Teacher trainer and author Lorena Peimbert offers tips and advice on managing pre-primary classes – while having fun!
“I don’t know what to do with my kids! They just don’t pay attention to me.”
“Oh no! I couldn’t finish my plan today – again …”
“I am exhausted and couldn’t control my group today.”
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, all these problems can be solved with good classroom management. But what is that?
Classroom management = the strategies that we can use to keep our children organized, under control, reaching the learning objectives we have planned … and why not? Have fun!
Keep in mind the age of your children
First of all, think about the age of your children. Working with three year olds is very different to working with five year olds, especially in another language.
For some children, their lessons with you will be their first time in a school setting, away from their homes. This means they may have a hard time in the first few lessons, since they are going to miss their mom, their toys, their room, etc, a lot. Plus, a very nice teacher (you!) is going to be speaking in a language they don’t understand, which can be pretty scary to them. It is important to gain their confidence, alongside setting simple rules to show them what they can and can’t do.
Manage the Space
Next, consider your classroom environment before the children arrive:
- Decorate your classroom to help the children feel at home. Too many decorations can be distracting, but the right amount and type can really create a sense of calm and enjoyment. It’s also useful to set some simple rules and place pictures that represent the rules where they can see.
- Have a special place to put pictures of the words you are teaching, and change them every time you include new ones. If you leave the same pictures in the same place for a long time, soon the children will not notice them, and the impact of this wall will be lost.
- Create specific places – for example, a place where you can work with them in a circle, and a place where they can work in small teams. If your children are very young, you might also want to have a place where they can take a nap.
- Make sure everything the children need is in reach – including the board! If you think the board or the classroom shelves are too high for the children to reach, ask someone at the school to help you lower them, if possible.
Manage through Routines
Regular routines are crucial, as they help your children to know what comes next and what is expected of them. They will start feeling safe and confident and will be more eager to do the activities that you have planned. When planning, think of a routine you can do every day at the beginning, middle, and end of your class – songs, music, games, etc – that can help you maintain a good flow during your lesson.
At the beginning
- You could greet your children with a puppet or a plush animal. Children love them and in case they don’t yet have the confidence to speak directly to you they will, for sure, talk to the puppet! The puppet can even be the teacher and give the whole class instructions – children will always pay attention to the puppet.
- Include plenty of songs to teach your children topics like greetings, the weather, colors, feelings, numbers and actions, and encourage them to dance along. This will help create a nice environment in the class and will also help them learn everyday language as they move and have fun.
In the middle
- Arrange your classroom materials in small shoeboxes and put them in a place where children can reach them. Set a routine in which your children can help you get the materials for their teams and also put them away again. That means only a few children will be standing up, plus you will gain time since you will not have to be handing out and collecting all the material yourself.
- Don’t forget to plan songs or games to regain the attention of your children between finishing an activity and going to the next one. These transitional activities help them release energy too.
At the end
- Plan a song or a game for putting everything away and singing good bye! Your routine could also include giving a special plush animal to a child who behaved well that day to take home. Doing this makes children feel very special, as it shows that you are paying attention to every child in the class and acknowledging their individual efforts to do better each day. Just keep a note of who’s taken it home each time (and make sure they bring it back!), and try to give it to each child at least once a month. It can really help encourage good behavior.
Manage the time!
Being in control of the time can have a very positive impact:
The time of day
Time can have a real impact on our teaching. There’s a difference between teaching at the start of the day and at the end of the day; before recess or after recess; at the beginning of the school year or before holidays; and during summer or winter. We should take these factors into account when we plan our lessons.
For example, if you have your class at the beginning of the day, you will want to activate your children by starting the class singing and dancing. But if you have your class after recess, you will want to relax your children after all the break-time excitement.
Short and effective activities
Plan the activities you’re teaching to be short and snappy. If you do this, there will be no room for the children to do something else or something that is out of your control. For the activities to be both short and effective, it helps to have a very clear lesson objective. If the objective is clear, then the activities you need to do to reach it will come to your mind more easily.
If your objective is to review animal vocabulary, for example, you can do different activities that can develop different skills but all lead to reach the same objective. For example:
- singing an animal song to repeat the vocabulary words (develops oral skills);
- playing a memory game with animal flashcards (develops visual discrimination and memory);
- coloring the pictures of animals that you call out (develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, visual discrimination, listening skills).
Prepare to succeed
If you plan your activities ahead of time, you can also plan the materials you will need and have them ready for the children to use. For example, if you want them to paste some pictures, give them the pictures already cut, otherwise you can lose a lot of time, unless your objective is for them to develop the scissor skills.
If possible, arrange your children in small teams of three or four and give each team a name. It can be the name of a color, pet, etc. If you keep the same teams every time, children will soon learn that they are Team Blue or Team Red. Have some shoeboxes with a tag and a picture that resembles the name of each team and put the materials children will need to do the activity you have planned. Put all the shoeboxes in a place where they can easily reach them.
You can name a new captain in each team every day and ask the captains to go and get their team’s shoebox. You can explain the activities to the children before they go to get their shoeboxes. Children like to help! This will also help them improve their self-esteem and motivate them.
Keep everyone busy
Plan activities that children can do independently or in small groups. This means that you can go round and check in with individuals and groups while everyone is working. For example, to review colors, put the children in teams where they can sort material of different colors. This is the kind of activity that keeps all the children busy at the same time.
You can also set up stations for different activities. Set a time, and sound a bell that indicates children have to change to another activity. That way everybody will be busy, and you will be able to go round and check that all the children are reaching the activity’s objective.
Many classroom management problems happen when children don’t have anything to do. Always have extra activities for children who are fast finishers, that reinforce what they are learning and that can keep them busy while the other ones finish.
Remember, after children have been sitting for a while, it’s a good idea to ask them to stand up, sing, dance, or do a TPR (Total Physical Response) activity or a game in which they can move. I like to remind myself that little children learn with their bodies. Keeping them in chairs for a long period of time can lead to pent up energy that needs expressing in some way or other.
An example TPR activity that almost everybody knows is “Simon Says”. You can ask your children to stand up, run, jump, stomp their feet, dance and clap their hands … before you ask them to sit down again to move to the next activity. This type of activity helps grab their attention again and release energy in a controlled manner.
In conclusion …
These are just a few tips – there are so many more. But most of all, have fun and enjoy! You have chosen the best profession ever! The best of life is in your hands!
I believe that when we love what we do, we always find a way to make it better. I wish you the best!
About the author
Lorena Peimbert studied at the Universidad Panamericana in Mexico and has over 20 years’ experience teaching and working in schools. She combines being a coordinator in her current school, giving teacher training workshops and teaching children with disabilities, whilst also writing materials for Macmillan Education. Lorena has also written materials for various courses specific to the Ministry of Education in Mexico.
Find out more about Lorena here: www.macmillanenglish.com/author/lorena-peimbert
Find out more about Macmillan’s new pre-primary course Mimi’s Wheel, written by Carol Read, here: www.macmillanenglish.com/courses/mimiswheel
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