Managing children’s behaviour is often one of the most challenging things primary language teachers face, and at the same time one of the most important. It also links closely to everything that has been said about affect in the previous post.
If we succeed in managing children’s behaviour in a positive way, everything else falls into place and children will learn, no matter what methodology or approach we use. If not, our lessons fall apart and very little or even no learning will take place, and we probably feel stressed out and exhausted too. There are no easy answers, many complex variables, and it’s almost always easier said than done. However, there are many things we can do to be pro-active in planning and preparing how we are going to manage children’s behaviour, and anticipating any likely problems in advance.
I recently gave a Macmillan webinar on this topic which you may like to watch here. In addition to this, 25 strategies to help pre-empt problem behaviour are:
1 Plan carefully balanced, varied sequences which are purposeful, relevant, meaningful and present an appropriate degree of challenge for the children.
2 Pay special attention to the beginnings and ends of lessons, transitions between activities and feedback stages – often the most common moments for behaviour problems to occur.
3 As far as possible, make activities intrinsically motivating and enjoyable.
4 Predict and anticipate the behavioural effect of activities – will they “stir” or “settle”, “involve” or “occupy”? *
5 Be sensitive to the way children respond to activities. Be ready to change the pace – and the activity, if necessary.
6 Vary seating arrangements regularly – use different criteria for forming pairs and groups depending on the activity e.g. friendship, ability, fast or slow finishers, random, age, boys, girls.
7 Make sure every child knows what they are supposed to be doing and how to do it through clear instructions, demonstrations, modelling, rehearsal etc..
8 Look for and show approval of appropriate behaviour – Catch them Being Good (CBG), rather than constantly telling children off.
9 Give praise where due (quality of work and effort) and describe what you like. Don’t be tempted to give empty praise. (Praise for encouragement is also important with very young children.)
10 Value the children and their work positively (Success breeds success … and cooperation).
11 Be supportive of problems. Give as much help as needed but not more.
12 Listen actively to what children have to say (but don’t let them interrupt your flow). Postpone till later but don’t then forget.
13 Have a clear signal for getting children’s attention and stopping activities e.g. gesture, tambourine, little bell or stand in a special place.
14 Wait for full attention before talking to the whole class e.g. play the “waiting game”.**
15 Maintain lots of eye contact – and use eye contact if necessary to help you manage behaviour.
16 Don’t be afraid of silence or noise (reflect on the reasons for either before leaping in).
17 Keep your voice quiet and calm as the norm if possible. Use your voice to maintain children’s interest and attention by varying the tone, pitch, speed, intonation, volume as appropriate.
18 Be aware of the messages of your body language – are you coming across as lacking in confidence, impatient, hostile, bored or uninterested?
19 Stand at the front of the class when giving key instructions or explanations but don’t always stand or sit in the same position the rest of the time – vary your “arc of scan”.
20 Develop eyes in the back of your head – to spot the minute help is needed and to stop any trouble developing.
21 Be consistent and fair in your actions and behaviour. Always do what you say you’ll do and never make empty threats.
22 Establish or negotiate a class behaviour contract, if appropriate, depending on the age of the children – and keep to it.
23 Monitor children as they work – but don’t overdo it! Give them space to show how independent and responsible they can be.
24 Always project yourself self-confidently as being “in charge”. (Be ready to stage act, if you don’t feel that way!)
25 Have high expectations of children’s behaviour and potential to achieve – they will invariably live up to these!
What strategies do you use to manage children’s behaviour in a positive way? It would be great to hear!
* from Teaching English in the Primary Classroom, Susan Halliwell, Longman 1992
** I learnt the “waiting game” years ago on a course on group dynamics. Essentially you wait, with open body language and neutral facial expression, and what usually happens (although no guarantee!) is that one child notices and does your classroom management for you by telling the others to hush.