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Managing Bad Behavior in Young ESL Classes

Managing Bad Behavior in Young ESL Classes
Admin - Dec 22 2015

Misbehaving students is a common thing in just about any class, including those composed of ESL learners. Misbehavior can take many forms: students asked repeatedly with inane questions unrelated to the lesson; highly talkative students continuing to chat with seatmates even when the teacher is speaking or someone else in the class is reciting; school bullies poking the students near them.

Even very competent language educators who plan and prepare well for each class encounter episodes of misbehavior, sometimes of the show-stopping variety. Given this fact, what can ESL teachers do when faced with the type of student misbehavior that disrupts an otherwise stimulating and productive learning activity?

Identifying signs of misbehavior

The first thing to do is to be aware of the different signs of bad behavior. In degree of severity from borderline bad behavior to worst, the signs to look out for include the following:

  1. Talking, laughing and making gestures or noises at inappropriate times
  2. Wearing inappropriate clothes or jewelry
  3. Exhibiting rebellious, sullen or bored expressions
  4. Staring out of the window
  5. Doodling when the teacher is speaking or during activities
  6. Impolite language and gestures
  7. Stubbornly using their native language when they should be using English
  8. Not doing their homework
  9. Not following instructions
  10. Cheating in games, quizzes and activities
  11. Saying things or making gestures that personally hurt classmates or teachers
  12. Cursing and swearing
  13. Vandalism
  14. Violent behavior

Addressing Bad Behavior

Upon encountering misbehavior, deal with the occurrence as soon as you can. This is very important because young students need to know at the very start that bad behavior will not be tolerated and will trigger a corresponding sanction or punishment.

Be careful, however, when meting out punishments.  Punishments that are too weak or too strong will send a wrong signal, something that will likely transform the initial case of bad behavior into something worse. Here are some specific steps or punishments ESL educators can employ when encountering different types of bad behavior:

  1. Verbal or nonverbal disapproval
  2. Deducting points in their academic grades
  3. Relocation of the misbehaving child into an isolated place in the room
  4. Disqualification of the misbehaving child’s team or group from the current activity
  5. Disallowing the misbehaving student from participating in a fun activity by getting him or her do a seatwork
  6. Ordering the student to stand in a corner
  7. Encouraging group disapproval by halting a fun game and giving a quiz instead.
  8. Written warnings to be sent to parents or guardians
  9. Involvement of the principal and/or parents for serious cases of bad behavior

Rewarding Good Behavior

In contrast, good behavior should be showcased and accorded with appropriate rewards to help encourage students to behave well. Remember to be consistent and fair when identifying good and bad behavior and giving corresponding rewards or punishment.  This will reinforce the notion among young learners that their actions or non-actions will trigger a consequence. Hopefully, well-earned rewards will be enough to drive students to maintain their good behavior. If this proves inadequate, then the fear of punishment or aversion to group disapproval will help deter future misbehavior.


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Daniel L. Hof on Feb 06, 2016 02:43 am said:

...thank you,very insightful. On tardiness, I add one more cond't." 4) apology by student to class for the disruption of class and taking up the teachers time" I have been teaching in Cambodia for five years and have found that this is very effective. I think it is an honour thing with the kids.Again, thank you for sharing. Dlh