Guidelines on managing challenging students by Edite Abrantes

We all know that encouragement and good rapport do much more for a positive classroom environment than reprimands and scolding. After all, the aim is to help students enjoy the lessons, feel good about being there and consequently adopt less disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

Unavoidably, though, students misbehave, are mischievous and even troublesome at times. When they do, don’t rush into rebuking and giving extra homework as punishment, count to ten and bear the following pieces of advice in mind:

  • Take a deep breath and do your best to remain calm.

It’s natural to become frustrated, stressed and angry over irreverent students who simply “ignore” your requests to behave and do their work. However, such feelings affect your rational and inevitably your agitation shows and becomes contagious. So, take a deep breath, or several if you must, try to remain calm and collected and think before responding. Remember, students look up to you, so try to adopt an assertive posture, model an appropriate, exemplary response which clearly indicates that you care about them and their problems. However, where warnings are necessary, state them clearly and quietly so as to avoid disrupting the class.

  • Treat allstudents respectfully and amicably. 

Be consistent in what you let students say and do and be careful not to favor certain students. Avoid labeling students as “good” or “bad.” Instead describe their behavior as “positive,” “acceptable,” “disruptive,” or “unacceptable.” Moreover, give the unruly student a chance to respond politely by explaining not only what he or she is doing wrong, but also what he or she can do to correct it. In addition, seat the student near to you so a glance or a hand on his or her shoulder will let the student know he or she is stepping the line.

Don’t forget to promote the students’ self-worth by praising them often but sincerely. When it’s necessary to speak to a student about his or her behavior, try to do so in private; especially when teaching teenagers who must “show off” to their peers. Publicly lecturing them may trigger exaggerated, face-saving performances which can snow ball into unmanageable situations.

  • Set the example.

Are you as respectful of your students’ feelings as you want them to be of yours and their peers? Are you as organized and on-task as you tell them to be? Are your classroom rules and consequences clear and easy for students to follow?  Be firm and consistent about your rules, and express displeasure with the students’ behavior without criticizing them. Model the behaviour you expect from your students so they can have a reference and an example to follow.

  • Be an active listener and observer.

Try to understand where the “odd” behavior is coming from. Is the student distressed by a personal situation such as the parents’ divorce, new baby in the family, learning difficulties in other subjects or in a particular area of the syllabus, or some other daunting experience? Speaking to the student’s parents may shed light on the crux of the problem and help you develop a closer rapport with the student through understanding and sympathy. Whenever possible, make the time to speak to challenging students privately and show your concern for them.

  • Be realistic.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, we find ourselves unable to get across to one of the students in our class. The student may be rude, disruptive, or plain annoying. Remember, it’s human nature and some personalities clash. But instead of feeling guilty about being unable to manage the situation better,  take positive steps to minimize disruptions and handle them as best as you can for …

Talking about Games by Sandra Simões

We all know that games are very useful to teach a foreign language. As teachers we have already experienced that using games in the classroom makes students feel more motivated to learn as well as providing a non-threatening environment. Moreover, games are a tool to promote cooperation amongst learners allowing them to reinforce their knowledge and articulate their skills. That is to say that, playing a game makes students speak, listen, read and often write in English in a way that they do not associate to “learning in the classroom” so this will also allow the teacher to assess their strengths and weaknesses more effectively.

Therefore, if we are used to using games like Scrabble, Tic, Tac,Toe, crosswords, Hangman, and so on, why not use computer games? According to Dr. Patrick Felicia, lecturer and researcher from the Department of Computer Science, Waterford Institute of Technology, in Ireland, “digital games were associated with many stereotypes and alleged to have negative effects on gamers’ physical and mental health. However, later studies have shown (…), if good gaming habits are followed (eg. appropriate time, environment, moderation of online games, etc.) they can be considered a safe and fulfilling activity.” Computer games, can be therefore a very useful and powerful learning tool.

There are a lot of games that can be used in class and to start I usually use the ones that everybody knows in order to make it easy. In fact, to prepare a lesson based on a gaming activity may not be very simple at first because there is a lot to bear in mind and to research when you are not a gamer (which is my case!).

Here are some suggestions that I found very useful:

  • Start with something that you know or that you find easy to use for example “Snakes and Ladders which is a traditional and widely known game that you can adapt to almost every topic that you teach. If you don’t find a suitable version you can always make your own game or even better, you can plan a lesson for your students to make it. Go to La Vouivre and download the free software. After that you just have to fill it in with the questions you want and the possible answers for each question. If you decide to make your students participate in making the game, you can divide the class into groups and each group is responsible for a different topic. While they are asking and answering the questions, they are consolidating what they have learnt.
  • If you have the chance to use consoles, you can use some movement games like “Just dance” or “Wii sports resort” and once again you use groups to play in turns and the other groups have to watch and take notes of what is done during the game playing. After that you can deepen the topics of sports, music, healthy habits, food and drink, daily routines, etc.
  • If you don´t have consoles or computers available you can use the student’s smartphones and make them download applications like Duolingo, Fluent U, Bravolol or Mindsnacks.
  • If you can use a classroom computer, try to plan a lesson using Minecraft. Go to Minecraft Education (it is free now) and plan a lesson according to your students’ needs and level. You can always make a plan that makes your students follow your directions in order to build a village in the game.
  • If you are a fan of simulations you can use Slim city and make your students describe their world or use the game as motivation for a creative writing activity.
  • With young learners, Class dojo works very well and although it is not only a game, kids usually see it like that and like to use it. Class dojo also allows you to work with parents and share with them what is done in class.

Hope these suggestions make your teaching much more interesting not only for your students but for you, also! Don´t forget you must know the game before you use it so if you want to try it but you have never played it before, you must do so first.

To sum up, games are in fact very useful but you also have to be aware of their age and language suitability. Some might be appropriate for all ages but others might not, so if you are not sure about it go to and search the game you want to use to check if it is the right one to use in your classroom.

Here are some links, in case you want to learn more:

Happy playing, I mean, teaching!


Postcards from Students (even if they’re just here!) by Shawn Severson

Is the art of writing postcards dead?  Not exactly.

However, when we want to consider motivating our students to write them and to motivate them in practising language that is typical of postcards, there are a few things to take into account.

  1. appeal & reality of the postcard
  2. the language needed (present continuous, simple past; friendly expressions like “hi, see you soon”; prepositions of place) –these should have been reviewed before considering the project, either in practising emails, notes, etc.
  3. the content – will they have background knowledge of a city or will they be sufficiently motivated to find out more to say “what they have done” in the city you assign them.
  4. will it have some meaning in the end?

With this in mind, it becomes clear that it’s impossible to just say “write a postcard to an imaginary friend about a trip”.  Also, a postcard is a very short writing task, so writing one in various stages is not a bad idea.

Thus, in the project I am describing there are four stages:

  1. Warmer stage. Show pictures of the 12 cities included in the Postcard sheets included in this blog entry.  A simple Google search can bring up some great images.  The images in the Postcard sheets are all copyright free and open for printing and sharing.  Students guess what cities and try to share what there is in each of the cities.  Some are more difficult than others so it’s also important to share an idea for each one.
  2. Rough draft stage. Students draw the city names (1 city per student, although you may have to repeat cities depending on your class size).  Have all students’ names written on slips of paper for a drawing.  Don’t let them pick their own name or their neighbor’s name!  Distribute just the back side of the Postcards (1 per student).  Explain that when they finish the project they will get the other side, before giving to their classmate.  Students then write a postcard to the classmate they have chosen from the city they have chosen.  Teacher should circulate to help with ideas and also note the names of the students and cities.
  3. Exchange stage. Once students have written their postcards, then they should exchange with their neighbor.  Then, as a class, discuss the type of language used.  Did they start off saying Hi _______?  I am in _______ and am doing X.    Also find out if each student has done at least one activity since arriving.  As homework, the neighbor should add one new task and make suggestions for changes on a Post-It and attach to their colleague’s postcard.
  4. Final postcard stage. Next class, students return the postcards to the original owner.  Distribute the final postcard printed in color, front and back and on thick paper (papel cavalinho).  At the completion teacher collects the postcards, which will then be handed out in the next class.

I have tried this project several times now and students find it interesting to write a postcard, provided they know the smallest thing about the place and the picture is sufficiently catchy to inspire curiosity.  Perhaps this won’t be a task they will do in their lives, but the language ties in with their social media interests, while at the same time is a project they will value, as it creates a good final product and also is something where one student shares with another.  The collaboration process, while not intensive, is also useful to promote interaction and also raise students’ awareness about these world cities.  So even if they’re just here, they’ll have a bit of a trip and will learn something “old school” and have a bit of fun at the same time.






Games in the Classroom – the “oldies” by sandra luna

‘Language learning is hard work… Effort is required at every moment and must be maintained over a long period of time. Games help and encourage many learners to sustain their interest and work.’

in A Faraway Land, Michael Berman, UK

Children learn about the world through play. They learn while having fun and this should be taken into the classroom. Games offer an escape from the routine, the illusion of a break from the learning process, they motivate and boost learners’ confidence. Games allow students to interact, to give meaning and purpose to the language. If a game doesn’t rely solely on knowledge, if luck can play a role, then even those students who shy away from such activities might feel tempted to participate. Now, if you’re ready, let’s play.

There are a number of traditional games that can be used for ESL. I’ve mentioned Checkers before but here are a few other you can use.

Noughts and Crosses

This game does not require anything apart from paper and pens or pencils. However, if you want to make it a bit different you could create the cards, the noughts and crosses and laminate them. This way you can personalise it bit, as well as making it last for a long time.

In the picture you could see the set of cards the students were using to play the game. In this case I meant to revise the difference between simple past and present perfect, so I had different cards related to the language. In some the students would have to fill in the gaps, in other conjugate the verb, another possibility would be to choose between two given options. Student A would read the card to Student B. Student B then gave their answer within a certain time limit (usually 30 seconds). If student B got the right answer, they would be allowed to play, otherwise they would lose their turn. Student B now reads another card to student A and so on. If you have trios, you can have Student C acting as a moderator and reading each player their cards. Once one match finishes. One of the players becomes the moderator, so that Student C can then play.

IH noughts & crosses

One minute talk

Quite good to use as a warmer with adults and with exam classes. Write topics on small pieces of paper and roll them. Students take turns to take the papers. They need to speak about the topic for one minute. Alternatively you can get them to write instead of speaking.

Talk for a minute

4 corners

This is a very easy game to plan and students (both teenagers and adults) enjoy it. On 4 different cards write the following: agree, strongly agree, disagree, strongly disagree. I usually use cards of different colours to make the different opinions more visible. Place each card in a different corner in your room. Get students in the middle of the class and read out a statement. (Here are a few I’ve used before: Celebrities earn too much money, The death penalty is acceptable in some cases, War is not an option for solving international disputes, etc.) Students then need to move to the corner which best shows their opinion. After that encourage debate, allowing students to share their opinions and their reasons. I also allow them to move to a different corner if they change their mind somewhere along the line. It means someone else had strong arguments.

4 corners

Board Games

The internet is full of free resources where you can find board games for most topics, age range and levels. A favourite of mine is Leave a comment and tell us about yours.


Time Management for Teachers by sandra luna

Time is precious. Time is money. Time is something we often struggle with. The lack of time.

For teachers time is precious. We need to estimate how much time each activity we’re planning will take. We need to consider fast finishers, then the ones who need this little extra time. We need to remember we might not start our lesson on time because of latecomers and all the time it takes kids to sit down…

And then there’s our own time. Time for ourselves, time for our families, which sometimes turns into time to mark papers or prepare lessons. I’ve found a number of teachers who struggle with time outside the classroom because they want to find the perfect exercise and because they don’t want to keep using the same materials over and over again.

This along with so many other demands from the job leads to stress and when we can’t think straight, things tend to get worse.

I found this article “Top 10 resources to help teachers manage their time – The Guardian”  quite interesting. It’s got some suggestions and resources which teachers can use.

My own tips for time management? Here are a few.

For your lesson:

  1. Write down your lesson plan. It does not need to be a 10 page lesson plan, but do write it down. It helps you to be more aware of what you are going to do in class and how long you’re going to need.
  2. Think about your lesson aim. If you have a clear lesson aim you’re more likely to be able to organize your lesson better and make it more time realistic.
  3. Estimate how long an activity is going to take, but allow some extra time. For example 5m – 10m. Plan your total lesson time bearing in mind the maximum time for each activity. If at the end of the lesson you find yourself to have covered everything play a game like “Hangman” as revision for the vocabulary in the lesson or from previous lessons. The next lesson try reducing the estimated time per activity and including one or two more.
  4. Observe other teachers. Talk to your DoS or one of your colleagues and ask if you can go in and observe how they manage their time. Pay particular attention to how lessons start and finish and to the amount of work given to the learners throughout the lesson.
  5. Observe yourself and your lesson plan. Deliberately plan your lesson as if you were going to be observed and then, during the lesson, observe how long each activity is taking and whether your estimates were accurate enough. This way you’ll be more aware of time for the coming lessons.

Outside the classroom:

  1. Be realistic about the amount of homework you set to be taken home for marking. If learners complain it is too much, chances are it is going to be a lot for you to mark, too. If possible use online platforms like Moodle, where you can include some fun, interactive activities (and which you can build cooperatively with other teachers in the school) which give immediate feedback once the answers are submitted.
  2. Are you volunteering to participate in every activity the school promotes? Then chances are you have too much on your plate. It’s OK to say “No” you know, even if it’s just now and then.
  3. Recycle lessons. And if you’re using a coursebook, use post-its to plan your lessons on the book so you can use it some other time. And use the Teacher’s book. It doesn’t have the answers only. It can help you with time and staging so that you don’t spend ours looking for material.
  4. Don’t spend hours looking for materials.
  5. Sleep. Go to bed early and enjoy weekends and your days off. No guilt about those essays you need to mark. Just remember you need to rest and relax just like everyone else.

After all we are super teachers, but at the end of the day we’re just human beings.


Learning? Sorry, not interested. by sandra luna

It’s funny how over these 20 years the number of “challenging” students in my classes have increased. It’s not just in my classes, I know, but after a while you kind of think “Why me?” They’re grumpy and annoying and their whole body language is screaming out saying “I don’t want to be here!”. However, they do stay and they do interrupt our lesson 1 million times in 10 minutes and they make us lose our patience more often than we like to admit.

Does this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, I think it’s a reality for most teachers.

So what do we do? One thing to always bear in mind is: It’s not you, it’s what you stand for. You stand for rules, objectives, knowledge. Sometimes misbehaviour is just a mask to hide their own fragilities, the things they don’t know. Sometimes they don’t want us to be aware of all their learning difficulties. If they are unpleasant enough, they’ll keep us away. Odd? Yes, but true.

Different teachers deal with these situations in different ways. In my opinion, you can’t give up on kids. I know we won’t be able to reach every and single one of them, but if we try we might get to one. There are no magic tricks but if you are having problems with a group/student try one of these tips.

  1. Turn off the lights. Use natural light instead of the lamps on the ceiling. Most of the times we can teach without the lamps on. The room becomes cosier, less aggressive so kids are more likely to calm down, too.
  2. Greet them at the door. This is your room. You don’t greet your guests while cooking in the kitchen, do you? So it’s the same here. You can’t be getting your desk ready and expect kids get in orderly. Meet them at the door, showing them a smile and a nod or a warm “hello”. This way you’re letting them know a) you appreciate the fact they are there and that b) this is your room and you’re letting them come in.
  3. Personally I don’t like telling students off in front of the whole class. I’d much rather ask them to step outside with me for a minute and calmly ask them if they are feeling well. “Do you need to go to the toilet and wash your face?” “Do you want to grab a cup of coffee quickly?” Show that you care. There might actually be something happing that triggers their behaviour.
  4. Praise behaviour you want them to have and ignore misbehaviour (as much as possible). Why? Most of the times they just want attention. If you get close to a student and you say “You’re really making an effort today. I just wanted you to know I’ve noticed.” you’ll see the difference. Especially if they’re used to being told how bad they’re behaving. If you praise enough they’ll want more.

But remember: miracles don’t happen overnight, so you might expect things to get worse before they get better, or that halfway through the year you might have problems again. The key is to keep on trying and eventually we (and they) will get there.


Teaching adults vs Teaching children (part 1) by sandra luna

“They’re all students, aren’t they? So what’s the big deal? How come I can’t teach all of them the same way?”

Dear reader,

I’m sure the above questions will either make you frown or smile. Some will say “How can a teacher not see that adults and children are completely different?” while others will think “They’re not that different and anyway, they seem to like my lessons.”

I don’t really have an answer. However I can share my opinion with you. Yes, adults and kids are different and, yes, I do work with them in different ways. But how different and different how? Even because I’ve used things with adult groups you wouldn’t normally use and it worked.

There are, in my opinion, some key words to bear in mind and here they are:


Children don’t “have to” learn English. They’re not usually under pressure, their job or promotion does not depend on it. They learn for the sake of learning, because it’s either fun or parents are making them learn. Adults, on the other hand, often come to us with true horror stories. “I have to learn English in 4 months, or else…” “I need to take the IELTS in two weeks and score a band 7, or else…” “My boss/professor told me to look for an English course. He told me to do it, or else…”

So, clearly, they’re much more focused and eager to work, but on the other hand they’re much more concentrated on how you’re teaching them, on exactly why you’re doing this or that and this leads us to…


Children don’t usually think about how much they’re going to get out of a lesson. They’ll say they’ve enjoyed it or not but they won’t go away thinking “Well, can I use this tonight while I’m writing that email?” “Will I remember about that phrasal verb when I pick up the phone tomorrow?” And they sure have different expectations regarding your role in the class. Adults are more likely to be looking for a more traditional form of teaching with the teacher being “god knows it all” and expecting to be quiet, just listening, making their notes and being corrected right away whenever they make some mistake. Remember adults “need” it more than kids do, so topics have to be more than just interesting, they have to be relevant.

(to be continued)


September webinars

September is the month we go back to school. Not meaning to spoil anyone’s holidays, here is the link to MacMillan English “Back to school special” which is this month’s pick.

September 14th:

  • Classroom Routines for Young Learners – Mark Ormerod       09:00  &   14:00 (UK time)
  • Evaluating Online Information – Dorothy Zemach     10:00  & 15:00 (UK time)
  • Managing and Motivating Teens – Dave Spencer     11:00  & 16:00 (UK time)

Back to School Special


Ideas for teaching vocabulary (part 1) by sandra luna

Teaching vocabulary is much more than just giving students a list of words to learn by heart. We all know how important it is to learn new words, but how can we do it in a fun, yet effective way? The following ideas were presented at one of our Teacher Development sessions. Hope you find them as useful as I do.

  1. Vocabulary Bingo

This an easy activity which can be adapted to any age or level. During the session I focused on activities for higher level classes, such as B.2 and C.1 level, so this is my suggestion on how to adapt the traditional bingo game to higher levels. Create (and possibly laminate) a set of bingo cards with just the grid. Fill in with vocabulary (phrasal verbs, for example) you’ve been using in class. Hand out one or two cards per student. Then read out the definition of the words you’ve used to fill in the grid. If a student has the word whose description you’ve read, he can cross it out. The game ends when one student has filled in all his/her cards. Then you can start again.

  1. Vocabulary Notebooks

Yes, yes, this is a very old one. I know. However, being old does not mean being old-fashioned. At least, not in this case. I am a fan of vocabulary notebooks. I think they help learners get organized when they are young, or when they’re still at A.1 or A.2 level, but they’re also a valuable tool for higher level classes for things such as word formation. You can ask students to have and bring to class a small notebook divided into sections (sometimes I use alphabetical order, sometimes I use topic related division) and use it during class. With younger students you can have them decorate the vocabulary notebook thus making it more personalized. You can cut and glue animals, ask them to draw shapes. Your imagination is your limit. With older (or more advanced) groups you can create a collaborative task with Moodle, for example. Create a glossary and add it to your Moodle class. Then get one student per lesson to be in charge of writing down all the interesting/new/useful words that come up. That student will then have to update the Glossary on Moodle and all from the class words will be available to anyone from the class.

  1. Board Drawing (collaborative)

Teenagers tend to be rather competitive. With this game you’ll be able to understand what their weaknesses are. Also, you’ll be trying to get the different groups to work together instead of against each other.

Let’s imagine that you’ve been talking about food. On the board draw the food pyramid. Divide it into 6 sections and as a group try to name each section. They get each group to be in charge of a section and explain that you’re going to play a name. Read from a list of words. When a group hears a word from their section, they’ll have to write it on the board under the section they are responsible for. Other groups can help, and should there be a word nobody knows about, write it down on a piece of paper (or a specific place on the board allocated for this) and deal with it once all the words have been used.

I’ll come back soon with more ideas. In the meantime have lots of fun. Learning with laughter sure is a lot more effective.