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Maintaining A “Good” Class


A week ago I wrote a fairly well-received post called When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!). It shared ten positive class-management actions I took to “regain” control of my mainstream ninth-grade class after I began losing it when five new students came in at the beginning of second semester.

Though this is different from my usual post, I thought readers might be interested in eleven additional positive actions I generally take to maintain good classroom-management with my mainstream students. These strategies usually work well, though unforeseen events like five new students at mid-year can “throw a curve.”

I use the same philosophy in my ESL (we call them ELD — English Language Development) classes, and will be doing the same in the International Baccalaureate classes I’ll be teaching in the future (we’re a pretty darn diverse inner-city high school). However, class management is not anywhere near as big of an issue in those classes as it is with a number of our mainstream ones where our students are facing different challenges.

Some of these actions might look more like an instructional strategy instead of a class-management one, though I think the lines are often blurry between the two.

Again, as in my previous post on the subject, I’m not listing them in any order of importance:

MAKING SURE WE HAVE ENGAGING CURRICULUM TAUGHT IN AN ENGAGING WAY: As Mathew Needleman, my blogging colleague at In Practice puts it: “They’re not bored, you’re boring.” Teaching something students are interested in, and providing opportunities for them to learn it in a pro-active way, will go a long way towards dealing with any potential class management issues.

ASKING STUDENTS HOW THEY FEEL AFTER THEY’VE HAD A SUCCESSFUL DAY: I can’t remember where I first read about this strategy, but it certainly works, especially with students who have self-control issues or difficulties staying focused. I find that helping them become aware of more positive feelings they’re experiencing when they’re doing well is much more effective than asking them why they’re doing what they’re doing when they are not doing well.

PROVIDING STRESS BALLS TO CERTAIN STUDENTS: Some students clearly have an excess of energy. I have a collection of different sport-related stress balls that I offer to certain students at the beginning of class and collect at the end. This obviously doesn’t always work, especially if it ends-up getting thrown around. But I’ve found that it’s worked remarkably well for some. And it’s not unusual for students to periodically say that they want to try not using a stress ball after awhile. I believe the ball itself is less important than the fact a teacher is trying to help in a positive way.

ALLOWING EACH STUDENT TO PICK ONE BOOK FROM AMAZON.COM THAT I BUY FOR THEM: One of the reasons for our school’s success, I believe, is our strong belief in Stephen Krashen’s “free voluntary reading” — letting students read high-interest books that they choose. We all have hundreds of volumes in our classroom libraries, and an excellent school library, but there’s something about a student picking their very own book that seems to help solidify a teacher/student relationship. And with the ability to purchase used copies through Amazon, it really doesn’t cost that much out of my pocket.

MAKING SURE THAT EACH YEAR I TEACH AT LEAST ONE “MAINSTREAM” CLASS: It’s easy to take class management for granted in ESL (or ELD) and in, I assume (since I’ll be teaching them for the first time next year), International Baccalaureate classes. I’ve found that it takes far too long for me to get back in an intentional and positive classroom management “groove” if I go a year without having to consciously use these strategies.

MODEL, MODEL, MODEL WHAT I WANT STUDENTS TO DO: When we start a classroom activity, no matter if we’ve done similar ones in the past, taking some time to model exactly what I expect students to do is not only good pedagogy but an effective classroom management critique. Students will feel more confident, they will be able to begin to get to work more quickly, and there will be fewer “technical” questions and more of an opportunity to interact about the essential parts of the lesson.

WRITING INSTRUCTIONS ON THE BOARD OR OVERHEAD: I do this for many of the same reasons as I use the modeling. Pointing at the board takes much less time then repeating directions again and again. Of course, this means it’s my responsibility to be clear when I give them for the first time and to make sure that everyone is paying attention at the time.

DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO AVOID POWER STRUGGLES WITH STUDENTS: A teacher once told me that he had a rule that a student could never have the last word — now that’s a healthy classroom for sure! Who cares who has the last word? I believe that a teacher can never win a power struggle. You might think you’ve won, but you haven’t. A situation might become polarized, but I believe that in a healthy classroom management atmosphere, the teacher needs to pursue de-polarizing the situation fairly soon, too.

TRY AVOIDING USING THE WORD “NO”: Marvin Marshall, my favorite writer on classroom management issues, talks about how “…using the word, “not,”rather than the word, “no,” such as “Not now” or “Not this time” prompts fewer negative feelings than the hearing the absoluteness of ‘No!'”

TRY REMEMBERING TO TAKE A FEW DEEP BREATHS WHEN I’M LOSING PATIENCE: Anytime I see myself reverting to, or feeling like I want to revert to, threats and punishment, I try to take a few deep breaths to calm down. I’m not always successful, but more times than not I am.

BE FLEXIBLE & BE OPEN TO DIFFERENTIATING EVERYTHING: I’m very clear with my students that I believe they are all individuals with different needs, strong points, and desires. And because of that there will be times when there will be different rules for different people. One student who just wouldn’t read a book during reading time for weeks is now reading the sports section of the daily paper intently each day while everyone else is reading a book. Another student can stand in the back of the classroom whenever he wants as long as does it quietly and does his work while everybody else sits at their desk. If it helps the student learn, and doesn’t contradict a core value I hold, I’m open to trying it.

I hope people find this post hopeful, and I’m interested in hearing other recommendations about good classroom management strategies.

I won’t be making posts like this a regular feature here, and will continue to typically post these kinds of reflections over at In Practice.

However, I have written one final installment in this series called More About Maintaining a “Good” Class.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I’ve starting gathering your wisdom and others here:

  2. Yes, students need to understand their goals, which is to understand the material. See the new book on “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better”.

  3. Larry,

    I really like these and also your take on “classroom management”. Meaning, it isn’t just about “control” and power but having a lesson that creating a culture that makes these issues mute or less of a problem….

    I believe it SO important to frame things positively in the classroom, as per your suggestion about the word “no”. Also goes for the rules in the classroom “raise your hand” as oppossed to “Don’t speak out of turn” etc…..

    If I get the time and hoping you don’t mind, I’d like to make a ppt presentation of these and a few others I could add? Would be a great primer for new and old teachers alike. We can’t think about this enough and through that process I think we gain “experience” and do so much of it intuitively. thanks….


    PS> I’ll also add that two things I’ve used quite effectively with young learners is a yellow card / red card / green card system (football being such a well understood thing). Also in Asia a time out area works wonders but would never work in my clasroom in Canada (but your stress ball would maybe?). I also think teachers need to use a two step signalling device. Audio not visual. I use a bell. One hit and kids “freeze” Can be so funny. Two and they relax and listen/regroup.

  4. Great reminders as we deal with kids (and colleagues) who have bought proverbial roll of stamps and “mailed it in” already this year.

  5. I particularly like that you allow one of your students to read the sports section of the newspaper as opposed to a book. It demonstrates the importance of reaching a goal, here to improve reading ability. How the student (or students) improve this skill matters less, as long as they do improve. Very good classroom management technique, I think.

    I’d like to add that it’s important to lay out expectations at the start of the term. You don’t have to be heavy handed, nor make a list of dos and don’ts. Set the mark for which students need to aim, and then give them every opportunity and assistance to get them there.

  6. Hello, my friend! This is a very worthy list. I have marked it so I can show it to every student teacher that crosses my threshhold. Often the best things I do with a child who is having a bad day is walk away when they try to engage me in a power struggle. I love the idea regarding buying a student their very own book. It is simply not enough to have them available in your classroom

  7. I think your words are golden. I have enjoyed several of your ideas. I teach mainstream English. It is predominately middle class school.
    This year we are having a theft problem. Several of these students are in the same class. Students have stolen high interest books off of my bookshelf when I have been willing to lend them. They have stolen batteries off the wall next to my desk. Finally, I did what I thought would be an engaging project with cameras, and someone stole memory from those cameras.
    In ESL you usually have a different group of kids, but what do you do when all but a small group of the students betray your trust?

  8. Mr. Ferlazzo YOU ROCK!! I love reading your site! This article was excellent. Number 1 was my absolute favorite. I teach Computer Lab to Pre-K- 2nd grade and I start writing every lesson with engagement as my highest standard!

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