How to manage your students, without saying a word

One of the biggest factors of having a good class is how you, as the teacher, can effectively manage the classroom. Also called classroom management. Classroom management is where new teachers struggle to adapt because a lot of teacher training today is focused on how to teach vocabulary, grammar, and writing but doesn’t dive deep enough into the art of actually having the students under control. It is not only about how your students behave, or whether or not they sit quietly and listen, but also about how you move from topic to topic, how you explain the steps of your activity and how you deal with students who lose focus or are having difficulties.

Classroom management, for me, is perhaps the single biggest factor that determines whether or not a class went well. I can have a great time teaching students who are struggling with the content but somehow seem to understand what I want to do and how to do the activities. Similarly, I can have a terrible time teaching students who are at a high level, but I am unable to manage efficiently, and they start doing their own thing. Also, if the students do not understand my instructions, fail to understand the activity I am explaining and have no idea why I just raised my voice, the class can feel rather exhausting.

After struggling with classroom management myself for months, I finally found my best weapon was not my words or my voice, but my body. I always had a talent for imitating characters like Mr Bean, and I always loved to act. I realised that my movements and gestures were often more efficient in conveying meaning than my words, just because my students did not know my words, but my actions were. I started to teach students to look at my actions as well as my words, made it an integral part of my classroom routines and suddenly explaining new vocabulary, a new game or activity became a lot easier, and my classes started flowing much better.

Gestures accompany your language, but cannot entirely replace it.

Some gestures are powerful enough that they can replace upwards of a dozen words of explanation. The same way a picture says 1000 words, gestures can save time explaining, and keeping your gestures and language linked closely together will increase your students understanding, and you can use that gesture later.

Gestures can communicate pretty much anything, whether you need to facilitate discussions, encourage more interaction, do error correction, teach vocabulary or convey an emotion. You are likely already using some simple gestures in your classroom already, “stop,” “stand up,” “be quiet,” “sit down” and “listen” as well as students raising their hand when they have a question are all commonplace in classrooms across the world. A thumbs up or an applause for praise and encouragement, an open palm to invite a student to talk or making an X with your arms to signal a wrong answer are also fairly common, but you can take non-verbal classroom language much further.

Try and consider some of the classroom languages you often have to use that maybe your students do not always understand. For me, it is often instructions like “make a sentence,” “what does this mean?” “ask a question,” “work in pairs,” or even something as simple as “take a break.” Try for yourself to make gestures for each of these words or phrases:

• Work in Pairs
• Ask the other students
• What do you think?
• Nearly right
• Stand up / Sit down
• It is your turn
• Make a longer/complete sentence
• Please, stop talking now
• Three minutes left
• Listen to me
• Don’t show your paper to your partner
• Good job
• Open your book (to page #)
• Read
• Write
• Listen
• Spell
• Quiet Down / It is time for class

Can you think of any other useful classroom language words or phrases for which you could use gestures?

By using my body more than my voice has allowed me to make my classes more enjoyable for my students and myself. I spend less time raising my voice, even when my students are misbehaving because they can look at my gestures and body language to know what I am thinking. On top of that, I tend to make my gestures exaggerated and comical because laughing is always a good way to keep students interested in you.

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6 thoughts on “How to manage your students, without saying a word

  1. Eliminating distractions is a powerful tool for managing a classroom as well. Books, pencils, etc., should only be on the desk when in use. It helps keep the kids focused on the teacher and the language, rather than fidgeting with all the “stuff” in their pencil case!

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  2. I find that presence is very useful for classroom management for younger learners. For example: a student is talking and you want everyone to listen to them. But, two other students are not listening and chatting together. I find simply standing in front of them and putting your hand on the table so they know you’re there, makes them stop without you having to interrupt the speaker.

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    1. Right on, Niall! Teachers who know how to use their proximity in the classroom can save a lot of energy – sometimes students will quiet down just because the teacher has moved a little closer to them, or put a hand on their desk. This is a savvy move, and reduces interruptions a great deal!

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    1. Hi there,

      I actually do this quite a lot in my classes when I am doing exercises like these.

      For now showing their paper to their partners, i usually sit down on any empty chair among the students, and I make sure I cover my paper so they cannot see it. Either I cover it with my hands or hold it up while leaning back on my chair so they cannot see.

      Additionally, I point and their eyes, then point to my paper and then I shake my head and wave my hand as a no.

      For opening their books, I pretend to have a book on my hand and I open it. Or I grab my own book as do the action whole showing them the page number or I write the number on the board do my open book gesture and point to the number

      Additionally, tap any page corner in your book and then point to the number on the board or show it with your fingers 🙂

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