Following is a list of good classroom behaviors that I have developed during my time as a TAPIF assistant. People who have EFL teaching experience or a teaching degree will read this list and be like, “Dude, you’ve reinvented the wheel,” but as a complete neophyte to teaching, I figured out each of these items the hard way. I know that a lot of other assistants are in the same boat, so maybe you other newbies will find something useful here!
- The first time you see each class, have them make namecards to put on their desks in front of them. Ask them to bring these namecards back each time. I feel like it shows the students more respect when you can use their names as opposed to “Monsieur with glasses” and “Mademoiselle with the scarf” which is what I do most of the time because I didn’t think to do namecards at the beginning of the year.
- I often forget to compliment the students because I’m so focused on holding their attention and moving through the activity. Point out when they do things right. “I really liked the way you said ‘schools’ because you pronounced the S at the end. A lot of my students forget that!” It occurred to me to say that in a class last week and the girl who had spoken smiled. I noticed afterward that the other students made more of an effort to pronounce the final S on plural nouns.
- Make them answer questions in full sentences (if they’re capable), not single words. “When was the Montgomery Bus Boycott?” –“The Montgomery Bus Boycott was in 1955.”
- Make students read out large numbers—years, populations, number of albums sold, etc. Even high-level students have trouble with numbers. When I’m giving a presentation of something with lots of numbers in it, I’ll point at random students and have them read out how many people live in LA, or whatever.
- Call on students at random. Don’t go through the class left to right, front row to back row. It does make it harder to remember who has already read a sentence or answered a question, but you’ll just have to deal with that. Sometimes students will volunteer to read/answer, which I love.
- I hate doing this, but sometimes you have to give the disruptive students a disproportionate amount of attention. You can call on them more often and also ask them, “What did your classmate just say? Were you listening to her?” When they’ve turned around in their seat to talk to a classmate, say their name (or, let’s be real, “Monsieur in the red shirt”) and have them answer the question you just asked.
- Ask a question and THEN choose a student to answer it. That makes them all have to pay attention in case they get called on.
- If the students have done a question/answer worksheet in class, have one student read the first question and pick another student to answer him/her. The student who answered reads the next question and picks someone else to answer. They’ll often choose their friend who isn’t paying attention, which spares you, the teacher, from being the only “policeman” in the room. This is also a good way to learn the students’ names.
- When you notice that many students have trouble with a particular word, have the whole class repeat it after you. For example, a lot of my students have trouble pronouncing “ideas” for some reason. You can’t make them repeat too many things because they get tired of it quickly (especially the lycéens) but one to three times per lesson works.
- Write keywords, new words, and difficult words on the board. Sometimes students will ask you to write a particular word but most of the time they’ll stay silent and accept not knowing.
- Are you nervous about standing in front of classes? Try holding a small object in your hand—a whiteboard marker, a pen, your keys. I don’t know why this works but I feel much better when I’m holding something. I’m quite sure that the students don’t notice it as a nervous behavior. They assume that language assistants are Certified 100% Confident Adults anyway so you’d have to mess up pretty badly (perhaps by writing on a Smart Board with a whiteboard marker) to shake that assumption.
- Don’t stay behind the teacher’s desk. Stand up. Walk around the room. Move closer to students who are engaging in side chatter. If the students are doing a written exercise, walk around and check on their progress. You are the teacher and the whole room belongs to you.
Do you have any more tips for good classroom behaviors? Want to contest any of the items above? Leave me a comment!