Post CELTA: Managing the Young Learner Classroom

YL Classroom Management ELTcampus


This month, Moira Allen, a Young & Very Young Learners teacher based in Seville, Spain, has shared with us some of her advice for teachers who find themselves in a YL classroom. Read her highlights below and listen to us talking about classroom managment on the podcast.

Ok, so you have finished your CELTA training and are armed with lots of pedagogic knowledge, principles of effective teaching and files full of perfect lesson plans. Next step, you get a job. Great! First step achieved. Next stop the classroom.

Well, very likely you are on your own with no tutor or peer assessment and the niggling suspicion that perhaps this might not be as easy as you might like to think it is, to actually put it into practice.

My first class after the CELTA course was a class of about 12 six year olds. Now looking back, I think, what a doddle and it was only 45 minutes! At the moment, I teach 23 five year olds and have been in Early Years Education for about 8 years and prior to that 7 years in academies.

Before landing myself that first job in teaching, like many people I had come from a different background. Mine was in HR and training and I naively thought it might help, as I had been giving training sessions to adult professionals for many years and thought that quite challenging. However, I would have to say that nothing quite prepared me for the intimidating audience that is teaching kids in a language that is not their own.

My first experience of a large three year old class I will never forget. As armed as I was with theory and some practice, nothing quite prepared me for it. As I stood there with my cheery “Hello Everybody” and interactive whiteboard plans I scanned the room of little faces to see at least 2 or 3 randomly moving towards another part of the room or the toilet, one or two almost asleep, a few more under the tables and quite a lot looking at me with fearful faces and maybe less than half a dozen actually listening, as far as I could tell. But I wasn’t even sure if they were! And, I almost forgot, there was one pulling on my trouser leg as I was talking.

Where do I go from here? Grab my bag and make a run for it or stick it out? Well as you might have guessed I stuck it out, but it was touch and go.
So what advice can I offer? Well I will begin with this.

Do what works for you.

Make the class your own, and the students. This is true for any age. It is your space and theirs, for that time whether it is an hour class or a 3 hour class.
Be practical and learn to think on your feet. That is, if something is not working think of a way to change it or make it work. Of course it is important to have a lesson plan but teaching is also about your learning, learning from your mistakes and your successes.

Be creative in terms of your teaching methods.

A child may quite often bring in a toy or an English book they have at home. Use it or any other resources (something you bring in from home yourself) to make it an interesting learning experience for all.

Have routines too.

This is especially true for young children as they like routines and although they can be the backbone of any class, learn to expand on those routines and add to them.
Pay attention to the mood of the class. That is listen and observe your audience and go with the flow. So if you feel they need to play, let them play for a bit. If you feel a chat would work then go with that. Be prepared to change your plans. This doesn’t mean you don’t follow your lesson plans but let them have a say in how they learn. It is up to you to guide them and bring them back to task when the time is right.

Kids spend so much of their time in schools being talked at as opposed to communicated with, it is no wonder they can’t pay attention or don’t want to. Would you be able to spend all day being talked at, while sitting still?

Be prepared to have good days and bad days, good classes and bad classes.

Everyone does, even after all these years I still do. You will think oh that worked really well or that was a disaster. You will find yourself wondering what am I doing wrong and comparing yourself to that teacher in the next class who seems to be getting it all right. They will have their bad days too.

Gain the students respect and demand it from them too.

I remember hearing that old chestnut...”Don’t smile until Christmas”. I realise now what they were trying to say was don’t let them “rule the roost”. Of course demanding respect and some kind of order within the classroom is very important but what I would suggest is this:

Get to know each individual

Engage with each of your students on an individual basis and although this might take until Christmas it will be worth it. So eye contact, a smile at the right moment, a question an observation or comment will help towards that engagement. Don’t get me wrong, you are not trying to make them your friends so I am also talking about picking them up on negative behavior but you do need to build a bridge of sorts between you and them. So be firm and be fair but also be human.

Learn some tricks of the trade.

That is, learn or invent some motivational techniques to get their attention. A counting game, a song, a clapping game, a chant, whatever it is, it will be worth its weight in gold when you need it.

Learn or rob ideas from other teachers, teaching websites, Pinterest or whatever comes your way. That is ok, everyone does it, but do amend or change those ideas to suit you and your class.

Monitor you mood.

Stay calm and try not to let the little things get to you. Your mood will most definitely affect the class, more than you might like to think, so try to keep your cool and most of all try to enjoy it because there will be many more classes to get through before you are done.


Keen to get equiped for the YL classroom?

Our Teaching English to Young Learners Course covers what Moira has experienced drilling down into the issues, with lots of techniques, ideas and approaches for effective and fun classrooms.

teaching-english-to-young-learners-course-with-eltcampus

4 replies on “Post CELTA: Managing the Young Learner Classroom”

  1. It can be difficult to “own” a class when you are not given the same room every day; when you have to wait while children in the class-room get undressed and re-dressed and pick up their things and leave (only, sometimes, to come back in because they forgot something) because they are not in your class; when home-room teachers delay the start of your class or cuts it off because of an assembly, a test, or something said in the language you don’t know yet; or when the cleaning lady barges in and starts mopping the floor; when the door gets opened by teachers or administrators looking in (searching for the home-room teacher?); or when the kindergarten teacher who insists on staying in the class-room yells at the kids while you are singing (sometimes when they are a bit out of line but other times when they all seem to be following along).

  2. Hi Kim,
    Yes, many of us have experienced these situations. I was observing a class just two weeks ago where the lesson got hijacked. I think the issue here is that Moira and you have different contexts. You need to establish clear expectations: what you require and need in terms of space, participation, getting peole to butt out, and giving you the respect you deserve- you are the boss. The company you work for can represent you in this. Either you, or the school/company you are working for if you are working off-site, need to set up a meeting with the school and establish some ground rules clarify expectations. You do something important, you’re a teacher, your work requires that people respect some boundaries – do they treat each other like that or just you?

    You need to have your methodology and approaches explained, so that other teachers participating or in the classroom, understand your approach. For a lot of teachers, classroom management is about having a quiet classroom, so there are cultural and pedagogical differences here.
    Regarding timetables – again, clarifying expectations – no interruptions.
    Can the company you work for demand that the school provide you with the same room, a cupboard for your things?
    Ownership also comes with respectfully and patiently training the people involved, to respect your work, your space, your effort and your time.

  3. Emma, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have tried some of these, but a lack of follow-through by my company combined with my own timidity haven’t gotten me very far. In one case, where I would have to ask the contact person (vice principal? — I can’t get an exact title!) each day when she happened to be in her office, and she would walk out into the corridor and consult a complicated schedule chart and then tell me the room number. I would get the key (if it was available) and go to the room. Sometimes it was available, but sometimes there would be an adamant teacher denying me access. One teacher in particular simply didn’t want me (or anyone else?) in her room at any time. I went to the contact person, and they had a hissy match. I worked out a solution that only partially worked: I told the person from my company that he should sit down with the contact person from the school and set up a time-table with rooms we teach in. Well, they met, but our rep lost the timetable or forgot to tell us teachers that they had finally had a meeting. So, the contact person brusquely asked if M. hadn’t given me a copy. When he finally did, the teacher of another room said ‘not on Thursdays.’ Finally, I solved the issue by working with a cleaning lady who found an empty room.

    Well, that’s the sort of thing I face.

  4. Golly. Is this company you work for very established? This is very unprofessional. Organising with the cleaner! Good on you both for initiative, but reflects poorly on the contractor and the contracted. Is there no communication across the school about who you are and what you’re there for?

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