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Michael Cresswell
Toyo S.H.S. 福岡県

What is Classroom Management?

Physical Presence


Classroom Language

Marking the Stages of a Lesson

Seating Plans

Student Groupings

What If?


What is Classroom Management?


The end of your first year teaching in a Japanese high

school is almost at an end. You’re settling into life here,
and starting to feel like part of your school community.
You’re beginning to understand its culture, the codes of
behavior that tell you how you should dress, how you should
address your colleagues, how you and your students should
work together. You are becoming a teacher, and naturally
you want to do a good job.

As teaching assistants, we’re in a privileged position. We

share few of the additional responsibilities of our over-
worked, under-paid colleagues. Our job is simple: to plan
and teach lessons. Our workplace is the classroom, and how
we manage that classroom is the most important factor
governing our success as teachers.

So, what is ‘Classroom Management’?

Activity 1

Take a minute to think about the term ‘Classroom

Management’. What does it mean to you?
Physical Presence

Your physical presence in the classroom plays a large part

in your ability to manage a it effectively. The way you
move, how and where you stand, how physically demonstrative
you are – all these have an effect on the way you are
Like anyone else, you have your own physical
characteristics and habits, and you take these into the
classroom with you. But there are a number of issues to
consider which are not idiosyncratic to you and which have
a direct bearing on your success as a classroom manager.


Some students will be uncomfortable if you are physically

very close to them. Others may interpret distance as a
sign of coldness. Be receptive to your students’ own ideas
of physical space, which may be quite different from those
you are accustomed to in your home country. Watch how they
react and respond accordingly.


Deciding how closely you should work with students is a

question of appropriacy. So too is the general way in
which you sit or stand in the classroom. Try to avoid
hovering over students – if you are working closely with
students engaged in pairwork, for example, try crouching
down so that you are below their eye level. Most students
will find you less threatening this way, but be aware that
others may find the informality uncomfortable at first.
All the positions you take in the classroom – standing
to one side of the blackboard, standing behind the lectern,
sitting on the edge of a desk – make strong statements
about you. It is important that we consider our physical
behavior and body language so that we can behave in a way
that is appropriate with regard to the teachers we work
with, the students we teach and the relationships we want
to create with them.

Some teachers spend most of their time in the classroom in

one place – at the front of the class, for example, or off
to one side. Others spend a great deal of time walking
from side to side, or striding up and down the aisles.
Although this is largely a matter of personal preference,
it is worth remembering that motionless teachers can bore
students, whilst teachers constantly on the move can turn
them into tennis-match spectators.
Most successful teachers move around the class to some
extent. It allows us to maintain our students’ interests,
focus in on students who need our help, and discourage
disruption, among other things.


Much of what we’ve discussed above is to do with the issue

of contact. Maintaining contact with your students is key
to your ability to manage the classroom effectively.
To maintain contact, you need to be aware of what the
students are doing and how they are feeling. This means
watching and listening just as carefully as teaching. It
means making eye contact with them, listening to what they
say and responding appropriately.

Activity 2

Try to complete the table below with situations/activities

that might be appropriate for the behavior described. If
you cannot put anything in the column, explain why not.

teacher behavior appropriate situations

The teacher shouts.

The teacher is at the back of

the class.
The teacher is at the front
of the class.

The teacher is ‘sitting’ on a

table around which four
students are working.

The teacher is sitting on the



We’ve looked at how our physical presence has an effect on

classroom management. Now let’s look at perhaps the most
important tool at our disposal – our voices.

Activity 3

Write down three qualities a good speaker possesses.

Activity 4

Now write down three things that distract you from what a
speaker is saying, or make it difficult for you to listen,
or hard to understand.
How many of these things are relevant to you and the way
you use your voice?

When considering the use of the voice in classroom

management, there are some central issues to think about.
Let’s look at these in detail:

If your students can’t hear you, you’re wasting your breath.

Literally. Breathing properly is essential to being heard
without shouting - you don’t have to shout to be heard! If
you feel your throat muscles becoming tired when you are
teaching, it’s because you’re doing the work there instead
of with your breath.
Try to strike the right balance between audibility and
volume. You can practice this by whispering, to see how
far away you can be heard (you’ll be surprised), and by
calling to objects at varying distances from yourself.

It is important for students that we vary the quality of
our voices too - as well as the volume we speak at –
depending on the type of speaking we are doing. For
example, the voice we use to give instructions for an
activity should not be the same as the one we use to give
informal feedback, or to talk to a student on a one-to-one
basis. Using a range of different voices will help give
your lessons structure.
We should also try to vary the pitch, pause, stress
and intonation patterns we employ. To capture your
listeners’ attentions, try pitching your voice within its
whole range. Use pause for effect, not just to give you a
chance to catch your breath. Stress and intonation are
particularly important, as Japanese is not a stress-based
language like English (most languages aren’t). In
particular, try to avoid upward intonation on instructions
– students are likely to interpret this as a question.

Bad Habits

Don’t get obsessed with whether you’re twitching or err-ing,

but do be aware of what you’re saying and how you’re saying
Classroom Language

Now we’ve looked at the way we say things, let’s think

about what we say.

As a new teacher, monitoring the language you use will

probably take a lot of time and effort. As important as it
is to be heard, if the students can’t understand the
classroom language we use we might as well be speaking

Learner Language Level

Comprehensibility of input is not only essential to your

ability to manage learning effectively, but also to the
success of your teaching as a whole. In planning our
lessons we pay careful attention to matching the level of
the language items to be taught to the level of the
learners themselves. The English we use to teach those
language items should be no different. Think before you
speak – give clear, competent responses to questions, give
unambiguous feedback when correcting and praising learners,
and be aware of processing load. Obviously, the better you
know your students the easier you will find it to get the
level right but even with a class you’ve never taught
before, by decoding the inter-language they use, and tuning
into signals of non-comprehension you will soon be able to
get an idea of where to pitch the level of your own

Quality & Quantity of Instructions

The most important time for you to be understood is when

you are giving instructions. In the language of
instruction, less is definitely more – your instructions
should be as clear and concise as possible. The best way
to explain activities is to model them as you relay the
instructions to your students.

Non-verbal Communication
Make sure you’re students are familiar with the gestures
and other non-verbal communication you may use in class,
and monitor these just as carefully as you do your language.
While some cultures and some people are very expressive in
terms of hand gestures, facial expressions, etc., Japanese
generally are not and may find them confusing. Imagine you
have a heavy book in each hand. Any gestures you do make
will be deliberate and clear. It may be a good idea to
spend time teaching some of the gestures and expressions
you commonly use.
Activity 5

Imagine you are planning a lesson for a class of 40

elementary-level students.
Write a set of instructions for one of these well-known
party games.

ƒ Hide-and-Seek
ƒ Hot Potato
ƒ Memory
ƒ Musical Chairs
ƒ Pass-the-Parcel
Marking the Stages of a

An active and entertaining lesson will almost always

involve several distinct stages. At the very least, there
will be a beginning and an end. To create the kind of
structured classroom environment that will support your
students’ learning, you need to mark these stages

Opening the Lesson

The first stage of a lesson will often involve introducing

students to the language function or structure they are
about to learn, or discussing with them what you hope to
have achieved by the end of the class. You may wish, of
course, to deliberately withhold such information in order
to add an element of surprise. However, just as any play
opens with the raising of a curtain, and any visit to the
doctor begins with the words, ‘Now then, what seems to be
the problem?’ your lessons should have a clear beginning.

Starting & Stopping Activities

At each subsequent stage of the lesson - when an activity

is about to begin or about to end, when you want to signal
a change of direction, or if you need to regain the
initiative and re-focus students on the task in hand - you
will need firstly to get their attention. This can be
difficult, when drawing speaking activities to a close, or
when students are working in groups, for example.
Don’t let games and activities drag on for too long –
set time limits, and use theatrical elements like bells,
whistles, buzzers and countdowns to start and stop
activities. You can use background music, too, pausing it
when you want students to change partners, for example.

Closing the Lesson

You may occasionally find yourself running out of time at
the end of the lesson, but it’s important to provide some
sort of closure to every lesson that you teach. A summary
of the main points of the lesson is a good way of drawing
it to a conclusion, and is an opportunity for useful
feedback. Alternatively, you may wish to forecast what the
next lesson will involve. Attention usually wanes by the
end, however, so if you plan to give homework or to ask the
students to prepare something for the next class, give
forewarning and instructions first and a final reminder at
the end.
Activity 6

Write down three good ways of starting any lesson.

Activity 7

Rate the effectiveness of the following ways of regaining

the initiative in a noisy classroom (1 = most effective, 10
= least effective).

‰ The teacher blows a whistle.

‰ The teacher claps his or her hands.

‰ The teacher raises a hand, and waits for students to
do the same.
‰ The teacher shouts at students to be quiet.
‰ The teacher speaks quietly and waits for students to
‰ The teacher rings a bell.
‰ The teacher stands at the front of the class with arms
‰ The teacher counts down loudly from 5 to 1.
‰ The teacher pauses the background music that was
‰ The teacher holds up a STOP sign.

Activity 8

Write down three good ways of ending any lesson.

Seating Plans

In a typical Japanese classroom, students sit in orderly

rows. They may have a desk in front of them, or a writing
palette fixed to one arm of their chair. Other classrooms
you use might have several tables around which groups of
students can work together, or media consoles at which a
pair of students is seated.
Whatever the classroom looks like before the lesson,
you can usually play around with the layout to some extent,
in order to suit your needs. Let’s look in detail at the
four seating plans most often used in TESOL classrooms.

Orderly Rows

There are obvious advantages to students sitting in orderly

rows. You have a clear view of every student in the class,
as do they you, meaning you can make eye contact with the
people you are talking to. You can move easily up and down
the aisles, allowing for more personal contact with
individual students.
Orderly rows imply teachers working with the whole
class, and some activities are especially suited to this
seating plan: teaching from the board, using an OHP, or
watching a video, for example.
When teaching in this kind of classroom, it is vitally
important to maintain contact with all of the students, and
to avoid predictability. For example, when asking students
direct questions, don’t elicit answers in a predictable
order, student after student. Choose students at random -
keep them on their toes.
In classes of 40 students or more, orderly rows may be
the best option.

Circles & Horseshoes

In smaller classes, you might consider using a circle or
horseshoe plan. A classroom arranged in a circle makes a
strong statement about the kind of teacher you are – the
implication is one of equality, so if your aim is to lower
the boundaries between you and the students, you may wish
to use one or other of these seating plans. In a horseshoe,
you can place yourself at the open end of the arrangement,
giving you access to the board and other teaching aids you
may want to use. Another key advantage of circles and
horseshoes is that all the students can see each other.
This encourages them to use eye contact, gesture and facial
expression, facilitating more authentic interaction.

Separate Tables

The other seating plan commonly seen in TESOL classrooms

has students seated in small groups around separate tables.
This arrangement encourages students to take more
responsibility for their own learning, giving you the
freedom to monitor from a distance, and to spend more time
working closely with individual students or groups. As
with circles and horseshoes, students can see each other’s
faces, but with closer contact and less potential for
embarrassment than in front of the whole class, with well-
chosen activities this arrangement is even more likely to
generate real communication.
On the downside, students may not always want to
cooperate with the other members of their group, and
careful planning may be required to avoid conflict. It can
make whole-class teaching more difficult, since the
students’ focus of attention is more diffuse, and it may be
hard to maintain discipline in a class where students are
not used to sharing responsibility for their learning.

Activity 9

Read the following statements. Do you agree or disagree?

a. Classes where students sit in straight rows are easier
to control.
b. Sitting in straight rows is old-fashioned and stops
people learning.
c. Having students sit in straight rows is the best way
to teach a large class.
d. It is important for students to face the teacher.
e. Students participate more fully in a class when they
sit in straight rows.

Activity 10

What is the best seating plan for each of the following

situations? Why?

a. You want to have a game in teams with a class of forty

b. In a class of fifteen students you want to discuss a
topic with them.
c. You want your class of thirty students to work in
d. You have some reading tasks in a class of ten students.
e. Students are designing an advert in groups.
f. The students are going to listen to a tape.
Student Groupings

Whatever seating plan you use, the students themselves can

be organized in different ways: they can work as a whole
class, in pairs or groups, or alone.

Whole Class

As we have already discovered, there are many times when

teaching students as a whole class is the best type of
classroom organization. This doesn’t necessarily imply
that students should sit in orderly rows, however.
Whatever the arrangement, you can have students focus on
you and on the task in hand.

Groupwork & Pairwork

Groupwork is a cooperative activity: five students, perhaps,
discussing a topic or solving a problem. In groups,
students are more able, and more likely, to experiment and
use English than in a whole class setting. Pairwork has
many of the same advantages, and both give learners chances
for greater independence. You must relinquish some of the
control you have when teaching a whole class. In return,
students must share some of the responsibility for their
own learning.
When setting up a pairwork or groupwork system, always
follow a similar procedure, so that students know what to
expect. Plan ahead to avoid problems setting up the
activity, and be sure to assign roles clearly. Check that
students have understood by asking, for example, all the
A’s to raise their hands. It’s a good idea to model the
activity too, with one pair or group. Only let students
start when they are all clear about what to do, and after
they have started, quickly circulate to check that everyone
is getting on OK.
Watch out for dominant students forcing out those who
are less confident, and discourage peer-correction.
Groupwork may cause students to be more disruptive than
they would be in a whole-class setting, and remember that
they are likely to revert to L1 usage when your focus is
elsewhere – you will have to develop your own strategies
for promoting use of the target language, by fostering a
need to communicate in English.


The other alternative to whole class teaching is solowork.

Working alone lets students move at their own speed and
gives them time to think. They can relax their public
faces and consider their own needs and progress. Less
outgoing students in particular will benefit from solowork,
and they deserve just as much consideration as their more
extroverted classmates.

How often you use these seating plans depends largely on

your students. Do they enjoy pairwork? What do they get
out of it? Do the advantages of groupwork – cooperation,
involvement, autonomy – outweigh those of whole-class
teaching – clarity, dramatic potential, teacher control?
Do students work conscientiously during solowork?
Good teachers use different student groupings for
different activities, and monitor the success of these
activities, always seeking to be more effective.

Activity 11

What is the best student grouping for these activities?

Put W = Whole Class, P = Pairwork, G = Groupwork, or S =
Solowork in the boxes.

‰ Students face an imaginary moral dilemma.

‰ Students design a poster for a school event.
‰ Students listen to a tape recording of a conversation.
‰ Students prepare a talk on a subject of their choosing.
‰ Students repeat words to make sure they can say them
‰ Students work out the answers to a reading
‰ Students write a dialogue between a traveler and an
immigration officer.
‰ Students write a paragraph about themselves.

Activity 12

List some of the advantages and disadvantages of groupwork

and pairwork.

Advantages Disadvantages
What If?

Even experienced teachers face problems from time to time.

The real test of your ability to manage a classroom
effectively is not how well you can plan and teach a class
under ideal conditions, but how you respond when things
don’t go according to plan.

Establishing a Rapport

Having a good rapport with your students not only makes it

easier to deal with any problems that do arise, it also
means those problems are less likely to occur in the first
place. Establishing a rapport can be difficult, especially
when teaching adolescents. It is important to appear
confident, and to be seen to be taking an interest in the
students as individuals, which is helped by learning their
names. Your first aim should be to get control of the
group. Once you have that, you can start to relax and get
to know students on a more informal basis. Try it the
other way round and you will find it hard to exercise
authority when you really need to.

Teaching Large Classes

Teaching a class of forty or fifty students is no easy task.

It can be very daunting, and maintaining contact with
students at the back and sides of the classroom may be
difficult. Using worksheets for work you might otherwise
do with the whole class will keep everyone involved.
Pairwork and groupwork will help to maximize student
participation. You can use the size of the class to your
advantage too, though. Super-size your teaching: in a big
class, funny is funnier, drama is more dramatic and a good
vibe feels even better.

Discipline Problems

There are many reasons why discipline problems occur –

students may find the work too easy or too hard, they may
be tired or overexcited, they may not be engaged by the
topic or the lesson may suddenly lose its momentum.
Whatever the reason, try to be receptive to the students’
needs. When students misbehave they’re usually trying to
tell you something, and if you can identify the cause of
the problem you are more likely to be able to find a
solution. However you respond, don’t lose your cool!

Here are some common problems, and suggestions for how to


ƒ Students don't want to talk. In the host culture, a

quiet classroom is considered a good thing. Not only
are students not used to talking in class, many will
also be afraid of making mistakes in front of you and
in front of their peers. They need to know that
making mistakes is a necessary part of learning any
language. Through controlled practice, like reading
aloud, pairwork activities and role-play, they can
gently be encouraged to express themselves in English.

ƒ Students don’t want to listen. Ironically, once

you’ve got them talking, you may find it hard to get
them to stop. We have already looked at ways to get
the attention of the whole class, but sometimes one or
two students will continue talking. If they’re using
English, no problem! If not, make contact as soon as
you can. Move closer and interrupt them with your
physical presence, make eye contact, ask them a
question - try to bring them back into the class. If
these strategies fail you can of course separate them
in future lessons but think first - maybe it was you
who was doing too much talking. Overloading students
processing capacity with too much classroom language
will naturally cause them to zone out – think about
how many times a day you turn off to the spoken
Japanese around you.

ƒ Students keep using Japanese. Foster a sense of the

need to communicate in English by speaking English as
much as possible yourself. Only respond to English
use, but make sure that students have the basic
language items they need to function in the classroom
first – you can teach these in a lesson or two.
Remind them that this is their opportunity to practice,
and praise students for using the target language,
rather than nagging those who don’t.
ƒ Students refuse to cooperate. Sometimes, no matter
how hard we try to make our lessons interesting, we
find ourselves faced with a student who is
deliberately uncooperative. Lack of cooperation can
take many forms – constant chatter in class, failure
to do homework, blunt refusal to participate in
activities, constant lateness or bad manners. As an
assistant, where possible it’s best to let your
teaching partner deal with the situation. At the very
least, you should consult with your colleagues before
taking any kind of remedial action. But don’t avoid
the issue – they are still your student and you have a
responsibility to teach them. Talking to them outside
class may help - if you can find out what they are
interested in perhaps you can design activities they
will find engaging.

In order to develop our classroom management skills, we

need to evaluate the success of our lessons, and the
activities and techniques we use in them.

Evaluation Methods

One benefit of team-teaching is that there is always

another teacher on hand to assess your lessons. Asking
your T.T. partner for advice is perhaps the easiest way to
get a second opinion on the success or failure of a
technique or activity.
Videoing your lessons is also a good way to evaluate
your teaching. If you want to monitor your speech, you
could make an audio recording instead.
Another way to get feedback is to ask students
directly. Did they enjoy a particular activity? Was it
useful? Not all students will discuss topics like this
openly, however. It might be better for them to write
their answers down and hand them in. Encouraging students
to talk about lessons will make it easier to plan and
manage more effectively in future.
You will need to actively check their progress too, by
setting homework assignments, for example, by giving them
speaking activities in which they are scored for
participation, or by having frequent vocabulary tests.

Activity 13

Imagine you have invited a colleague to observe and

evaluate your lesson.
Write a list of questions for them to answer.