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5 Classroom Management Tips for High School ESL Teachers

Being a first-year teacher standing in front of a room full of teens is probably one of the most challenging experiences any teacher has ever had. Teaching high school learners is not an easy task, but it can be a rewarding experience. Over the years, I have experimented with different ways of working with my students, but I have realized that teaching classroom routines should be the most important pillar of my classroom management system.

Of course, students are generally well-behaved on the first day of school. However, we should remember that we are under the microscope especially during the first weeks of school. The way we carry ourselves, they way we talk, our actions, and the small behaviour issues we choose to ignore or address will certainly have an impact on the effectiveness of our classroom management plan.

I believe the key to having one’s classroom run itself is teaching routines from day one. Although there is no magic recipe for a solid classroom management plan that works for all of us, I hope these tips will help you to set up your classroom routine from the get-go.


On the first day of class, I welcome my students with a seating plan. Having a seating plan sends learners the message that they might not do whatever they want in my class. First, I place students in alphabetical order, so I can remember names easily. Later, I change the seating plan based on my observations and interventions.


I teach classroom routine as early as the moment they step into my classroom. I always greet my students at the door. Thus, if some of them are too excited and pretend not seeing me there, I ask them to step outside, enter the room calmly, and greet me the way I did when they were rushing through the classroom door.

I also observe students’ attitude during the first class. If I see any unwanted behaviour such as students rolling their eyes, communicating with their classmate while I am talking, incorrect sitting position or talking without raising their hands, I definitely address these issues immediately. For instance, if two students are talking while I am presenting the course syllabus and expectations, I start walking in the classroom. If they continue communicating, I stop by their desks. If it is not enough, I stop talking and wait. If they do not understand the message that it is time to listen to their teacher, I warn them verbally and discuss their conduct after class, which usually results in changing their seats, as well. 

It is always better to prevent unwanted behaviour than dealing with it when it is too late. So, the first three or four weeks of school, I teach and reteach classroom expectations to prevent undesirable conduct later on. I am not shy to call the parents the third week of school either, which usually helps a lot. Sometimes, a call home is what it takes to show learners how far they can push your limits.


When mentioning bell-ringer activities, I am not necessarily referring to using worksheets or task cards students need to complete at the beginning of the class.

Rather, my routine is the following:

  1. The first period of the class starts with a short writing journal. Thus, students know that they need to prepare their notebook if we have a morning class. Sometimes, I give them a specific a writing prompt, other times, I let them write about anything they want. These writing activities last 15 minutes only. There is no word count, but I expect my learners to write a well-developed paragraph.

  2. The second period of the day usually starts with a grammar workshop. I often show a grammar video lesson and learners have to take notes, so they can explain what they have learned. Sometimes, I also offer short instruction and modelling, then, students complete the activities in their activity book most of the time in pairs or in groups.

  3. The third and fourth periods start with independent reading. To make sure students are reading, they must keep a reading journal and record their opinion, observations, impressions about the plot and characters while reading. 

Having a specific task to complete at the beginning of each class helps learners calm down and get to work right after the bell rings. It also avoids questions such as ” What are we doing today, Miss?” because they already know what to expect. These bell-ringer activities also allow me to take attendance, check homework before correcting, and prepare my class.


When you have 30-33 learners in your class, it is difficult to check every student’s work or to make sure they have their materials. During the first three weeks, though, I take my time and check materials every single class. I also use learners’ agenda to inform parents about missing school supplies such as a binder, notebook, loose leaves, activity book or pencil case.  It is time-consuming, but my students learn that they must bring everything to class because they cannot leave the classroom once the bell rings.

When it comes to checking learners’ work, I do not necessarily correct or grade classwork to show students that what they do in class is important. Instead, I use a self-inking rubber stamp to offer quick feedback on their performance in class. For example, fifteen or ten minutes before the class ends, I walk around the classroom and check how much work learners have completed. I reward my hard-working teens with a smiley face. Although it might be hard to believe, using a smiley face to reward my high school learners for their good work has been a huge success in my classes.

Another way I hold my students accountable for their learning is by collecting their writing or reading journals regularly. I do not grade these short paragraph writing practices during the first couple of weeks. Instead, I offer corrective feedback on students’ work. This strategy encourages them to pay more attention to revising, correcting, and improving their paragraphs than getting a grade they are not satisfied with. Delaying the grade and offering corrective feedback are effective teaching practices that motivate learners to focus on improving their writing skills.


I always make it clear that the bell does not dismiss my students. However, I make sure that I stop my class five minutes before the bell rings, so I can give feedback on students’ performance, remind them of their homework, and what they need to study, finish or prepare for next class. I never end my class without wishing my students a wonderful day or without encouraging them to have rest and enjoy their weekend. I also remind them to push their chairs and leave my classroom calmly.

On a last note, having a well-established routine in my high school ESL class helps me create a safe and welcoming space for my students who know that I value their hard work and expect them to adopt a pacific and positive attitude when they come to English class.

Are you looking for more classroom management tips? Read my next blog posts here: How to Build Relationships with High School Students and How I Kick-Start the New School Year in My Secondary ESL Class.

Happy teaching!

Kynga C.


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