under the clock, etc.). This will speed up the process and give you more time to get the activity going.
In pair and group tasks, it’s a good idea to nominate students to do different tasks (answer questions, give examples) rather than giving them the choice. Again, being direct and specific saves a lot of time messing around with choices and confidence issues. It’s much better to create a generally positive atmosphere where students are more confident to speak, then nominate and give positive feedback for effort.
With good, assertive classroom management, efficient use of resources and space, the classroom can become a positive learning environment where students know they are going to get what they need, get a diverse experience and engage with each other in different ways. These tips may seem simple, but when combined, they can save a lot of time and effort, making teaching a more effective and enjoyable experience for everyone.
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.
If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or visit our CertTESOL FAQ and CertPT FAQ pages for details.