Dealing with Classroom Challenges

Workshop Review: Tia Robinson


This workshop addressed ELTABB members’ top challenges and used the participants’ collective knowledge to brainstorm possible solutions for managing the issues effectively and professionally.  

 Perhaps not surprisingly, participants independently came up with very similar top classroom challenges!  Here are our top classroom challenges along with the solutions we brainstormed:

What do I do when my students are speaking their native language in class? 

  • Reward students for English-only days by playing a game in the last 15 minutes or giving them candy
  • Set a ‘No German’ policy on the first day and make sure you follow it too!
  • Have a fine jar – collect money in a jar and spend it on outing or cakes at end of the course
  • Make a sign that says ‘I spoke German’ and give it to the student(s) – they now have to get rid of the sign by monitoring the other students.  As soon as they hear someone else speaking German they can give the sign to him/her.  The student with the sign at the end of the day can get 1 extra HW assignment.
  • Make a joke like ‘Wow, your German sounds really fluent!’ or ‘Wow, this is a great German lesson for me!’
  • Stop teaching and look at the speakers patiently until they grow quiet
  • Ask the students to share their question with the class – maybe they have a vocabulary question everyone else can benefit from
  • Move closer to the students and try to make eye contact with them
  • Call on one of the students by name to break up their discussion
  • Separate ‘friends’ who always whisper by having students change pairs often
  • If it’s a mixed nationality class, separate those with same native language

My students miss class frequently – how do I keep them from falling behind without having to repeat lessons?

  • Set class rules on 1st day together with the class – ask students to pledge a certain level of attendance as their personal goal
  • Use a buddy system where each student has a partner to fill him/her in when a class is missed
  •  If students know in advance they’ll miss class, tell them what you’ll cover so they can learn it themselves at home
  • Talk to individual students after class to find out why they’re missing – it could be a work or personal problem – ask students what they think they could do to catch up


My students are not very good at doing homework. 

  • Motivate students by giving two choices and let students choose what to do.
  • Give meaningful, varied and creative homework – not just workbook pages or grammar exercises every week. 
  • Be strict in checking HW so students don’t feel like they’re doing it for no reason
  • Use positive peer pressure.  For example, assign pair homework like students have to email each other a problem, write a reply, and print and bring it to class.
  • Assign individual students specific days where they have to start class with a discussion or presentation so that they know they really have to prepare
  • Ask students why they aren’t doing the HW – maybe it feels too much like school and you can give different assignments


Help – I’ve got a very mixed-level class! 

  • Use strong students strategically to explain the grammar rules to the class, to work with and prompt a weaker partner to speak more, etc.
  •  Use task-based exercises where students can adapt the complicatedness of the task to their own level
  •  Do group activities where it’s OK if weaker students take a more passive role
  • Assess student chemistry – will the stronger student be impatient and snappy if she has to work with a very weak student?
  • Always have one extra step or discussion question up your sleeve for stronger pairs or groups who finish faster
  • Give differentiated HW – for example, weaker students could write simple sentences to practice past tense while stronger students could write a whole story about an important event in their lives.
  • Move students to another class if possible (ask your school!)


How do I get the class know-it-all to be quiet?

  • Strategically ignore the know-it-all by focusing your gaze and attention on another student
  • Ask him/her the tough questions so they feel gratified
  • Thank student for his/her comments by saying ‘Okay, that’s interesting but let’s see what other people think.’
  • If the know-it-all wants to show you up, admit that you don’t know the answer but will look it up for next time


My students are tired and lack concentration in class.

  • Get students to stand up!  It’s hard to fall asleep on your feet.
  • Have students change seats and partners often to keep them stimulated with fresh experiences 
  • Start the class with a speaking warmer (not checking the workbook) to wake students’ English brains up right away and engage their interest in class
  •  Open the windows and turn on the lights


How can I deal with sudden surprises like students arguing, a student crying, or someone blowing up in class?

  • Talk to the individual student at a break about his/her behavior
  • Change the topic to something less controversial
  • Take a break to give everyone time to calm down
  •  Let the upset students leave the room for 10 min.
  •  Set clear expectations for classroom behavior, for example, that cursing or name-calling will not be tolerated
  • Nip problems in the bud before the problem behavior happens again
  • Ask the student ‘You seem really angry.  Does anyone else feel this way?’
  • Ask problem student what he/she wants to change
  • Explain clearly why the class is doing this activity or topic
  • Don’t directly disagree or argue with an angry student – build on or around what has been said
  • Remember, you can always talk to your Director of Studies or other colleagues for advice!