Tag Archives: engaging students

Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (Case two and Caveat)

Classroom management

“David, Please report to the Director’s office as soon as your class finishes.  He needs to talk to you.”  A program assistant handed me a note with those sentences on it.  Gulp!

In the early 1980s, my wife and I, without much thought, accepted teaching positions on the Greek island of Lesbos.  It was a Greek island, so what could possible go wrong?

It was a prep school that high school students attended in the late afternoons/evenings after high school to study English.  Shortly after arriving, we met one of the teachers whom we were replacing.  He told us that the school had a lot of discipline problems because many of the students didn’t want to be there.  He said that the teacher-turnover was quite high as a result.  In fact, a couple of teacher had just disappeared a few months earlier.

On the first day of class, as we walked down the hallway, we could see students literally chasing each other around the class rooms and jumping on the desks.  My first class was with 16 tenth-grade students.  Although most of the students paid little attention to me but instead continued to chat as I started the lesson, there were three female students sitting in the front row appearing eager to begin.  Those three became the focus of my attention.  Gradually, most of the others started to engage in the lesson, while a couple slept or doodled or looked out the window.

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Most Important Tool for Classroom Management (First Case)


African classroom

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

This “tool” has since helped me remain calm in many stressful teaching situations.  Without this, I probably would have changed careers many years ago.  I discovered this tool during my first month of teaching ESL when I was in Africa in the Peace Corps.

Here is what happened that first time in Africa.  One day early in the term, I was conducting a lesson in a class of 35 students.  Sitting in the front row were two popular students, Kato (the class president) and his best friend, Abdula.  They were have a good time privately whispering and laughing while I was explaining the lesson.  I could tell the other students had noticed them, so I knew I had to do something before the other students would start talking and I’d lose control of the class.  Because Kato and Abdula were popular, I knew that I could alienate the other students if I didn’t handle this situation delicately.  I could feel my stomach churning and blood pressure rising.   Probably many teachers would have the same initial inclination that I had which would be to just tell them to stop talking.  But what if I did that, and they continued talking?  Then what could I do?   I decided to not say anything right then and to think about it after class.

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Writing Class Person Description Activity: Fun, Lively and Productive



Describe classmate image

This is a paragraph that a student secretly wrote to describe one of her classmates.  All the students are circulating around the periphery of the room, reading description hanging on the wall with no names on and trying to determine who is being described in the paragraphs.  Each student seems very focused on reading the descriptions, searching for the classmate who is the object of the description but also looking out of the corner of their eyes to see what kind of reaction others are having to the description that they secretly wrote just an hour earlier.  There is energy in the room, a lot of interacting and a lot of laughing.

Describe your classmate activity

In brief, the steps for this activity are:

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The Most Effective Classroom Organization for Reading Skills Development

Reading book

Here is what seems to be some well-kept secrets about reading classes.  The teacher doesn’t have to be the center of attention.  The teacher doesn’t have to “act” like a teacher, standing up front talking.

And most of all, students will not be bored or waste time if they are reading individually during class.

What students need from the reading teacher is someone who can help each individual student develop their reading comprehension skills.  A student doesn’t need to listen to a teacher explain to the class parts of a passage he/she already understands but that a classmate doesn’t.

Students can get the maximum benefits from a reading class and from a reading teacher through a reading workshop.  This workshop approach has proven effective at all levels and with students from over 40 countries.

One of the greatest advantages is that each student’s individual needs are addressed by the teacher during the class.  Another advantage is that students are working on reading by actually reading.  Also, they don’t have to wait for classmates to finish reading a passage or feel pressure to read faster to keep up with them.

Here is how a Reading Workshop can be effectively organized.

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Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 2)

Akiyo Noguchi and Anna Stöhr during the semifinals at the IFSC Boulder Worldcup Vienna 2010

Listen and summarize

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Most of us have had experience like this with an ESL student: Someone is talking for a half a minute or more, and the student is just looking at the person.  When the person stops, the student just nods his/her head.  The speaker isn’t sure if the student really understood. 

There is a technique which students, both the listener and speaker, can uses in conversations to avoid that type of situation.

The technique expands on the one introduced in Part 1. Discussion Technique to Get Quiet Students Involved (Part 1) Instead of asking a clarification after each paragraph, in this one, the listener summarizes in one sentence what s/he thinks was said.

By doing this, the speaker is able to feel confident that s/he is being understood correctly and the listener can confirm his/her understanding.

Just as with the technique introduced in Part 1, after students have used the two attached handout-activities, they usually find the technique to be a “tool” that they can use not only in group discussions but also when interacting with teachers and others outside the classroom.

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Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (2nd  Technique: Volunteering to Answer)

Volunteer answer

(This posting includes an attached teacher’s script which you are welcome to use.)

As mentioned in the previous posting “1st Technique: Responding to others,” Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (First Technique: Responding to Others)  whole-class discussions can be an alien concept to some students.   This is the second technique.

International students in Western-style classes often feel ignored during whole-class discussions if the instructor doesn’t directly call on them.  In some of the classes, instructors expect students to freely offer their comments or ask question.  Also, some hesitate to call on International students because they think those students might feel uncomfortable speaking to the whole class.

This technique, Volunteering an Answer, is very effective in helping even passive students involved in whole-class discussion, and in the process, impressing their instructors.

To help you students become comfortable with this technique, you can use the attached script, which I’ll explain about below.  (Notice: for this technique, there is no handout for the student, just a teacher’s script.) Script Whole class Technique 2 Volunteering to answer

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Guaranteed Active Whole-Class Discussions (First Technique: Responding to Others)

Discussion responding

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) 

During a whole-class discussion, one of the students, Santos, made a comment.

Then Mai said, “I’d like to ask Santos a question …”

Then Lan gave her opinion, and Camilo replied, “Lan said something very interesting …

These students were employing a discussion technique “Responding to Others,” which had taken just 10 minutes for them to pick up.

The concept of whole-class discussions can be an alien one to students from non-Western countries. Students are told that participation in class discussions is expected in Western academic settings and that if they are active participants, it can affect their grade in a positive way. Nevertheless, these students don’t know what “active participation” means, other than to state one’s opinion.  For instructors preparing students for mainstream, academic coursework, the techniques introduced in these next postings could help students develop five specific techniques that they can apply to be active.  

                                  Five Techniques
Responding to another student’s comment
Volunteering an answer
Redirecting a question when you don’t know what to say
Reporting what someone else has said
Summarizing what other group members have said

An additional benefit to those students who employ these is that their classmates will feel good about them and future instructors will be impressed.  For research about this, see  Want Your Students to Seem More Likeable? Research Says: Teach Them Follow-up Questions

The first technique and handout is explained below:

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