The ESL Educators’ Guide: Classroom Management Techniques

Flickr photo by mbeo
Flickr photo by mbeo

Classroom management is a key component to being a successful teacher, and it has everything to do with your attitude in the classroom and how you deal with your students in general.

Every new teacher struggles with classroom management in the beginning because they don’t focus enough on establishing their role as ‘boss’ in the classroom. If you don’t take control of your classroom, your students most certainly will. We often worry that our students won’t like us if we’re too strict with them, but you can still be friendly and fun with your students without relinquishing control of your classroom.

If your students like and respect you, they will behave well in class and pay attention to you.

Try to understand why your students are misbehaving.

Students misbehave for a number of reasons. Ask yourself the following questions and be honest with your answers:

  • Are your students bored?
  • Are your lessons age- and level appropriate?
  • Do they have behavioral issues that are related to ADD or ADHD?
  • Do your students understand what’s happening in class?
  • Do your students think that you care about them?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably need to learn a few lessons in classroom management. Here are a few techniques for good classroom management:

Don’t be critical of your students.

Criticism, unless you know how to dole it out accordingly, can be tough on any person at any age. Even adults have problems dealing with criticism, so it’s best to leave criticism at the front door of your classroom. Don’t ever criticize a child or make them feel stupid.

Increase your students’ self-esteem with praise and encouragement.

It’s a known fact that people respond better to praise than criticism. Encourage and praise good behavior in class and you will find that your students will respond to your encouragement by wanting to please you.

You could also try telling a student what s/he does well and give them some advice on what they need to improve on.

Make a big show of openly praising students that are well behaved in class. Reward those students by allowing them to do small tasks for you, such as handing out homework books or cleaning the whiteboard. You could even assign a ‘little helper’ each day and let everyone in class know that the people who are on their best behavior will have a chance at being the teacher’s ‘little helper’.

Employing a reward system is almost always more effective than doling out punishments. All students respond to rewards, but offering things like toys or stickers for good behavior will only serve to backfire in the end. Instead of bribing your students’ into good behavior, try one of the following techniques as a reward:


  • Give a student verbal or written praise
  • Give them a star on their homework
  • Create a special board for your classroom and include everyone’s name on it. Reward good behavior with a star and bad behavior with a worm
  • Display their work in a prominent place in the classroom
  • Allow them to sit in a place of honor
  • Give them a special hat
  • Allow them to help the teacher
  • Give them a special note to take home to their parents
  • Allow them to lead a group activity
  • Allow them to help or tutor another student

Teenagers, of course, are not going to respond to being rewarded with the title of Little Helper, but they are very protective of their free time. You could try punishing bad behavior by asking students to stay after class.

If staying after class isn’t an option, tell them that they have to work next to you during the break. Another effective technique in dealing with teenagers is telling them that you are going to speak with their parents. Most of them will want to avoid you doing that at all costs.

Show your students that you care about them.

Find opportunities to talk to your students outside of class. When you show an interest in a person outside of class, it makes them feel special. Make sure you make eye contact with your students and smile at them. Don’t make it a habit of sitting behind your desk or standing in front of the board all the time. Get up and walk around the classroom. Check your students’ work, and don’t be afraid to sit down and help them when they need it.

Don’t be a friend, be a mentor.

Don’t try to be friends with your students. Instead, be a role model for them to copy, especially in terms of how you expect them to behave. Let your students know that you are someone that you can trust and come to if they need help.

Be fair, firm and consistent when you are establishing rules, and be consistent in following through on them. Establish rules from the very beginning and don’t back down from them. Additionally, you should be a bit strict in the beginning as it is harder to become strict after you’ve been lenient. If your rules change from day to day, your students won’t know what to expect from you.

Be a role model.

Your actions speak volumes, so treat your students the same way you want to be treated. Be kind, courteous, enthusiastic, patient and organized and you will be setting an example for your students to follow. You can’t gain respect from your students for yelling, losing your cool, punishing a student unexpectedly, putting students down, being sarcastic or embarrassing them. If you can’t control your behavior, why should they?

Change it up.

Don’t use the same old boring teaching techniques in class. Try using a variety of activities, games, and teaching methods that appeal to different learning styles.

Make sure you have everyone’s attention before you start teaching.

You must demand your students’ attention from the very beginning so that they know that it is time to work. Most students will not quiet down just because the teacher has started teaching. Don’t try to talk over the sound of students chattering away in the background.

One effective technique for gaining your students’ attention is being completely still and quiet. Students will notice that the teacher is ready and they will let their classmates know that they need to be quiet as well.

Emphasize your point.

Use non-verbal cues like ringing a cow bell to gain your students’ attention. All you have to do is ring the bell to let your students know that you want them to listen. You can also try flicking the lights on and off, singing, or keeping a clicker in your pocket.

Be interesting in the classroom.

Standing and talking to a group of students is boring for everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to be animated in class and never underestimate the power of facial expressions, hand signals, and body language.

Play games with your students and provide auditory and visual activities from them to learn from. Engage your students in as many different ways as you can. In the end, students who are enjoying the learning process, no matter what their age is, are far more apt to pay attention when they are having fun.

Understand your students.

This rule in particular applies to older students. Having a good understanding of your students’ country, culture, and educational systems will allow you to adopt different training styles, topics and activities that are relevant to your students.

Imagine trying to teach an entirely new concept and then expecting your students to both understand the concept and speak about it intelligently. You’re fighting a losing battle on that end. Your students will be far more comfortable speaking and writing about topics that they can relate to.

Finally, here are a few techniques that don’t work well in the classroom:

  • yelling
  • being sarcastic
  • insulting or embarrassing your students
  • using tense or angry body language
  • using physical force
  • asking your students to follow a rule and not follow it yourself
  • preaching
  • throwing a temper tantrum
  • mimicking the student
  • comparing your students with their siblings or other students
  • making assumptions about your students
  • insisting that you are right
  • not admitting to when you are wrong
  • making generalizations about your students
  • saying things like, “I’m the boss.”

Learning how to manage your classroom is one of the most effective skills that you will learn as a teacher. At the end of the day, everyone wins when both you and your students are in a happy and nurturing learning environment.

This monthly series is designed for ESL educators in countries all over the globe. As part of a new Blog Carnival called ESL Educators, I will be posting an informative article on English as a Second Language on the 20th of every month. This month, Go Teach Abroad is hosting our ESL Educators Blog Carnival. This month’s education carnival is on Classroom Management Techniques.


Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at

11 thoughts on “The ESL Educators’ Guide: Classroom Management Techniques

    Wandering Educators

    (March 21, 2011 - 2:38 pm)

    fantastic tips! i really like seeing if they are bored. LOL. as one who has BEEN bored a lot in classrooms, that is a critical component to management…


      (March 29, 2011 - 8:06 am)

      Hi Jessie,

      It’s amazing that many teachers don’t recognize it when they’re boring their students to death!


        (April 25, 2011 - 4:44 pm)

        But it’s also important that the teacher not be a clown. It is exhausting and irritating for teachers when students who have no attention spans expect teachers to jump around and perform all day. I’ve never “acted out” in a university course when I found something uninteresting. Behavior problems stem from respect issues.

    Nomadic Matt

    (March 22, 2011 - 8:11 pm)

    Great tips for teachers!


    (March 26, 2011 - 5:29 pm)

    Awesome tips! Wise and thoughtful, I wish I had these tips when I was teaching.


      (March 29, 2011 - 8:04 am)

      Thanks Sonya. I didn’t realize that you had taught abroad. Where were you and how long were you there for?


    (April 25, 2011 - 5:05 pm)

    very practical and down to earth tips!

    Thomas Doremus

    (September 2, 2014 - 6:15 am)

    Greetings Carrie,

    I appreciate your posting of the The ESL Educators’ Guide: Classroom Management Techniques. I can attest that I have seen many of the tips work when engaging adults in health and safety education activities in Maryland and Virginia (states in USA for readers not familiar) and while serving as a substitute teacher for learning challenged adolescent students in Maryland. Some of the information is new for me and will be immediately useful. I look forward to reviewing this and other posts when I venture into the vibrant world of TESL in the near future!

    Best, Thomas Doremus

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (September 23, 2014 - 10:15 pm)

      Thank you, Thomas. I’m glad you found my post informative. I wish you the best of luck in your next teaching position abroad!

    leesa jones

    (December 17, 2014 - 5:51 am)

    re: ‘Ask yourself the following questions and be honest with your answers:

    Are your students bored?
    Are your lessons age- and level appropriate?
    Do they have behavioral issues that are related to ADD or ADHD?
    Do your students understand what’s happening in class?
    Do your students think that you care about them?
    If you answered yes to any of these questions, you probably need to learn a few lessons in classroom management. Here are a few techniques for good classroom management:’

    Great page thank you Carrie but just one little thing that’s thrown me- Why would you need to learn a few lessons in classroom management if you answered yes to ‘any’ of the above as answering ‘yes’ to points 2,4 & 5 would be a positive thing wouldn’t it ? Thank you

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