Teaching secondary
school aged students


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What and Why?

One difficulty frequently encountered by teachers of secondary aged students is the problem of maintaining discipline. There are two main aspects to consider in this. The first is to ask 'What kind of discipline do I want?'. The key should be maintain a purposeful but relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, where certain students don't disturb other students. This may mean that some so-called discipline problems are not real problems at all. As long as the overall atmosphere is conducive to learning, it may not be worth making an issue out of minor acts of 'misbehaviour'. If students were 100% compliant, we would have reason to be worried! On the hand, discipline can, at times, become a serious problem. The important question to consider here is 'Why are they behaving like that?'. The cause of discipline problems may lie in difficulties at home, in school, or with friends. These are likely to beyond your control. Some causes of discipline problems, however, may lie within your classroom and you may be able to resolve them.

Practical ideas

  • If the problem reoccurs, try to discuss it with the students. Approach the issue as their problem as well as yours ("We've got a problem. Our lesson/groupwork/etc. is not working, is it? What can we do about it?). This can give them a feeling of responsibility. For this, you will need to listen to their views and be ready to make changes.
  • If you have a large class discipline problems may be caused by students who feel left out or who don't understand what is happening. Using groupwork can help them feel more involved.
  • Discipline problems may occur during listening activities. This may be because some students cannot hear the cassette very well. They may be 'lost' before the lesson really starts. Tell them to look at the words in the book while they listen if the room is noisy.
  • If the students are restless or tired, you could start with some physical activity.
  • The pace and timing of the lessons may be too fast for some of the students and so they get lost, feel they can never catch up, and then begin to misbehave. These slower students may prefer to work individually.
  • Make sure that the work of the weaker students has equal feedback.
  • Try to bring about more student involvement, especially from those students who are causing disruption.
  • To settle students down when they come into the class, you can use music or regular journal writing. The Journal is the students' own book which you do not correct or look at unless invited to do so. The students may write anything they like about their day, their feelings, the things they have done, the things they have learned and so on. Initially, this will be in the mother tongue but you can encourage them to try to write in English as the course goes on.

During group or pairwork:

  • Give extra help to the troublesome students
  • Get the troublesome students to work on something you know they are good at and which will give them a feeling of achievement. You can give them some other individual responsibility for a term. For example, being in charge of the Exercise Box, collecting in homework, helping with the displays, leading the singing in songs.
  • Try not to give extra English homework as a punishment; it can create the view that English is boring or difficult or both!