By Valia Georgilaki
In any educational setting, classroom management plays an essential role in creating a safe environment where meaningful learning takes place. Teaching English to preschool students can be an exciting yet challenging experience in the sense that students at this young age are not usually equipped with the knowledge of following classroom procedures or rules and this is the main reason why misbehavior is expected.
Well, as teachers, we all started off as inexperienced yet full of enthusiasm thinking that kindergarten will be a piece of cake. Little did we know…We soon realized that it is not really as easy as we might have thought especially when it comes to regaining control of our class once it’s lost. But who says it’s impossible?
Here are some suggestions that have helped me handle my young students, make the most of my teaching time, and enjoy my lesson.
Practical tips for classroom management
Let us see how we can prevent misbehavior, how to redirect it if it occurs and finally, how to regain control if a situation gets out of hand.
- Preventing misbehavior
- At the beginning of the year you should define the aims and learning goals and how to meet them. Have a syllabus and be in line with the nursery teacher to adapt it to theirs, when possible, to create the feeling that English is not something strange.
- Organize your weekly lessons to be more precise about what you expect your students to do and learn. This will help you establish your rules and routines in a more effective way. It will save you time, otherwise time will slack and even one second without keeping them busy may prove disastrous. So, you need to prepare your material in advance (objects you need, colors, games, back-up activities etc.) and be flexible with it. If you wish to feel confident, in control and ready to react in any condition that requires attention, planning is the key.
- Be informed about your students’ profile and be in regular contact with parents, the school psychologist and nursery teacher to give you important details about the kids and their characteristics, so as to treat them the proper way and prevent chaotic situations. For example, kids of divorced parents may need more attention if they feel emotional, and hyperactive kids are usually more manageable if they are assigned roles such as the one of being your helper.
- Establish class routines. Kids feel more secure and safe in a structured environment and even though they may react at first and take time to adjust, they eventually follow them. However, you need to be firm and persistent and not let any misbehavior occur because they will soon realize that if you aren’t consistent, there is no reason for them to be so either. For instance, teach them a good morning song to indicate that the lesson is starting and they must listen to you, or towards finishing your lesson, teach them how to clean up the classroom and put things away.
- Arrange seating. Remove objects kids are holding as they can be rather distracting for them and may cause commotion. You can have a “show and tell” section at the beginning of your lesson to help them share their excitement with their classmates. Ιt’s important to have a circular seating arrangement so that you can have eye contact with all kids be prepared and ready to act in case of an emergency. Also, you can teach them a song: for example, have them take their cushions, and sit in a circle on the carpet or at their desks and by clapping your hands give them a sense of rhythm so that they can act fast. This will save you precious teaching time and prevent them from messing around.
- Beware of your attitude! Kids mirror your own attitude, so be calm, patient, tender, honest, fair and most importantly be happy because soon they will be too. Having happy kids means that they like you, trust you and thus they are more eager to follow rules. Sad, afraid or angry kids raise a wall blocking what you say so it gets more difficult to manage them and build a good relationship and rapport. Remember that they have left the warmth of their home and their parents’ protective wings and have come to a place that doesn’t look like home, so be the loving and caring figure they will look forward to meeting every day.
- Have a smooth transition. It is important to explain what you wish them to do and demonstrate in order to avoid confusion and disarray. If they are moving around the classroom for the purposes of an activity, for example, from the carpet to the drawers and then to their desks, you can teach them a chant to do so in small groups for safety and organizational reasons. In my classroom, when they initially stood up to get their colors or glue from the drawers, the place got really cramped and pushed one another. They obviously needed space, so they were divided in teams of 4 colors and had a song that went: “The red team, the red team, stand up and get your pens” while the rest remained on the carpet singing and waiting to hear the color of their team. You can make your own song.
- Redirecting behaviors
- Change activities and be flexible with the lesson plan. The duration of the activities varies according to their attention span and hyperactivity, so change an activity when you feel that they are getting tired or bored. Switching from a calm activity to an active one and vice versa depends, among many factors, on how long they had been previously sitting on the carpet or playing, their interests etc. For example, if they start being fidgety while listening to a story, add funny aspects, sounds, be more interactive or just read up to a point and continue next time.
- Draw their attention with games. You will play games anyway but switching to a favorite one always helps (flashcards, videos, stories, games with ball, mime, even the all-time-classic “Simon says”, where you can say “Simon says, freeze!”). If you have a classroom with impatient or active kids, it’s better to have activities the whole class can be involved. They can get very raucous while waiting, or simply lose their interest very fast and when their turn comes, you will realize they don’t know what they are doing, plus they will have found other sources of interest such as talk with their friends.
- Use songs. Songs are a great reminder of the language and calm them down too. You either sing to them yourself or use the internet to integrate other stimuli. The latter is ideal for kids, especially the easily distracted ones, as the fast pace of image and music attracts their interest and you will soon see their eyes glued to where the song comes from. When combining songs and dance, I usually invite the hyperactive kids next to me, as helpers, and ask them to show the moves to the rest of the class. If they don’t want to come next to me, I may ask the nursery helper to dance with us and be right next to them. In other cases, when they are becoming restless, I play relaxing music in low volume before I start talking to them to settle them down. Alternatively, you can teach them a song that talks about being quiet in the classroom and which may serve as an indicator that they are loud and must listen to you.
- Act out and have a puppet/mascot to attract their attention. They love to hear its unique voice, to do what the puppet says, to touch it. It is particularly helpful when they are getting noisy as you can say that my friend is very tired and wants to go to sleep so let’s be all quiet and start snoring!
- Assign roles. You can ask them to come close to you when you dance or act out a song to help you with the moves and show the other kids what to do. You can have a helper to hold or collect flashcards/ sheets of paper, give out worksheets, tidy up, push the chairs under the tables, put the markers away etc. In this way, they are busy, they learn to be organized and responsible, and care for their classroom.
- Use funny distractors to draw attention. If you read a story, change your voice, dress up or act out in a way that can attract their attention. To encourage them to sing, I usually wear a crown that I have made and in a magical way, all eyes are on me! Then, I tell them that they will wear it too if they sing along. Change intonation when you speak or sing and have a high funny pitch, for instance. Occasionally, I like tapping a musical instrument or a part of their body and make a funny face or snap my fingers.
- Praise good behavior. When giving instructions, playing games, singing etc., if you find some students or just one kid doing what you asked, praise them! You will notice that miraculously more and more kids will do what you said. Don’t overdo it though.
- Regaining control
- Ask for help from the nursery helper. If the classroom has many kids that misbehave, having a helper in the class is necessary. The helper sits with us as a form of helping the child, not punishment, to deal with his/her emotions.
- Remind them the rules immediately. Have flashcards with pictures that show rules to point at as a quick reminder. Of course, the kids should know about these from day one. You may have reminded them of the rules before the situation gets worse but if need be, insist with a stricter tone of voice.
- Use facial expressions/ body language. Give them a serious look with your lips pressed tightly together to show your disapproval of their behavior. Kids recognize this as a sign that their behavior has to stop. Finally, by using your hands gently, show the way to their seats while escorting them without speaking.
- Be calm. Despite it being the fast and easy way, yelling creates friction and it may hinder your bonding with them. Remaining calm facilitates clear thinking that in turn results in taking prompt and drastic actions.
- Use positive language. Learners, regardless of age, are heavily influenced by the power of words. The way you use language may empower and encourage students or demotivate them and trigger negative responses. In preschool, powerful teacher language is a driving force in creating a safe and supportive environment where kids are learning together. And how can we use it? You can avoid negative structures by saying “sit down” instead of “don’t stand up”, be honest as in: “If you keep shouting, your classmates will struggle to understand what I am trying to explain”-this leaves little room for vague interpretations and the behavior is more likely to stop.
- Address the problem. Direct interaction with your learners shows that you have clear expectations. For example, say: “Please wait for your turn to play”, “We use our hands to eat, hug, draw etc., not to hit”, or you can ask questions: “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
- Give time out. In serious cases there are consequences the children have to face such as leave the group for a while; never should you take them out of class though. You can ask them to put on the “thinking hat” and go to the designated place to calm down, think about the wrong action they did and discuss it later with them.
- Take away privileges. This can follow the “give time out” action and mainly refers to misbehavior concerning safety, physical or verbal violence or disrespect and must have more serious consequences such as taking away activities they enjoy.
All the above ideas aim to ensure a productive lesson with the least distraction and disruptive behavior possible, maximizing your teaching time, having quality, being efficient and effective, focusing on the learner and thus feel more confident and assertive in the classroom. But preschoolers are very young, so don’t expect them to be quiet or stay still throughout the lesson. This means that not every behavior should be characterized as disturbing. However, you have to intervene when you realize that there are many learning interruptions, and instances of violence, disrespect and unkindness. Dealing with misbehavior may be hard sometimes, but this is only because it matters for us and our students. It is for them we have to make it work.
Valia Georgilaki, EFL Teacher, MEd in TESOL
Born in Athens, in 1990, Valia has always held aspirations for becoming an English teacher. Her love for children and her desire to help them learn ignited her inner motivation to head towards teaching. She graduated with a BA degree in English Language and Literature from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece in 2012 and in 2016 completed her Master’s Degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from University of Exeter, in Exeter, UK. She has been teaching English since 2010, working with learners of all ages and levels. Her interests are in the fields of teaching English to young learners, psychology in EFL and the use of New Technologies in EFL classroom. In her spare time she enjoys reading, travelling and exercising.