Class Management Tips for ESL Teachers

by Rob Minor


A lot of new teachers have the largest learning curve with class management. Class management is very critical to teaching a successful class. You could have the most organized curriculum and the brightest students; however, if the teacher can’t lead the class properly, the results will be subpar.


Here are a few tips to remember and work on if you are having classroom management issues:


class management tips for esl classroom



1) Have a routine.


With many ESL classes, especially low level ones, it is difficult to orally explain clearly what you want to do daily. Having a routine that you run daily helps the teacher to advance organize the students’ thoughts. If they know the beginning of class will be song time, they will be ready for it and engaged. If they know writing time is the end of class, no student will be confused on what to do.


In addition, the teacher will be not worry if the students are unaware what to do. The teacher will be prepared and can go through the lesson thoroughly.


When teaching a new class, get your routines down and stick with them. When everyone is clear on how activities are run, class will run smoothly.



2) Be Confident


Confidence comes from within the teacher. If a teacher is timid and not sure of him/herself in front of the class, the students will recognize and feed off that uncertain energy.


I always tell new teachers that they are like a captain of a ship or a general in an army. The teachers must lead and the students must follow. Teachers need to present a strong disposition when in charge of a class. How can you do this?


Be prepared: Prep your lessons down to the minute. Know exactly how long you will spend on certain activities. Also, have a goal for each lesson and if there is a kind of game of fun activity planned, run it like you planned it.


        When teachers are unsure about what to do and are fumbling around for books, or hemming and hawing, they will lose the focus of the class. Keep things moving along and keep to your script. The more you do this, the easier it will be to be flexible and vary your activities down the line. Also, keep your lessons interesting and fun. Bored students tend to get unruly.


Have a Routine: As I mentioned above, routines take the uncertainty of the teacher and students out of the equation. Once a routine is established, the teacher will appear more confident.


Make eye contact: It’s amazing what eye contact will do. When teachers keep their heads down and avoid eye contact with the class, students will sense a lack of presence. When teachers need to get their point across or may be disciplining a student, direct eye contact to that student or the class lets students know you are serious. It also displays confidence.



3) Lay out and explain your class rules.


If you are a new teacher in a new class, or you are taking on a class of new ESL learners, it is important to lay out a set of rules for the students.


Some of these rules can be very basic: Raise your hand if you want to speak. Stay in your chair. No drinking in class. Speak only English. Etc.


Not only does this set a tone that the teacher is in charge, but it is also gives the teacher confidence that the classroom belongs to him/her.


Have a list of rules posted in the classroom. Go over them daily when class begins. If students are at a basic English level, use pictures along with the text.



4) Strong-confident voice—not much stronger than your normal tone


The voice of a teacher is important. The natural reaction to control a class is for the teacher to speak loudly in a semi-shouting voice. This is actually a misguided approach as it creates tension and stress for not only the class but also the teacher. In addition, do this too often, and a teacher can lose his/her voice.


Instead, try and use a voice that is firm, yet natural. Also, use a different voice tone for every situation. Take out your books: Natural yet loud enough for all to hear.  If you are discussing a story, speak naturally and conversationally, yet be loud enough for all to hear.


If you find yourself shouting and screaming in the class to gain control, there may be other issues at stake that are causing you to react in this manner.



5) Clap, Countdown, or Wait…..


Noisy class? Too much talking and you’re ready to go?  Teachers should have a signal to let students know you need quiet and they should be focusing…a few ideas are…


1) Clapping: I do a few loud claps. This always lets my class know it’s time to stop chatting and settle down.


2) The Countdown: A slow and loud, “5,4,3,2,1…” and the class should be quiet and ready. Sometimes if you get to 1 and someone is not ready, you can give a small penalty like erasing a star or staying a few minutes in class during break time.


3) Standing with your hand up: Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything to get your class to quiet down. Some teachers can just stand in front of a talking class and raise his/her hand while scanning the class and making eye contact with everyone. This requires confidence and a presence so that the students know you’re serious.



6) Handling behavior issues:


Good class management requires the teacher to have a presence as the class leader. One way to establish this presence is to be adept at dealing with behavior issues from particular students. There are two ways to consider dealing with individual cases:


1) Deal with it publicly: If the issue is small and a particular student has been warned about certain behavior, the teacher can choose to openly be direct with that student (use eye contact) and allow the classmates to witness it. If the teacher needs to dole out a kind of penalty or punishment, he/she should do so in front of the class. This gives a bit of warning to others who might be behaving in a similar fashion.


2) 1 on 1 talk: When the situation is a bit more severe, teachers may want to talk to the student one on one, after class, in private. At this point, the teacher can express their concern and disapproval of a student’s behavior. Also, the teacher can set some expectations and discuss repercussions with the student.




Class management is an integral part of teaching. As teachers become more experienced, class management almost becomes second nature.


For all you new teachers, keep working at it and you’ll get there. I hope these tips help.

To Top