Tips for managing young learners

We set up a ‘Quality Circle’ here at the British Council Bangkok last term. Ours is basically like a reflective practice group set up for teachers, by teachers. We meet twice a term. Every 5 weeks we choose a topic to discuss. Me and my mentor Sarah put our heads together and devise a series of action research tasks on the topic. Other teachers complete the tasks (or just do their own task if they want), then we meet up and discuss our findings.

We had a great meeting the other day on classroom management. There was a 10 minute screencast from one teacher on classroom routines, some great tips from another on using gestures and expressions, and some lovely presentations on signposting and ensuring that learners have a ‘sense of progress’.

Our final short presentation was from Yvonne Leonard, and experienced teacher who works at one of our smaller centres here in Bangkok. She’d chosen a lovely collaborative task to get teachers at her centre involved in the group:

managing yls

Here are the questions that Yvonne chose, and a summary of answers from her colleagues. She actually shared far more than 5 tips, which made things all the more rewarding!


Do you have a set way of opening and closing classes?

Opening classes

– Sign-in system e.g. students line up and teacher gives each a password which they need to remember to go to break and to leave when it’s time to go home.

– Students log-in to ClassDojo as they enter and ask a question to another student as they pass the board pen.

– Start by moving all tables back and playing a physically active, preferably thematic, language game e.g. Pictionary.

– the ‘Hello’ song (good for very young learners) from Super Simple Songs – Hello, hello, can you clap your hands etc

– An action rhyme or chant e.g. Hands up shakety shake (see Carol Read’s website)

– Assign roles: ask a child to take the register, another to return homework etc.

Closing classes

– Leave time for completion of communication books (which we use for recording homework, writing down what we did in class, student self-assessment and communication with/from parents)

– If you’re giving homework make sure children understand how to do it e.g. do a demo on board.

– The ‘bye bye’ song – good for very young learners (Super Simple Songs)

– Tidying up the classroom to a song e.g. The Tidy- up Rhumba (on youtube)

– Exit passes e.g. remembering password or a comment on a ‘My thoughts’ slip.


What other routines do you have in your young learner classes?

– A signal to attract attention e.g. musical instrument or ‘One, two, three, look at me’

– A five second countdown when changing to a new phase of the lesson or use the activeinspire timer.

– A ‘listen chant’ for instructions

– Teacher-allocated tables e.g. teacher gives each student a card with a coloured monster on it, student goes to the table with the appropriately coloured monster on it.

– Points on ClassDojo based on performance and behaviours, e.g. good listening, speaking, reading and writing plus good teamwork and helping others. Older students can help decide what +/- points should be awarded for.

How do you reward young learners?

– Praise; direct, constructive feedback and encouragement; stickers (stars, smiley faces, etc)

-Use British Council Badge Builders (see teaching tools for kids and teens, Teaching English website)

– Points on ClassDojo plus being allowed to change their monster if they achieve ‘x’ number of points

– Games e.g. if an activity is successfully completed students can choose from a selection of games they know.

– Gaining points for their team by drawing a mystery token from a bag. Students like to collect sets.

managing yls 2

How do you discipline young learners?

– Try to reason with students. Name them, make direct eye contact and ask them to listen.

– Talk to troublesome students individually, not in front of others.

– Check with parents regarding student’s behaviour at their school to see if the same problems are happening elsewhere.

– Ask them to compare their behaviour to another student.

– Use a form of self-assessment e.g. a rating between a smile and a frown for how they think they performed on any given day.

– Minus points on ClassDojo e.g. for being rude, being unprepared, talking out of turn

Any tips for motivating young learners?

– Be caring and enthusiastic, have fair and consistent rules and expectations and negotiate rewards (e.g. a favourite game, choosing a pop song to watch on youtube at the end of class – you can put these rewards on cards and students draw them out of a bag).

– Scaffold activities appropriately so that every student has a chance to succeed.

– Use stirrers to liven up class.

– Competition groups e.g. boys vs girls.

– Avoid dead time. Have extra activities for fast finishers to choose from e.g. a corner with books to read, a puzzle worksheet, a box of cards with drawing topics, etc.

This list from Yvonne and her colleagues was fantastic. It was a great way to get teachers sharing their ideas. Asking them to complete a quick survey was nice, as they could do it whenever they had time (Yvonne chose not to interview them directly). And as you can see, one or two quick tips from each teacher come together to make a really useful list! I feel like even experienced teachers could glance over these ideas and find something they haven’t tried. From a personal perspective I’ve got a few new tips for if I ever have to teach very young learners (please, no…). I love the idea of Badge Builders, I’d never seen that before.

Why not think of a topic and survey your own colleagues? Yvonne proved that her fellow teachers were a brilliant source of inspiration, I’m sure yours will be too.

Thanks to the survey participants

Abraham Deakin, Joe Edgar, Martin Haywood, Duncan Morison, Matt Roome, Steffi Smith

Note: For more great tips on routines in the YL classroom, check out this post from eflrecipes, which was nominated for the BC blog award.

Categories: General, teacher development

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Great ideas can be implemented in classroom especially for young learners. Good job. Thanks for sharing.


  2. I’m going to use the ideas with my trainees in future – we might only get one session in a CELTA course to deal with a tiny aspect of teaching young learners.
    One aspect of all this that I remember form my reading- positivity.
    A small example-
    A child has to be disciplined and might lose a positive reward point/mark on a chart. They need to know that they can earn this back again by changing behaviour.
    It’s so important for children to understand that they can change. They all make mistakes but it’s not the end of the world.



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