PL Report 27 May: Best practices for classroom management

Many thanks to Moya McLauchlan for stepping in at short notice and guiding us brilliantly through the techniques for managing the Languages classroom. The aim of the one-day course was to learn techniques to turn around student misbehaviour and create a positive learning environment that will prevent problems before they begin.

When Moya started teaching in 1971 she had 44 students in her Year 3 class and corporal punishment was still used in schools. We have come a long way since then, but finding ways to manage student behaviour without the harsh punishments of the past is much more challenging.

Moya invited us all to write post it notes with problems we would like her to address throughout the session. She addressed everyone’s concerns by the end of the day.

Moya reminded us that as the teacher we set the tone and it is the teacher who does the managing; It is the teacher who organises the space, time, students, lesson content and materials. Teachers need to have good learning management so that student learning takes place and teachers need good instruction on how to achieve this, it does not just happen. While this is something we all knew, Moya’s reassuring delivery inspired us to review our classroom expectations and feel confident that managing classroom behaviour was well within our grasp.

One of the reasons that students play up is that they are fearful of failing in front of their peers and it is a distraction technique. (Classroom Management: A Thinking and Caring Approach, Bennett and Smilanich) Some students think it is better to be known as a naughty student than a dumb one. Teachers can help nervous students by reassuring them that they can do the work.  Some students complain about lessons being boring – this is often because they need help. It is easier to be class clown than admit they can’t do it.

Moya noted, and this was backed up by group consensus, that it is sad that the initial excitement and enthusiasm of Year 7’s dwindles to the extent that by Year 9, many just do not want to be in class at all. Boredom is no excuse though for poor behaviour. A lot of students do not necessarily find Maths interesting either but they take it seriously and play up far less than they do in the Languages classes. This is because Maths is perceived as important or relevant to them. We need to make students feel a level of success and realise the relevance of Languages to their daily lives, their futures and literacy and communication skills.

Many teachers can be dull but most Languages teachers aim to make the lessons as interesting as possible with exciting activities, fun and games and stories. I loved the quotes from

“Play belongs in school as much as pencils.” and “Make today brilliantly amazing!”

Moya revealed results from surveys of students who were asked what they thought made an effective teacher. ( ) The most important things to the students were that teachers need subject knowledge, they can explain things well, they make the subject interesting and they have personality. (By personality this was defined as being patient, understanding and willing to answer questions). It was important too that teachers wanted to build positive relationships with students. Young people are looking for people to look up to or who are worthy of their respect. The students make up their minds in that first lesson whether the teacher is worthy of following and how they are going to react to you.

There were some interesting group discussions on how we as teachers controlled our space and time and what teaching strategies we used that are positive with students. Mikael Sandlund from Kalamanda Christian School told us about introducing a toy panda to his primary school Chinese class. It was a very shy panda and would only talk to the teacher and tell the teacher whose desk he wanted to sit on for each lesson. The panda got a bit tatty from so much love and handling so he has gone away now but students can send emails and receive replies from the panda!

Moya also suggested that it is a good idea to write on the board what we are going to do so students can see the progress during the lesson. (Did you see this in The Revolution School, Episode 1, 31 May 2016 on ABC?) This way if their behaviour slows down the lesson they can be made aware of their impact on the learning and how much more they can do if they cooperate. We also discussed rewards. They need to be small so that students are not just working/behaving because of the reward but do not underestimate how much pleasure a small reward can make. Even Year 12s have been known to enjoy getting positive stickers on their work.

Manners really matter. Teachers must model the behaviour they want the students to use so getting angry and shouting is really counter productive. Be polite to your students. Show respect to them and ask them to show respect too.

It is important for teachers to be enthusiastic about learning in general and not just about their subject. Show students that you are still learning as well.

Students really enjoy it when teachers have a sense of humour. A joke can help kids connect but you can only do that if you are relaxed. If you are in a rotten mood it is hard to do.

Moya reminded us all of the importance of lesson preparation even after years of teaching. If you are not organised your lesson is going to fail. You must have a plan.

If your lessons are dull go online and find inspiration. Moya suggested that we visit for lots of great teaching ideas. One of the lovely quotes on this site is that “Education has very little to do with explanation. It has to do with engagement….. with falling in love with a subject” – Seymour Papert.

Most of the teachers’ work happens outside of the classroom so during the lesson the students are the ones doing the work and processing the language. FOCUS ON “What are the students doing?” not what the teacher is doing.

Remember to keep activities short, sharp and snappy with a lot of variety. You can do lots of different things even if they are all related to one text/ activity.

Moya taught us some classroom games like “Fruit salad” and a ‘going up a mountain game’ which can be adapted to a range of languages and situations. 


To develop relationships with students it is important to talk to them outside the classroom, use their names often and learn them early. Moya mentioned one principal who turned a school around by walking around at recess and lunch time and used students’ names and had conversations with them. It matters to students if they feel that you notice them. Kids remember how you make them feel – work to build the relationship.

We were introduced to Haim G. Ginott (1922–1973): school teacher, child psychologist and psychotherapist and parent educator. He pioneered techniques for conversing with children that are still taught today. He spoke of the teacher’s power in the classroom and that it is the teacher’s responses to student behaviour in the classroom that make the difference.

Every day is a new day, you can start again. Chat to the students about other things than Languages. They want positive attention so make sure you are not only speaking to them when they are being naughty. Get them to help with planning the unit of work. Give them some responsibility for managing tasks. They can help to make tutorials for future use on something that they have learned. The students can show you how to do something with IT.

Make sure that you have no invisible students. Get everyone in the class involved. Show each student unconditional positive regard; it’s good to catch them doing the right thing. When responding to students’ answers do not just say ‘good’ tell them why it is good. Be specific in your feedback. e.g “I like how neatly you did that, so that I can read it more easily. or “You completed that quickly and got all the sentences correct so you must really know this.”

And if they have not done well… Respond positively “Well you have opened the book, now you need to get the date down, do that and I will come back to you.” Aim to keep comments positives as it takes seven positive comments to overcome one negative one.

It is so important to be consistent and to have rules and routines so students feel a level of comfort in knowing what they can anticipate. Look up on the net various techniques for cooperative learning, such as eight square, line ups, inside outside circle learning from other students. Put students in a group with a role so everyone is involved. Enthusiastic, busy kids are much better behaved. Students must create something at the end of unit and not be endlessly doing practice and drills. Ask “What should they be able to do by the end of this topic?”

Don’t focus on discipline, focus on learning experiences.

Have classroom rules but keep them short and simple so as to avoid micro managing. In his video Classroom management for dummies, ( )

Keith Hughes recommends three rules that can encompass most things:

  • Show respect to all
  • Turn up on time ready to learn
  • Don’t be an idiot!

If students are all arriving at different times and the interruptions are unsettling to those already there it sets up a poor start. Languages teachers often move from room to room so an orderly line up may not be possible. Aim to give them something to do right away when they come in and engage in the target language straight away.

How do you switch students on so they know they are in the Languages space?

Different teachers tackle this in a variety of ways. Some of my favourites were….

  • When Italian teacher at Swan Valley Anglican Community School, Alessandra Tommasi, knocks on the door for each class she says “permesso” then the class answers “Avanti Signora Tommasi” and this is the cue to switch to Italian.  This she teaches to her Year 1 students in one of the very first lessons.
  • One Chinese teacher does a rap in Chinese about putting away your English thoughts to be ready to let the Chinese in. This has actions too.
  • Others do greetings and the roll in the target language straight away.

When Moya taught Indonesian, she always liked to start with a listening exercise to settle students get them to focus. For example students had to listen and count how many times they hear a particular thing, so higher levels are listening for the sophisicated grammatical constructions, others are just listening for family names, sports, past tense etc

Getting students to be quiet.

For most teachers getting students to be quiet and listen is often the biggest management challenge. One video we watched ( recommended selecting one spot in the room where you regularly go to get attention. Say “Can I have your attention please in five, four, three two one?” You might also like to try clapping – say “clap twice, clap once, clap half” to see who is listening. Most teachers use their voices to speak over students but this is not good for stress levels or the voice box in the long run. Find alternatives. One teacher gets attention using a Chinese drum!

Other techniques for getting quiet attention includes counting in the language and saying “ahh” and then waiting for quiet. Effective and easy for the voice is a technique of raising your hands in the air and the students have to follow and fall silent. Another seemingly simple technique is to simply say “Year 8 ssh” – then thank those who are being quiet. Give warnings: one more minute, ten seconds etc

Give me five: 1 eyes looking, 2 ears listening, 3 mouths closed, 4 feet and hands still, 5 ready to learn (count down using fingers)

Concept check. Don’t ask students if they understand the instructions – ask them what is the first thing you have to do, what is the next thing, how long do you have to do it. Check that they know beforehand – Am I allowed to talk in this activity? To whom? How long? How loud? Model the level that is acceptable

Moya showed us a noise meter iPad app called Too Noisy and can set the level of noise and if you are too loud an alarm goes off! If the noise limits stay within the limits the class can earn a star.

Moya highly recommended “Classroom Management: A Thinking and Caring Approach” by Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich (1994).  Their research shows that most students just want four main things:

1) To belong

2) To have power/control over their lives

3) To have freedom

4) To have fun

As teachers we need to be leaders of the herd and to have everyone working with us so you must address the “how to include everyone”.

What is a good, easy-to-use reward system?

We discussed a points system linked with rewards. However, extrinsic systems are hard to maintain, the gifts have to get bigger and bigger and then some students will not do anything without a reward. Remember that a teacher’s attention is like sunshine on a garden and all flowers turn toward it.

What if students continue to be difficult?

Give students an achievable goal. “I want you to manage this exercise without turning round”. Continue to be polite, respectful and positive and use the school discipline plan. Ask to sit in on some other classes to observe and understand the student’s behaviour.

How should you deal with students breaking wind and causing a disturbance?

Students are often farting just to see if the teacher will lose it. Humour can deflate a hyped up situation. You can be prepared and bring in an oil dispenser/air freshener and remind students that this is baby behaviour.

It was a packed day with lots of great hints and tips and mutual sharing in a positive way to find solutions to perennial problems. Finally Moya explained another concept of Bennett & Smilanich (1994), about managing ‘bumps’ or low level misbehavior with low key responses in small steps to improve compliance. Some these include:

1 proximity (move closer to the student)

2 touch (light, quick)

3 student’s name (quick, quiet)

4 gesture (finger on mouth)

5 the look (eye contact, quick)

6 the pause (active pause – scan the class, wait for compliance)

7 ignore (turns it back on student)

8 signal (to begin)

The day ended with a final quote by Haim Ginott. “If you want children to improve, then let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.”

It was an excellent professional learning opportunity. Moya was confident and reassuring and we could not wait to put some of these ideas into practice.

Report by Nicky Griffin-Appadoo.


Moya McLauchlan is a languages educator who has taught Indonesian but also at primary and tertiary levels. Moya has extensive experience in delivering professional learning programs for teachers of languages within the Department of Education and the Westralian Indonesian Language Teachers’ Association. She was awarded an Outstanding Professional Service Award in 2008. Moya contributed to the National Statement and Plan for Languages and before her retirement from the Department held positions as Professional Learning Coordinator and Project Manager for K-12 Curriculum Resources at WestOne Services where she managed the development of digital resources for Japanese and French. Since ‘retiring’, Moya has worked with AISWA on the Languages web site, with Balai Bahasa Indonesia Perth coordinating classes for adults, with Murdoch University supervising pre-service teachers and for the Australian Institute of Management and the Office of Multicultural Interests training teachers in the Community Languages Program.


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