Effective classroom language: do’s and don’ts

Simi Rai

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

My teachers were my role models. I loved their wisdom, sense of humour and weekly anecdotes. Their inspiring pep talks were just as memorable as their telling’s off, and as pupils, we never forgot those moments.

Since then, I have learnt that the language teachers use in the classroom can have a positive or harmful effect on pupils, so their words need to be chosen carefully.

We’ve all had lessons where we’ve had to repeatedly ask pupils to be quiet, but instead of pulling your hair out in frustration, try using these classroom management “dos’” and “don’ts” - paying extra attention to the language you use when managing pupil behaviour.

Learning simply cannot happen when pupils misbehave, so it is crucial that teachers handle disruptions in a consistent and non-confrontational manner.

Praise good behaviour

Rather than concentrating on the pupils that misbehave, focus your attention on the pupils that are working well. A simple, “well done to those of you on the extension task” or “good work front row” can be very effective. Even mischievous pupils want to please the teacher, so give them the opportunity to change their behaviour before you consider sanctioning them.

Offer the carrot, not the stick

Rather than reminding pupils of the sanctions for bad behaviour, remind them of the rewards they can receive for exhibiting good behaviour. You can even implement a rewards system in the form of certificates, prizes and privileges.

Words of praise like “well done” or “excellent work” can be very encouraging when you mean them, so give credit where credit’s due. Awarding a prize for 'Pupil of the month' can also make them very competitive and encourage them to stay on task!

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Try non-verbal cues

Hand signals and gestures can be very effective when trying to manage pupil behaviour. Sometimes an authoritative look and a firm “ssh” can silence a pupil without disrupting the rest of the class. Keeping eye contact and signalling them to move seats is also another way to behaviour manage without drawing attention to the pupil.

When trying to silence the entire class, pausing and waiting in the middle of the classroom works. Similarly, when giving task instructions pause until there is absolute silence. Pupils should not be speaking when you are, so wait until they are silent – even if it is awkward!

Be consistent

If you choose to sanction one pupil for not handing in their homework, the same should apply to other pupils who miss the deadline. Similarly, if you sanction a pupil, make sure you go through with it. Letting a detention slide or removing a sanction can undermine your authority so follow it through, even if they hand their homework in later.

Sometimes it can help to have a sacrificial talk at the start of the academic year, so pupils are aware of your expectations and the consequences.

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Build a rapport

A simple ‘good morning’ and smile can go a long way. Taking the time to ask your pupils how they are shows that you care and will create a positive classroom atmosphere. A simple ‘great presentation’ or ‘I really enjoyed reading your essay’ can make all the difference.

Schools can be busy and intense environments, so nurture your relationships by taking an interest in their lives. If pupils feel supported, they are more likely to enjoy your subject, put the effort in and minimize disruptions. 

Create a code of conduct

At the start of the academic year, take some time to write a set of rules to establish your expectations. By achieving a consensus on what constitutes acceptable behaviour and why it is needed, you give your pupils a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Rather than forcing them to follow your rules, encourage pupils to think of their learning as a journey you are taking together. Try and limit the code to 3-5 rules and be specific. You could even ask pupils to sign the code of conduct and stick it on the whiteboard or in the class books.

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Move around the classroom

Some teachers like to stand by the whiteboard or sit by their desks when pupils are writing, but this can encourage pupils to misbehave in the back rows. Although you are not expected to be omniscient, circulating and instructing pupils from different areas of the classroom can maintain pupil engagement and discourage off-task behaviour.

Arrange your classroom in a way that helps your mobility and allows you to attend to all pupils. Some teachers prefer rows to group tables or U shapes. Similarly, use proximity to your advantage and approach pupils that beginning to misbehave before it escalates. 

Try not to raise your voice

The teachers at my first school were told to never shout at the pupils. At the time I thought it was obvious until I visited other schools where teachers would shout to get the pupils’ attention. Not only does this intimidate pupils, but also undermine the teacher if pupils continue to talk. Instead of shouting, try those non-verbal signals.

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Don’t take anything too personally

Pupils face all sorts of issues at home and as adolescents, they sometimes bring those issues to the classroom. They might be defiant and rude, but they rarely mean what they say, so avoid confrontation and allow them to cool down before approaching them at the end of the lesson. Their misbehaviour is not a reflection of your teaching, but of external factors, so try not to let it affect you. 

Avoid discussing pupil behaviour with other teachers

Staff rooms are often focal points for gossip and classroom chat, so avoid it unless you are trying to find a solution to fix their behaviour. Equally, unless necessary, try not to refer pupils to other teachers, as this can make them feel like you can’t deal with them and that you need someone to do it for you.

This undermines your control in the classroom. For minor issues like homework or off-task behaviour try to keep it in the classroom unless a pattern begins to emerge. 

Don’t try to embarrass your pupils

When pupils are off-task, rather than redirecting the student with questions; remind them of your expectations and the purpose of the task. Instead of asking them to repeat the answer, a simple “we’re on page 4” or “this will help you with your homework task” will get them to focus.

A pupil might forget what they were studying that lesson, but they will never forget how you made them feel, so avoid humiliation at all costs.

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Don’t discipline pupils publicly

When confronting a pupil in class, you risk the situation escalating. Although we sometimes feel the need to set an example in front of the class, it can have huge consequences later and just cause them to misbehave later.

Instead of disrupting the whole class, take the pupil to the side and explain what they did wrong. It may also be a good idea to give the pupil an action plan for their next lesson or consider rearranging the seating plan. 

Don’t let your emotions get the better of you

We’ve all had those lessons where we’ve wanted to leave, said something we regret or cried, but try not to lose control of your emotions as it will only give the pupils more power. Take a deep breath and detach yourself from their behaviour. You are a professional and there is a reason why you are there teaching them. 

There is no rule-book to classroom management. We all have our own methods and style of managing behaviour, but what we know that consistency is key. All teachers are challenged by classroom management, so ask experienced practitioners for their tips and then find your own style and embrace it. Be firm, but fair!

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About our Community Expert

SIMI_RAI_Circle

Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject - both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

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