Sara Davila

World Learning/SIT TESOL, Licensed Trainer
Phone: 010-4614-1976


Class Survival/Class Management


Before reading further please note that the ideas, tips and strategies presented in this paper are not considered in any way to be a 100% cure all for every class situation. Each classroom entered is different. The students and teaching environments dictate a great deal what we as teachers can do in the classroom to manage, direct, teach and learn from and with our students. While many of the items here have been used in the classroom to great effect, certainly not a single idea can be said to have been perfect for every situation. As teachers we must insist on remaining flexible and observant in the classroom and work to adjust to the needs of the students with whom we work.

A Nightmare

I was not prepared for the first day of classes. I had been teaching for four years, I was cool and confident when entering the classroom, but I have to admit that afterwards, I knew I was not prepared. The day began easily enough, meeting new students, getting them in line. Asserting my authority, in the same manner I had done a hundred times before. I was cool, calm and collected. I knew what I was doing. The students fell in line, everything was going well. We broke for lunch, and my first class would be just after lunch. Twenty-two students piled into a room raised on tiers with no chairs. I was with a partner teacher at the time, but had elected to manage the first class, the partner would take the next one. As the students sat down I felt good, confident, a few first day jitters, but nothing that could not be quashed. I took a deep breath and prepared to go into my opening day rant/rules introduction that had never failed me.

It failed. The class was abysmal. The students, knowing that they would only be in the school for five days, didn’t care about my rant or lecture. The rules were ineffective for the situation, and my policy for both discipline and reward were awkward and best. It was among the longest ninety minutes of teaching I have ever had to live through. The rest of my week was laughably worse. With each passing day my resolve broke down further as the rules and guidelines I had tried to so painstakingly set up on Monday fell even more by the wayside. By Friday I never wanted to teach again. On Saturday this group of students had left. Gone forever, to be replaced on Monday by an entirely new group of learners from a different region of Korea. I walked in on Monday, feeling I had regained some of my confidence, and having learned, began to adjust and found that I could still manage a room, if I was willing to relearn how.

The classroom dynamic

The unique situation of being language teachers in Korea presents problems for classroom management that are unique. For foreign teachers leading and directing the class in English management must be presented in English. Korean teachers leading English classes have the opportunity to switch back and forth between English and Korean for management, but this raises a number of difficulties in reinforcing the importance of English communication. Also, with language classrooms it is not always possible to use Korean in the classroom as some schools promote and work to enforce English only policies. This leaves teachers with a huge communication gap between what is desired and what can be expressed to students and allows students a sense of being able to control the teachers. This is the difficult dynamic that exists in the language classroom. While frustrating it is possible to take control of the situation with a combination of classroom strategies.

Rules and Consequences

We all have rules. Rules are extremely important in the classroom and every classroom you enter will have different rules. Rules can range from suggestions for appropriate behavior, to do’s and don’ts for the classroom, and frequently include a set of consequences for breaking the rules (Gootman, 2001). While having rules and consequences is a necessary part of classroom management it is important to examine how the rules are established in order to ensure understanding and eliminate confusion for students.

When creating the rules for the classroom keep in mind that rules should be clear, appropriate and necessary for the function of your classroom (Gootman, 2001). For the language learning classroom this is doubly important. Clear rules should be created using language students will be able to understand.

For example many teachers like to include a classroom rule such as: Have respect for yourself and others.

This is an excellent rule for any classroom. However this can be a challenging rule for second language learners. Respect is a difficult concept to explain in English only without using Korean. How to explain having respect, etc. These are all difficulties that arise. To simplify this, consider changing the language of the classroom rules to help make them accessible. For example:

Be nice to yourself. Be nice to others.

Nice is a concept that can be conveyed in pictures, through acting, and a word that many students will already be familiar with. By simplifying the language the rule becomes accessible and teachers will be able to refer back to the rule later is students are not behaving appropriately.

Once you have decided on the language that will be accessible for you students consider the number of rules that are being used. Classroom rules should be limited to a set of three to five rules that will be easy to remember and appropriate for the class. As a guideline these five rules should be appropriate and cover most of the behaviors that are acceptedfor the classroom.

When writing the rules consider language that is positive for rules. Rather then listing a set of don’ts for students create rules that will encourage students to use the behaviors you would like to encourage. For an example, I will share the rules that I use in my current classroom.

Respect yourself and others.

Keep the school safe for all students.

Listen when others are talking.

Keep your area clean.

Be prepared for class.

These rules do not admonish students against bad behaviors but rather encourage appropriate behavior in the classroom. These also address the needs of my classroom. Students need to listen and respect each other because the groups work in teams predominately. Students need to be careful and safe because the close quarters, rolling seats, and tightly groups teams could easily become dangerous. The area is small and the time between classes short so having students keep the areas clean makes the class enjoyable for all students. The rules are clear and appropriate and necessary for the classroom that I manage.


With rules teachers also have consequences. Consider that the consequences that are established for rules should be appropriate and to each rule. For example the rule that is stated above on being prepared for class. The consequence of this is that students are not prepared for class. This is the consequence that is presented to students. Rather then a disciplinary action the consequence is that students are not prepared and therefore must ask for materials. Since students do not like asking for materials, they work to remember and bring materials to class. However it is also clear that if something is missing students can ask. In this way the consequence for not following the rules is clear, just, and appropriate. Consequences can be different from discipline which will be discussed later.

Student Centered Management

Power relations in the classroom are difficult, and in the English language classroom even more so. For foreign teachers it is necessary to avoid falling into a trap of language imperialism in the classroom to maintain student support and interest in language. For Korean teachers finding a balance between teaching English and managing in English must be created. To involve students in classroom management is a first step towardscreating positive changes in the classroom.

A starting point for involvingstudents in the classroom is including students when rules are being created for the classroom. When possible ask students what rules they feel are lacking for the classroom. Have students work together as a group to suggest rules that would be appropriate for the classroom and how these can be used appropriately. If the teaching situation is such that you cannot include students in creating classroom rules, get students feedback and input on the rules that are in place and consider making modifications on a class by class basis to make the rules more appropriate for the individual class. This allows students to take control of some part of classroom behavior and accept responsibility for stepping outside those appropriatebehaviors (MarzanoMarzano, 2003).

While students can be included in the creation of classroom rules students can be further involved in managing the classroom. From taking attendance in the classroom to commenting on each others participation students can and should be involved in all aspects of the classroom. This can be taken further to include student involved assessment in the classroom.

A simple strategy that I use effectively in my classroom allows students to be responsible for each other when it is time for me to manage the classroom or present information. This activity is called hands up. I teach all my students that I will be using this method on my first day of classes with them, and then consistently use the approach afterwards. The work that students do in my classroom requires that students work within groups to complete tasks. During this time it can be very difficult to get student attention. I do not want to yell at students to be quiet but I do want to be able to get the attention of the classroom when necessary. To do this I simply put my hand up and wait.

The strategy works when a student sees my hand up, and then responds by putting up their own. This is followed by alerting the team and the team then following up putting hands up. If other teams are still working the initial team will signal others and the result is a cascade of students being alerted and alerting each other until everyone in the class is paying attention and is quiet and ready to listen. For hands up to be totally effective I wait until everyone has their hands up and everyone is quiet. Students will alert friends and ask each other to be quiet. In this way students are complete responsible for how long it takes for me to make an announcement or provide an instruction.

Points Systems

Rewards systems are difficult to integrate into any classroom. The basic problem with rewards systems is that students are taught to perform to get “something” and are reluctant to perform for “nothing”. What is the point of participating in class or using appropriate behavior if there will be no bribe. As such, many teachers will shy away from using any kind of rewards system to avoid the trap. However, the use of rewards is possible if teachers keep in mind a few key elements. Rewards are inconsistent, rewards are earned for good behaviors, and rewards are fair for all students.

In the classroom I use a points system for the teams. Teams can earn points in one of two ways. The first is helping each other with English or helping others in the team understand and succeed. I do occasionally give points for answering questions in English but try to limit this to no more then once a month. In this way students learn that while point can be earned there is not way to predict or demand points for participation in an activity or behavior that is normal.

The goal of earning points has never been stated to my classroom. There is no expectation for students who earn the most points, and no consequence for not earning points. At the end of the year all teams will receive recognition for earning points in the classroom as a way of providing fair rewards to students.

Further strategies

Try to be “withit”(Gootman, 2001)in your classroom. “Withitness” essentially means how much attention teachers pay to the classroom and how much teachers see. The classic metaphor is the teacher with “eyes in the back of her head” who can see every little thing that takes place, and sometimes knows the things that couldn’t even be seen. Students intuitively grasp how “withit” teachers are and will use this knowledge to their advantage whenever possible.

Notice what students are doing and work to stop inappropriate behavior before it escalates. Use strategies like student proximity, removal of distracters, a gentle touch, eye contact, or non verbal signals to cue students to behave appropriately.

Proximity is moving towards students who are preparing to misbehave. As teachers we develop a certain sense for when students are getting ready to do something inappropriate or having trouble concentrating on the task at hand. By moving closer to students we can let students know that we are aware of the behavior that is inappropriate and redirect and focus attention without drawing attention to a specific student.

When students find themselves playing with toys, pencils, or other objects taking away the object is often a quick, easy and painless solution. Simply move towards the student, remove the object without drawing attention and keep it until the end of class. After class an opportunity is created to talk to the student about focus, concentration, or other skills that might help avoiding loss of focus and concentration.

Sometimes the use a gentle touch can help to get student attention and let an individual student know that behavior is being monitored. Often the most appropriate is a light touch to the shoulder or upper arm. This is usually enough to get attention but not so obvious that it will distract the rest of the class.

Finally using non verbal indicators like giving students “the eye” that patented teacher gaze that signals both notice, attention, and reprimand if a student does not stop whatever they are doing. Other indicators might include a hand signal or motion to get a students attention like a wave to a student so that crayons or a novel are put out of the way during the class. With students who need frequent reminders the student and teacher can work together to create hand signals for certain commands so that without speaking the student can be communicated with and modify behavior to be more class appropriate.

Also, discuss the rules often with students and use rules with students when asking them to change behavior. If students are doing something that breaks a rule refer them to the rule in question to reinforce the need for rules. Use the language of rules frequently when reprimandingstudents so that students understand the importance of the rules for both you and the class in general. Occasionally review rules and appropriate behaviors with students to help reinforce the importance of rules in the classroom with students.

With large classes in cases where there are many different students create a seating chart or roll list that allows for direct interaction with the students. Our students will always know our name and can use it to get our attention, call our focus, ask questions, provide assistance, and occasionally reward. For example who doesn’t like hearing “Ms. Sara thank you for helping me.” When it is possible for teachers to return this familiarity with students it can greatly improve the teacher student relationship and simplify the management of classes. Further when teachers can use student names it becomes possible to address specific student behavior as necessary in class, or as a reminder to correct behavior to improve class appropriateness.


Class management is probably one of the most difficult areas for any teacher. One day something works beautifully and the next the class falls entirely into chaos. By using consistent strategies to reinforce the importance of a well maintained class and the students role in class management teachers can work to overcome those moments of chaos and make every class a successful one.

References and Additional Reading
Anderman, L. H. (2004, Jul/Aug). Student Motivation Across Subject-Area Domains. Journal of Educational Research, 97(6), 283.
Epstein, J. L. (1995, May). School/Family/Community Partnerships: Caring for the children We Share. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 701-711.
Gootman, M. E. (2001). The caring teacher's guide o discipline: Helping young students learn self-control, responsibility, and respect. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. J. (2001). Cooperative Learning And Social Interdependence Theory. Retrieved February 5, 2005, from
Laureate Education, Inc (Producers), & . (2000). Managing behavior in the diverse classroom [Motion Picture]. (Available from ).