A lifetime ago I taught preschool. Half a lifetime ago I taught in elementary, and I’ve also taught middle school. I’ve worked with English speaking high schoolers and now I’m working with English learning high schoolers. All of them respond to this classroom management technique every time I do it.
That’s it! There’s a few spins you can throw, but it’s never complicated. Here’s how and when I use it.
When I want a class (again, ANY age ANY language) to quiet down, I’ll hold up three fingers and count down out loud.
When I want a class to get out materials, hand in papers, or any other short transition, I count down from 10.
When I give students a slightly more complicated task (for example, getting into small groups,) I’ll count down from 30.
I even count down when a student says they must absolutely or-they’re-going-to-die go to the bathroom. I’ll tell them they have 60 seconds once they cross the threshold. It works!
You can add rewards or restrictions based on their success if you want (if they are ready by the time the countdown is complete, they earn a marble/bingo chip/penny OR if they aren’t ready they lose a …something.)
It may seem too easy, but it can quiet a class, create fast transitions, get students on task, even save your sanity when your subbing.
Stop talking, stop warning, stop thinking of creative programs to focus the attention of your students-it’s all wasting valuable teaching time! Count down and your done.
I was trying to teach a unit on directions. We were supposed to be learning location words, prepositions, learning to give and receive locations. My kids were NOT interested. This class loves to be together. They love to talk, joke, chat and tease. They love to get off topic, create drama and laugh. Have you every had one of those classes? I needed to be strategic in my lesson plan.
The first two days I gave it the direct approach: pull out your books, open to page blah blah blah… It was as exciting as it sounds. Disrespectfully (and yet a little understandably) they tuned me out. I knew what I had to do.
There are three keys to make a lesson grab the attention and imagination of a chatty class: add personalization, risk, and reward.
Here’s how it worked for us:
I wanted to teach them how to give and receive directions. The map in the book held no interest to them so we made our own map.
1. Personalization: I gave each of the students their own house which we added to our “town.” All the kids were given jobs and places of employment which we also added to the picture. Their attention level shot up. Now we have a shoe store, a gas station, a bank, and a department store. I asked them to name their businesses. Now the lesson was becoming personal.
2. Risk: I told them that someone was going to make more money…Soon they were asking for more vocabulary words so they could navigate the map, throw up road construction to sabotage each other’s businesses, make more money, build larger houses, and take over the town. Now there was risk.
3. Reward: They student with the most money or biggest house or the last man standing, won. Each lesson might have a different reward. It isn’t necessary to have an actual, physical prize. There’s nothing like the thrill of the win to encourage learning. Now we have reward.
Students learn best what is relevant. Making a lesson personal, risky and rewarding will create intrinsic motivation and they might even forget they’re learning! Use your imagination.
I would love to hear your experiences. How have you adjusted a lesson to make it personal to your students?
I decided I needed to be active in teaching our English-only students how to talk with someone who is acquiring English. Here are a few of the things that have worked:
For the first 10 minutes I brought to attention the nervousness that people have when talking to someone in another language. I gave them tools to use when communicating, taught them easy phrases and made them practice with each other.
The rest of the class time was used to play games. Look up ice breaker ideas or minute-to-win-it games online. Once kids are having fun, a lot of nervousness dissipates. I love to hear new English phrases that the international kids have picked up from their teammates.
2. International Journals
One of our English teachers worked with me on international journals. We had a pile of composition notebooks and, once a week, she would give her students a writing prompt. They would fill a page responding to the prompt and without including their name. Then the notebooks would go to my EFL class and my students would be given the same prompt. Again, no names were signed. That anonymity not only made the students more willing to expose their writing skills but it also made it a little mysterious and fun.
The English-only students could see the language acquisition level of the international students which helped them to adjust their conversational expectations and the English language learners were able to practice their language skills. Both groups really looked forward to the project.
3. International club
This was actually the idea of one of the international students. Once a month we take a field trip to a traditional restaurant of some nationality. The international students are required to invite a traditional student to come along. We decided to also invite another teacher or administrator. This gave the teacher an opportunity to see the international kids in a more relaxed environment and get to know their personalities a bit. Any time food is involved, kids are excited to participate. We’ve had Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese…next is Mexican!
Just talking about the problem of cross-cultural communication seems to help kids relax. Once everyone knows that everyone else is nervous too, students let their guard down and give conversation another try.
I teach international students in a private school who are almost all living in host homes. You may be teaching American ELLs and have a slightly different situation, but the principles are probably the same.
I have found that many of my international students don’t tell anyone when they are not feeling well especially at the beginning of the year. First of all, they don’t know the school procedures. Who should they talk to? How sick is sick enough to go home? Secondly, these kids are just gettting to know their host families and don't want to be a bother or embarrasement.
This is one of the topics we discuss and practice in my class the first week of school. There is so much my students are learning that first week, however, that we have to review and practice throughout the year. I have included some free posters for you to download to help learn these terms. Posting them around the room or on your website will give the kids a resource when they forget.
1. Teach vocabulary that allows students to talk about being sick.
Use lots of pictures! We hop on the internet and start looking up pictures of sick people. Once we all understand the concept, we practice saying it in English (over and over.) Revisit the vocabulary throughout the year: play bingo, memory, charades, pictionary or anything that helps the kids review and remember these words and phrases. They’re going to need them!
2. Teach students what the school considers a reason to go to the office or to go home.
Most schools have the same stipulations: if you have thrown up or have a fever, STAY HOME! Those are the main two, but sometimes a kid just feels terrible. Let them know they have the ability to say if they feel too crummy to stay in class. That might mean they go to the clinic to rest or they go home.
3. Teach students how to contact their host families during the school day.
Some students have cell phones and can call or text their family, but usually students have to use a classroom or office phone. Practice English sentences that will help students communicate this need. (“Could I call my mom?”)
4. Teach students how to get to the office and what to do when they get there.
Actually practice going to the office as a class. Walk in there. Introduce the students to the office manager/secretary/guidance counselor/principal (whoever is in there running the show.) Explain what you’re doing so they can help orient the students (and have a chance to get to know each other a bit.) Ask if the students could see the school clinic. Is there somewhere kids can get tissues, sanitary pads, etc?
Prepare your students for the inevitable eventuality of illness. You know it’s going to happen, so get them ready!
I Feel Sick Free Poster 1i_feel_sick_poster_1.pdf
I Feel Sick Free Poster 2 i_feel_sick_poster_2.pdf
Not only am I teaching ESOL classes throughout the day, but I am also helping my international students manage their other course work, navigate teacher relationships, and acclimate to the social structure of an American high school. In order to help them I took a trip to the hardware store.
For $14 I bought a large sheet of marker board material and had them cut it into three sections. These I mounted on my classroom wall with indoor-outdoor mounting tape. I used a little blue painter's tape to divide up sections and...ta da! I have a visual organizer for my students that they refer to hourly throughout the day.
1. This Month
Board number 1 is our monthly calendar. An American school year has events that are definately foreign. For instance, in the month of December we have our exam schedule, special concerts for band and choir, not to mention Ugly Christmas Sweater day (that one took a lot of explaining.) By posting all the events, schedule changes, and fun activities the international kids at school know what to expect and how to plan. It also gives them the time to ask questions about things they may not culturally understand.
2. This Week
Board number 2 helps the kids keep track of homework, upcoming tests and projects that require planning. These kids have so many things to keep track of, it helps to have a big planner they can refer to on a regular basis. Often they will take a phone pic of the board to help them remember.
Board number 3 gives the students the game plan for today's class. If they know what my goals are for the lesson, they stay better focused and work with me to get the list done (the less we get done the more homework they have!)
The three boards in my room quickly become a life line to my international students. They know what to expect in regards to the student body, their classes, and their work load. It relieves a lot of anxiety when students have a chance to prepare.
Number 1: Paper chains
Paper chains are easy and cheap. Here are two ways to use them.
For Correction: Start with a paper chain of 10 links (or however may you choose.) If a student is speaking in any other language than English during class, you remove one chain. This continues every day for a week. If there are any links left on the chain at the end of the week, the students earn 10 minutes of free time, a game of UNO (or any other incentive that works for your students.) This method works because of the positive peer pressure of earning a reward as a group.
For Positive Reinforcement: Start with 10 strips of paper. Every time the class makes it through a class speaking only English, you can add a link to the chain. Once you get to 10 links on the chain, the class earns 10 minutes of free time! Again, positive peer pressure makes this a powerful tool.
Number 2: R E S P E C T
Start with the word RESPECT, each letter written on a separate piece of paper. I use magnetic paper so I can stick them on my marker board. Explain to the class that speaking in English shows respect: respect to the other people in the room who cannot understand them, respect to the teacher and what s/he is trying to accomplish, and respect to their parents who have put them in this school in part in order to learn English.
For Correction: The entire word is attached to the board at the front of the room. Any time a student speaks in a language other than English, one letter is removed. This continues for an entire week. If there are any letters left, the students earn free time, game time, 10 minutes of funny Youtube videos...whatever floats their boat.
For Positive Reinforcement: Every time the class makes it through a class speaking only English, you can add a letter to the board. Once you get the entire word RESPECT on the board, the class earns 10 minutes of free time!
Kids are quick to pick up on the fact that they could speak in their native tongue until the end of the week being careful not to exceed the limit. In order to keep this from happening, I have added the following rule:
If there is only 1 chain left or letter left (whichever method I am using at the time,) they earn 5 minutes of free time, but if they have more than 1 left their prize is doubled.
Even better than free time...I have found the best incentive is my prize jar. In my jar there are an equal number of "great prizes" and duds. I have 24 slips of paper folded in a jar. 12 have a variety of prizes (free time, game time, homework pass, etc.) the other 12 have the words "tough luck" written on them. If the class has the entire word RESPECT on the board they can draw from the jar 2 times on Friday. If they have only one letter left, they can draw 1 time. If they have no letters, they get no draws. The more opportunities they have to draw a prize, the higher their chances of getting something good!
1. WHO'S IT FOR?
Chapel speakers direct their messages almost entirely to the students in the room who are very familiar with the Bible and Christianity. Our international students are just learning how to navigate a Bible. Their Bible knowledge is almost non-existent, so understanding a sermon built on that kind of prior knowledge is impossible.
2. WHAT LANGUAGE IS THAT?
There is a whole Christian-lingo. People who aren't Christians or haven't been a Christian for very long easily get lost with the catch phrases used in sermons. When my international students hear someone talking about being "on fire," "washed in the Savior's blood," and hearing the Spirit "talk" to me, at best they are confused and at worst they are FREAKED OUT!
3. SPEED OF LIGHT SPEAKING
In order to keep the attention of a group of high school students on a Thursday morning most chapel speakers are fast talkers. They are up-beat, energetic and fun, but that speed of speech makes it challenging for English language learners to keep up.
4. WHY IS EVERYONE LAUGHING?
Chapel speakers also keep teens engaged by using humor and slang. It requires significant language acquisition to keep up with a speed-talking-joke telling chapel speaker! Our international students give up pretty quickly.
What do we do?
Every time we have chapel (well, ok, almost every time) I spend some time deconstructing the experience with my international students. Here are few questions I try to cover:
I'm going to give this a try...I hope its not annoying.
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These are affiliate links to the bilingual Bibles I have used in my classroom. I have found that Korean and Vietnamese bilingual Bibles are much more difficult to find or afford. I have instead purchased single-language Bibles in both languages or OT and NT editions. At this point I have found the best prices on Amazon.
I love the close relationships I have with my international students. I purposefully created an environment in which they felt safe, could ask vulnerable questions and occasionally freak out. For the last two days, however, those freak-outs have completely circumvented my teaching.
I have one student who is being bullied by other students from her native country, I have another student who is panicking about getting into an American university, another student thinks her host family is trying to make a buck off of her, another student who despises her host sister...it has come to the point that I dread hearing the desperate call of my students!
I'm a classic co-dependent and NOT helping everyone is torture, but helping everyone is bleeding me dry! I feel so unprofessional!