• Enjoyable and Effective Awareness Activity for Changing ESL Students Classroom Behavior

Cover skits Shot

Most ESL students don’t do goofy things just to irritate the teacher. Usually, they are unaware of how they are coming across or not aware that they are acting differently from the other students or even what is expected of them.  These are some of the habits students tend to bring to our classes:

  • Chronically arriving to class late
  • Text messaging during class
  • Not paying attention
  • Chatting with classmate
  • Not participating in a group
  • Calling out answer before others get a chance
  • Sitting in the back of the room day-dreaming
  • No eye contact to teacher or classmates in a group
  • Speaking own language in a group
  • And more

To circumvent these habits and help students develop an awareness of expectations, in the two most recent ESL programs that I’ve taught in, we included some skits during our orientation of new students or during a workshop for students after the term had started. Not only did the students seem to enjoy them, but also we noticed far fewer students coming to our classes with these behaviors.

Here is how we did it.

Location: In the auditorium or large room where the new-student orientation or student workshop was being conducted

Stage: The “stage” is set up like a classroom with about 4-6 chair/desks facing a teacher’s table/desk.

Actors: Our ESL program teachers/staff members play the roles of students and one was in the role of a teacher and one was the “skits” director.


We start with the director giving this short introduction:  We are going to present a skit taking place in a classroom.  You will see how students’ behavior in the class can make it difficult for other students to learn and for the teacher to teach a lesson.  During the skits, I’ll hold up this sign (“What’s the problem?”)  On your handout, you will (write) choose the correct answer.

Actors: James plays the part of the teacher; Mary, Kevin, Ann, Dan, Terry and Lucy play the roles of students.

Two examples:

Problem 1: Late arriving student: Mary. 

1) James, the teacher, starts the class by lecturing briefly when Mari, a student, enters the room, interrupts James to explain that the reason why she was late was because she missed the first bus and had to wait 15 minutes until the next one came. Then she goes to her seat.

2) The director holds up the sign: What’s the problem?”

3)The audience members choose on their handouts*:

MC behavior REV Shot

4) The director asks the audience what the correct answer is.

5) The director asks James, the teacher, how he feels when a student enters a class like Mari did and explains what he wants students to do when they come late to the class. James tells the audience, for example, that when Mary started telling him her excuse, he was in the middle of a sentence and the other students couldn’t pay attention to what he was saying. James says that it’s best that late students just go directly to a seat without interrupting the lesson. Then when there is a break or at the end of class, the late students should explain to the teacher why they were late.

Problem 2: Students chatting: Ann & Terry

1) James continue the class by asking questions to the student. Two students, Ann and Terry, who are sitting next to each other, start to chat. Lucy, a student sitting near them, looks a bit irritated.

2) The director holds up the sign: What’s the problem?”

3)The audience members choose on their handouts*:

Skit 2: What’s the problem?

  1. The students are talking while the teacher is trying to talk.
  2. The students should talk louder so everyone can hear them.
  3. This is not a problem. It’s good that they are trying to practice their English.

4) The director asks the audience what the correct answer is.

5) The director again asks James, the teacher, how he feels when students start chatting during class and ask Lucy, a student, how she feels when classmates are chatting.

 *A second option is to have the students write the problem using a form like this:

Fill in behavior shot


In general, the preparation time for these skits is surprisingly short. After compiling a list of “problems,” the teachers/staff who volunteer meet to choose the 5-10 problems to present, decide who will play which roles and then rehearse (ad lib). In other words, we don’t write out a complete script.

  • A few weeks prior to the presentations, I send out a memo to the teachers soliciting suggestions for “problems.” (For a sample memo, see Memo for skit problem ideas .) This memo also includes a request for actors and suggested rehearsal date.
  • The “cast” meets to choose the problems and rehearse. It usually only takes about 90 minutes to do this and usually includes a lot of laughing. We’ve always found it to be creative and, in many ways, therapeutic and even a good bonding exercises.
  • (See Skits outline & Questions samples  for an outline of skits and sample questions for the audience.)

Alternative to live performance: video record

We have made recordings of the skits with teachers as the actors and with volunteer students as the actors.

For more ideas about classroom management, see Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (First Case)  and Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (Case two and Caveat)

David Kehe





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