June 16, 2017

Ten affective and effective ways to prevent indiscipline with young learners

Some years ago I wrote a post sharing my experience in taking a course at the University of Toronto in which I learned ways through which we can dismantle the issue of indiscipline by understanding and eliminating the causes that promote a series of problems. According to professor Joseph Ducharme, indiscipline can be understood as students communicating us  of that they have unmet needs. The interesting thing is that after the course I was able to see misbehaviour much more as a game of chess, in which we have several strategic moves, than a tug of war in which there is resentment of having a winner pulling the other to a desired side. 

But just before I go on, I will repeat a concept that was repeated over and over during the course: the best moment to work on indiscipline is when things are going well. Make sure you read this extremely important learning again and write it somewhere as this is something you will forget and then you will have to invest much more time and effort once you already have disruptive behaviour. 

It is with great pleasure that I share here 10 strategic moves that will decrease the frequency of indiscipline in your class: 

1.Welcoming: make sure you are totally available to receive your students at the beginning of classes as your reaction to their arrival can set the tone of your class. Arrive five minutes before class, look at them in the eyes, smile, and greet them using their names. Very simple, right? But it does not always happen as many teachers are figuring out photocopies, writing on the board or doing something else.

These five minutes are a great period time to invest in connecting with them on a personal basis. Wanna bring it to an advanced level? Write an affective  quote on the board and welcome them with their favourite songs that you collected on the first days of school.

2. Have a routine: letting students know about what you have planned is not only a sign of respect to our students but it is also a great management procedure. Informing your students about the planned activities reduces stress, eases transitions, and allows you to talk about the expected learning in every different moment. Wanna know more about how you can engage your students using routine cards? Then read this post about routine cards.

3. Circle time: students always have a lot to share with you and with their peers when they arrive. As they will do it anyway in class, the best way is to have moments in which you allow them to release their excitement do all this sharing in a structured way. During circle time you can also review content, tell students what will happen, discover their likes, and notice how students are feeling; these is important information that will help you tailor and carefully adjust the class to your students' lives. Remember to tell students that what happens in circle time, stays in circle time. Well, if it was really nice, it can go to Instagram!

4. Plan movement: young learners simply need to move. Well, I would say that more than that, all students need movement in their classes.  Movement makes learners get their attention span back, oxigenates brains,  and allows students to learn kinesthetically. It also allows students to change learning peers, see things from a different perspective, and express themselves with their bodies. Including movement in your classes will certainly make your students more engaged and will make them learn in a more holistic way. Bonus: you will not be complaining that your students can't sit still!

5. Share personal stories: here I share an attention magnet that can be used whenever you are losing control of the room or when you notice that you need to build rapport with the group. Personal stories are special and valuable because we only tell them to people we care, they are also real and carry authentic learning pieces. Regardless of being funny, amazing, or tragic personal anecdotes allow us to display our humanity and to use English as a means of communication.

Once you tell your story, make sure you have planned time to listen to their questions, comments and specially to know their stories. Remember that the more we listen to them, the more they will listen to us.

6. Get the adequate difficulty: in many cases students misbehave because an activity is simply way too easy or just too hard. Make sure you study activities well beforehand not to fall in this trap. ( I have been there so many times!). If you notice you have a hard activity, you can get students to work in pairs, give models, and have scaffolds. If you notice that your are losing the class because an activity is just too hard, just apologize and stop doing it. If you have a mixed-ability group, you might need to have two levels of activities in the same theme  or you can pair strong-weak students to promote peer teaching.

7. Give them choice: sometimes students misbehave because they do not have the degree of control of the class that they would like. One way of addressing this need is by giving them choices, which can be done individually or as a group. Choices may include what, when, how, and in which order activities will happen. By giving learners more control over their learning, we promote engagement and motivation as they have made their choices regarding their learning. Studies have shown that giving options for homework have brought much more engagement and pleasure than assigning a fixed task. Personal anecdote: in my swimming classes I loved when the teacher would let me choose between two exercises and I would cheat the distance when given an exercise I did not like. The next strategy is also aligned with this idea of giving students more agency, but instead of giving them choices, we can listen and discuss about their learning through the good and old feedback.

8. Give and ask for feedback: it's not always that students are asked for feedback. Specially asked for feedback in the beginning or middle of a course with the intention of valuing learners' opinions and changing aspects of how the teaching and learning happen.

We should ask feedback when we care and because we are concerned with the experience students are having with us. We should also ask for feedback as it is an opportunity for us to learn as groups are different and have diverse needs. Feedback can happen in many different formats and the very essential follow up is to quickly act upon students' suggestions, so then that group  can see that it is for real. You will see the beautiful energy in the room when they notice things have changed!

Another important thing is to give feedback about how you see their learning, how they have cooperated with each other and what it means for you to be with them. The next strategy has to do with feedback as well, but it is so important that I am giving it its own number!

9. Pay attention to the ones that do well: this is a very important one, so make sure you write it somewhere you can always see it. Remember that the best moment to work on discipline is when things are going well? Here I share how you can do it. You can prevent indiscipline from happening by giving students attention and praise when they are involved and working with well. This can be done right after you notice appropriate behaviour by either just looking at the student and doing a thumbs up or by stopping everything and enthusiastically telling how that behaviour has allowed learning to happen. I hug students and give them high fives. Try to avoid giving much attention to students that are misbehaving. Another way to show that you value and notice adequate behaviour is to bring the theme during the circle time and wrap up moments.

10. Circulate and monitor: some students might misbehave as a escape of the pain of needing individual attention, not understanding the instructions, or being stuck in the task. Moving around the classroom bring many benefits: it allows us to  make ourselves available to students,  we can check how students have understood our instructions, we can check how students are doing individually, and also praise the ones that are going well. When seeing interesting participation, we can ask specific students or groups to share something interesting with the whole group.

Hint 1:It is important to avoid making a pair with any student or joining any group during an activity as this would not allow you to circulate and get to know how and what students are doing.
Hint 2: Try to get students to sit in a horse shoe or in small groups and reach the students standing behind them. In this way you will not intimidate them and you will also maintain eye contact with the whole class.

Congratulations, you have just gained three bonus strategies!

Bonus 1: Intercalate easy and difficult tasks: this is one that I like and have been doing intuitively for many years. The idea here is to give students some confidence boosters in the middle of the classes with activities that they can perform well. By including these activities we can attend the need that children have for success, which when not fulfilled can be one root of indiscipline. We can also mix creative and unstructured activities with more demanding tasks, and also some individual and group activities. Variety rocks!

Bonus 2: Use humour: have you ever heard that the shortest distance between two people is a smile? Humour has its secret powers that heal, release stress, and connect people. It works in a similar way as the personal stories in the sense that we tell jokes and riddles to people we care.

Jokes and riddles are not only good to prevent indiscipline, but they are great ways to use and teach language as they have narrative and the double meaning of words.  Make it a tradition to have jokes in a certain moment of your class. I usually say "But before you leave, I have a question for you .... ". Humour works great as a class wrap up. Make sure here also to listen and have a great time with your students' jokes.

Here you have: alphabet riddles, country riddles, and easy jokes for young learners.

Bonus 3: Celebrate: this is the last strategy, but certainly not the least! I believe it is essential for us to acknowledge and celebrate the development that students have achieved. Celebrate both small and big achievements. You can celebrate a nice class by having a surprise, bringing cookies, or dancing with them. If you have a puppet, it can the messenger of the good news.  Show students and their parents the students' journey with pictures or with a video in which you praise them by giving specific feedback on what they are now able to do. Mention how their dedication and their behaviour has contributed to make all this learning possible. Here again it is essential to let students talk and express what they enjoyed doing and how they feel at this moment! These closing ritual are moments that will always be remembered and cherished!!!

Well, this was our journey on proactive strategies to prevent indiscipline. If you have enjoyed it, please share this post with other teachers. Together we can change the overall experience of teaching and learning!

A frog-hug,


Please leave a comment below sharing the strategy you will start using more. I get very little feedback from my readers and I would love to hear from you! Thank you!!!


  1. Thanks for your help and strategies! Nice...

  2. Was I clear enough?
    _ hmmm so so
    _ I have a question
    _ Yes, very good!
    That is how I motivate them to ask questions and pay attention. Sometimes I do not explain quite clear just to let them ask and evaluate me. I also divide them in groups and ask them to look for the missing information.So we work as a team and it is really nice.
    When leaving, there is a protocol:
    _Put your books away
    _Check under the tables in order not to forget anything
    _ Line up
    _ Say "Good bye see you next class" every month we change the farewell phrases: see you on Monday /have a nice weekend / see you on Monday morning /etc.
    I stand at the door and say bye to each one, looking at their eyes.
    I have no indiscipline problem. Explainning what the lesson plans is works fantastic.
    They need to ferl that we take them in count and we care about them. That's all. Thanks for this article.

  3. Thank you for these great strategies! I love it!
    All the best!

  4. Hi,I love what I read and your article can change teachers and learners towards positive goals.
    I don't want to jump into any technique that I would love to use for now but, I would like to take my time to share my technique. The reason why I said "time" is because, schools nowadays is all about money.
    I will explain more to you when am done with my writing and post it to you so you can see if you can give any solution about - mental kids+misbehaving kids(all in one class with well behaved kids)= ?

  5. Great article, man! Working with kids is always a challenge (a good one), but every once in a while a group comes along.. you know? THAT group, and it's always good to read about options. I'm always trying to find new strategies to engage the students. Thank you for sharing!


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