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Tips for Managing Disruptive Behavior in English Classes

Have students who just make a mess of your lessons? Here’s how you can modify or change the bad behavior.

By 4 min read 1

Do you have students that disrupt your lessons? The class clown, the one who just shouts anything that comes to mind? Or maybe they just don’t stop talking to the students around them, and don’t participate in your activities. Either way, they’re a bad influence in your class.

If you don’t keep a constant eye on their section of the room, you’ll soon find that six or seven students have all been distracted by their antics. Or worse, the entire class has lost interest!  But what can you do? If you’re an ALT or even an Eikawa teacher, it’s probably been drilled into you that you cannot discipline the students. That’s the purview of the Japanese teacher or not your job.

Instead, you have to deal with the behavior indirectly. Rather than assigning a punishment, you can use these classroom strategies to mitigate the disruption and carry on teaching from there.

Why is my student being disruptive?

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There’s no single answer for why a student is being disruptive.

There’s no single answer for why a student is being disruptive. Sometimes it might be something you can address–perhaps the student is struggling with English and acts out due to boredom and an inability to comprehend what’s going on.

But as often, it might be poor discipline from other teachers, and this student is regularly disruptive because other teachers don’t hold them accountable. It may be a case of special educational needs that haven’t been addressed. Therefore, while trying to address the disruptive student’s issue may be helpful, sometimes the best you can do is use the following strategies to keep the disruption to a minimum.

Stop and watch

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Don’t continue the lesson, but just wait.

This method works best when only one or two students are disruptive and the rest of the class is focused and interested in your lesson. When your student starts being disruptive, stop abruptly and look at them. Don’t continue the lesson, but just wait.

The idea here is twofold. First, the student will realize that the lesson has stopped and understand they have been caught or they’re causing the class to stop. But even more, the goal is to use the other students as motivators to behave. Eventually, especially in very fun classes, the other students will grow frustrated with the constant pauses and push the disruptive student into not interrupting your lesson.

Keep activities intensive

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Keep them on their toes.

Most of the time, these students cause the most disruption during parts of the lesson with little activity. For example, when you’re explaining things or students are working quietly on a worksheet. A way to minimize this disruption is by introducing or improvising an intensive activity to “drown out” the disrupting student.

Rather than simply doing a worksheet sitting down, turn the activity into an interview game. Or, instead of explaining the grammar, have students model it in pairs. By engaging the students in an intensive activity the disruptive student will affect fewer other students as everyone focuses on the new activity.

Seat Shuffle

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Break up the noisier kids into different groups.

This one works best if a few students are playing off each other to disrupt your class–separate them! While you might need permission to do it on a more long-term basis, nothing is stopping you from separating them for a team activity or group game.

For your group activities, make sure that the disrupting students are assigned to different groups, and keep control over the activity to ensure they don’t just drift back together. Similarly, in interview-based activities, separate the class into quadrants and have students stay in their area. This’ll ensure that the group stays broken up and is less disruptive to your classes.

Bring them to you

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Nobody will want to be too disruptive right under your nose.

Building on the idea of separating disruptive students, you can also make sure these students stay close to you. If possible, see if you can arrange with the teachers to move these students directly in front of your desk. Nobody will want to be too disruptive right under your nose.

Beyond physically moving them, bring them to you by involving them heavily in the lesson. Call on them for answers, and use them for demonstrations. After a few stutters and struggles, there’s a good chance they’ll buckle down just because they know they’ll be called on again soon.

Be careful though, as if you’re not in control this can be an opportunity for them to disrupt your class from the front!

Speak to Their Teachers (or Staff)

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Don’t be afraid of reaching out to their homeroom teachers

Finally, if you’re an ALT, don’t be afraid of reaching out to their homeroom teachers if a student is really giving you trouble. Some may not be interested or dismissive, but for the most part, if you emphasize how much a student is disrupting your lesson, you can expect the teacher to at least talk to the disruptive student.

For Eikawa teachers, the situation is a little more complicated. Even though you can’t reach out to a homeroom teacher, talk to more experienced teachers and your supervisor. They’ve all been in your shoes and can probably suggest some strategies to deal with students that have worked in their lessons.

So what did you think of our ideas? Do you use any of them yourself in your classes? Or do you have your own method for dealing with tough students that you swear by? Let us know in the comments!

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