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15 punishments for pre-school English classes

The difficulty of keeping control of 3-year-olds who haven’t learnt what working together means yet, or 5-year-olds who have learnt how much fun it is to change the words of every song and the pronunciation of every word, is difficult enough; but many of us teachers of English in kindergartens have to do so without […]

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

The difficulty of keeping control of 3-year-olds who haven’t learnt what working together means yet, or 5-year-olds who have learnt how much fun it is to change the words of every song and the pronunciation of every word, is difficult enough; but many of us teachers of English in kindergartens have to do so without any special training, in countries where the kinds of discipline we remember from back home are unheard of, working for companies that encourage us to use teaching methods that get the kids overexcited, and/ or where we are not allowed or not able to resort to the kids’ language to keep order. In such situations, discipline techniques like those described below that get their attention without making them cry and without taking your attention away from the rest of the class are invaluable. These are not in any particular order, but you will probably want to plan which you will use for minor or first misdemeanors, and which will be kept for making your displeasure very clear indeed. Please note that rewards are just as important in aiding discipline and motivation, and will be dealt with in a later article.

1. Take it away
This is a well known method of discipline by parents, but is made more complicated in a kindergarten EFL lesson by the fact that their toys and lollipops aren’t there. The way round this is to give out things during class activities such as plastic fruit and flashcards, e.g. as they answer “What’s your name?” or guess the objects. These can then be taken away- at least until everyone else in the class has one or two, at which point it is usually best to give them a chance to “win” it back. To make the whole class pay attention or use a little peer pressure to control one naughty kid, you can also stop the whole game and take everyone’s points back without counting them or congratulating anyone. This also works with taking the things (and hence points) away from teams, if they are old enough to work in teams.

2. Sit in the corner
You are probably thinking that if you do this all you need is a to put the kid in a dunce hat to have the perfect Victorian classroom, and actually this can be a sure one to make them cry if not handled well… Its advantage is that it is easy to demonstrate that they have done something wrong without needing to use L1 or complex English, especially if you place a chair in the corner for them to sit on. It can also split up two kids who are fighting or messing around together. Ways of making it less severe include putting the chair there as a warning before you even designate which child is likely to end up there if they don’t behave and telling them from the beginning when they will be allowed back into the main group if they behave. I also tend to use it as almost the last weapon in my arsenal of punishments, just a little less severe than being sent out of the classroom. Putting the chair so that the child sits with their back to the rest of the class makes the fact that it is a punishment more clear and can help make them more bored and so keen to join the class.

3. Stand up
Making the child who is misbehaving stand up for a while is another one that has been around forever for very good reasons in terms of being easy to explain, but can make a shy student very upset. The least severe variation is to make them stand up while you tell them that they should stop doing whatever it was, and then let them sit back down again.

4. Sit next to the teacher
This is a good one if you can’t trust them to behave when sat in the corner or you don’t want them to feel so embarrassed.

5. Stop the song
One of many good reasons for using one song every five or ten minutes in a very young learner class is that you can get their attention and make your unhappiness clear instantly with a touch of the pause button. You can then keep pause down until they are all behaving or just move onto the next (sit down) activity.

6. Make everyone sit down
As with songs, a good reason for having the kids running around having fun is that stopping the activity makes them realise that you are displeased and makes them keen not to miss out on so much fun next time. To make trying to stop the activity not just more chaos, you’ll need to start teaching them “stop”, “sit down” etc as soon as possible, e.g. through storybooks about naughty kids or during TPR.

7. Close the storybook
The same as songs and running around- if you get them really involved in a story, stopping it is all you will need to do to get total control and so be able to get back to teaching them the language.

8. Put away the toys or puppet
If the puppet is obviously sad or even crying when it is put away, that will make your point even better- maybe too much so if you have very sensitive kids! It can come back out if they start behaving again, to go away “forever” if you are completely losing control.

9. Don’t move on
To the next flashcard, next page of the storybook, next instruction on what to colour in etc. Instead, just wait standing still and looking mixed annoyed/ bored.

10. Make them get their books out
But hopefully this doesn’t lead to them thinking that all bookwork is a punishment! A good way round this is to start bookwork when they have been disrupting the class with checking homework or something else boring, but as a usual stage of the class usually start with something fun and only do the boring bits just before they can close their books again.

11. Name
Just calling out someone’s name gets everyone’s attention right away. As long as they don’t feel really picked on, you can even use this with random names as hearing someone’s name called will make anyone who is distracted instantly look their way. Problems teachers can have with this technique in pre-school classes include very large and infrequent classes where it is difficult to learn names, children who still can’t answer “What is your name?”, and names you can’t pronounce or read in the local alphabet. Stopping and staring hard at one person can have the same effect, although it takes more time. Alternatively, you can describe the troublemakers to other teachers and make sure you learn just their names before the next class. With older kids, you can divide them into teams and just call out the team name rather than individual names.

12. Countdown to trouble (“5! 4! 3! 2! …)
In this case, the “punishment” has the added benefit of being useful language practice. If they don’t know the numbers backwards yet, count down on your fingers as well. If they don’t know that counting down is a warning of trouble, make each number louder, slower and angrier than the last. If you want this to be taken seriously, you will need to know what you are going to do if you reach “one!” without them having calmed down.

13. Critical language
Simple language that is useful for this that you can teach them from storybooks etc includes “Bad boy/ girl”, “I am/ the teacher is angry”, “Stop”, “Don’t” and “naughty”. Gestures you can teach at the same time include an arm with a single finger held up shaken from side to side, a slow and despairing shaking of the head, and a cross shape made with open palms or even your whole forearms.

14. Write something down
Or at least pretend to.

15. A personal talking to
Even if the kids can’t understand much of what you are saying, bringing one person to the front of the class or taking them to one side and talking to them with the right expression (calm but disapproving and disappointed) and right tone of voice (ditto) usually has the desired effect.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
July 2008 | Filed under Teaching
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.