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  • Brian
  • Featured Contributor

    • 735

    • September 19, 2006, 01:07:56 pm
    • Pittsburgh / Jeollanam-do
For those of you who attended the Fall 2008 workshop in Gwangju for secondary school teachers in Jeollanam-do, you may remember Riann's presentation.  Here's what he included in the program; give it a look. Thank you very much for sending this and for sharing your thoughts.


How to reduce classroom management issues by creating a group-work learning environment.

By Riann Arkinstall (BSc / BEd / TESOL / CELTA)
Email: eteacher [at]
Mobile: 010 3006 4932
Facebook: “Riann Arkinstall”

This short presentation is designed to give you some practical tips on how to structure and manage your class.  Please forgive me if I make any generalized assumptions or suggestions, but I want to provide those teachers who have the least experience the benefit of what I have learned from my experiences.   I am certain that my approach will not work for all of you as personality has much to do with teaching, however, you may find that the ideas and structures could be adapted to your style.  Each time I see somebody else’s class, I learn something new that I think I might be able to adapt adopt (or perhaps “adapt to my classroom” in my classroom.

It probably goes without saying, but all of these ideas need to be agreed upon by your co-teacher.  I have found that my co-teachers have been very open to allowing me to try to adjust the class environment in a way which is suited to my needs, but in order to create success in any of these areas, they MUST be on board.  I have also had experiences where the co-teacher and I had differences and despite all good intentions, things went awry because the students could sense there was disharmony between us.

As a beginning teacher I fell into a very typical novice teacher trap; I wanted to be liked by my students.  I thought that to be liked, I had to be nice, friendly, kind and not too tough.  As I worked as a substitute teacher for two years of my time in Canada, I quickly came to realize that this approach is in many ways counterintuitive and certainly counterproductive.  What I came to realize was that the most important factors were: 1) respect, 2) equality, 3) follow-through and 4) sincerity.

1.   Respect: “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. 

Particularly in Middle and High School grades, most Korean classes start with a bow to the teacher.  I find that this is a great way to get the class settled and started.  I train the students at the beginning of the semester and then ask the class leader to handle this part.  (“Attention please!”, “Bow”, “Good morning Mr./Mrs. Kim Teacher and Riann Teacher.”)   When I worked in the hogwan, I was seen as the games guy / the fun foreigner, but not the same as the Korean teachers.  It does a disservice to all Native English Teachers if we don’t get treated with respect.  As I didn’t know any Korean, the students would sometimes make fun of me or even swear at me in certain situations.  They knew they could get away with it and just as we all had the “substitute teacher” experience at some time in our school life (changing desks or names), “boys will be boys!”

Try to make sure that the small things are being respected and then the rest will look after itself:
A - Eyes on the teacher = listening to the teacher.  Make sure that students are all listening and awake.
B – The students are quiet during instructions or teacher lectures.
C – Students respect and listen to their classmates.
D – Handing-out & receiving things with two hands is adhered to.
E – Students are sitting up straight.

One of my best friends in Korea said that I am regimented and I agree.  That regimentation and strictness creates an environment where the students know what is expected of them and thus what they can expect of me.  A strict start allows for later relaxation, but starting out loose, makes it very difficult to wrangle everybody; in especially as the year progresses and poor classroom management strategies and habits have taken hold.

2.   Equality:  “All members are equal, but some are more equal than others.”  This may seem to be contradictory, but I have found it to be true.  This is where grouping and getting to know your students applies. 

At the beginning of the semester, I allow each student to choose an English nickname.  I find it incredibly difficult to remember the three syllable Korean names.  (I have lists of both male and female names if you would like to use them.  Please contact me as indicated above and I can email them to you.)  I ask each student to choose three names, write them down and then come to me so that I can help them with the pronunciation.  I ask them to write three choices because for each class, I require that each student have a different name.  I have a class list for each class and then write their name on it. (If this is too difficult or you have too many students, another naming task can be to get the students to make name cards for themselves with their Korean name written in English.  Keep a file for each class and get the students to either wear it (as a necklace) or to put on their desk.)   Not knowing with whom you are dealing, gives the students even more chance to be anonymous in their misbehavior.

I also ask for my co-teacher’s help in identifying the strongest and weakest students in the class.  I arrange my classes in groups of four.  The strongest students are paired with the weakest.  The average level students are then able to choose their group randomly.  Each group then decides on an English team name. They then write down their Korean name, Student number and English nickname according to their assigned group seat.  (If you are able to push the students a little bit, this process can be accomplished in one class period.)

Now the students are grouped such that the strongest are assisting the weakest and there is opportunity for either pair or group work without the lowest-lowest / highest-highest level students pairing up together (as is the norm). 

From here, I reward individual points for effort, readiness or exceptional answers.  I also award group bonus points if all four members speak in one class, are the first team ready for or are the first to complete a given task.  Upon a certain tally of group bonus points, the team is awarded a prize.  This has worked exceptionally well in that, now the team leaders assist me in classroom management (even checking their team’s homework) and all students are encouraged to be involved. Furthermore, you can rotate the group-seating plan in the classroom, so that the keener groups are sometimes seated at the back of the classroom.  Each week has a new seating arrangement, but the individual group seats remain the same.

It does take some time to organize this, but I have found that it pays off with huge dividends as the year progresses. I have been extremely pleased with the progress of many of the low-functioning students!  The prizes I provide are stickers I bought in the dollar store in Canada.  I think they are very lame to be honest, but my boys eat them up!?!

At semester’s end, I give more substantial prizes for the team with the most points, student with the most points and usually 2 or 3 students who have shown the most improvement or special effort.  By then I generally know who the effective leaders are and who needs the most help.  I then  allow the groups to change; the strongest students again become leaders and the lowest level students choose which leader they want to work with.

3.   Follow-through: “Hindsight is 20 / 20, but foresight can circumvent the need for hindsight.”  This can often be the toughest aspect to handle.

For my team system, each class has a group by group list where I can keep track of the points I give as well as make notes if there are any issues.  When I was teaching in Canada as a sub, this was a challenging but vital part of the job to inform the regular classroom teacher about any exceptional circumstances.  Particularly, if you are working on your own in the classroom, this can be a lifesaver, if anything serious happens, or there is any type of issue that arises.  For me it serves as a reminder about individual students (who usually owe me money) or what page / activity we are on.

If your system is in place, the students must know that they will be accountable for either good or bad behavior.  I try to far outweigh positive reinforcement to discipline. (Pedagogically, they say that 2:1 is a minimum.)  Usually positive reinforcement is quite easy to acknowledge, but none of us really want to deal with “problems”.  It is an unfortunate, but essential part of the job.  You must follow through and have some system in place to keep track.  If not, the students will quickly realize that there are no real consequences if they misbehave.  This will quickly become a downward spiral!

4.   Sincerity: “Plan your work, work your plan and if your plan don’t work, re-work your plan.”

Now this may seem to be a personal matter, but during my first six months teaching at the hogwan, my director kept saying to me, “You must love your students!”  I didn’t quite understand what he meant, because I felt I did love them.  What I came to realize was that I didn’t have some of the aforementioned structures in place and the students didn’t feel “safe” in the classroom.  After I figured out what the classroom routine would be and maintained a system, those comments ceased.  The love feeling came from the sincerity of my actions in the class.  When the students knew exactly what to expect, they then felt comfortable and loved.  It also opened the door to more free play and relaxed interaction with the students because if things got too wild, I could always count on the structures that were in place to get things back under control.  I never have to yell or scream at my students to get their attention.  What ever your control method is, use it, repeat it and make sure that it is practically Pavlovian for your students.

The last two points are, 1) if you find yourself getting angry, remember the 10-second rule.  I have made almost all my mistakes when I was reacting out of anger.   If you do act too hastily, apologize!!  2) Say what you mean and do what you say you will do.  Never make idle threats or promises to the students that you aren’t willing to fulfill.  That is the fastest way to discredit yourself.

I believe that if you follow these guidelines and adapt them as you see fit, you will find that your classes run much more smoothly and you will find that you actually have more than enough time to complete your lessons.  It takes practice and  you will certainly have trial and error learning experiences but it should work out in the end.

I am always available to help you if you need me to.  Don’t hesitate to send me an email, give me a call or add me to your Facebook contact list.  I have uploaded a few videos there demonstrating some of my classes.

In Korea from 2005 - 2010, not in Korea now.  Please contact an active moderator for quick answers to your questions.

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  • roosh
  • Adventurer

    • 52

    • October 30, 2011, 06:32:20 pm
    • Taebaek, Gangwon-do
Re: From the Fall 2008 workshop: Riann's presentation on group-work
« Reply #1 on: February 29, 2012, 09:44:49 am »
This is fantastic, cheers Brian!