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5 Challenging TEFL Students in Any Classroom and How to Manage Them

Regardless of whether your TEFL/TESOL career lands you in front of a class of kindergartners or a roomful of corporate CEOs, having good classroom management skills will benefit you as a teacher. One aspect of this is recognizing, understanding, and dealing with the different types of challenging students you’ll be faced with in class. This guide introduces you to 5 of them and gives you strategies to keep your classroom running smoothly.

Find out how to teach kids English and learn about other techniques for managing a classroom of young learners.

1. The Dominator

This student is eager, enthusiastic, and anxious to demonstrate what she knows (this student type can also be the familiar teacher’s pet). It’s great that she’s an involved and motivated student but unfortunately, she articulates this eagerness by being the first to call out the answer every time you ask the class a question. Her outbursts rob other students (who may be more introverted or just need a moment to formulate their answer) of the chance to participate because they can’t compete with the Dominator.

How to effectively deal with this student:

As the teacher, your students look to you to facilitate a fair classroom environment that is conducive to learning. Therefore, even though your students are adults, it’s okay to make class rules. Putting a rule in place that requires students to raise their hands when they know an answer, rather than blurting it out, gives you the opportunity to call on less vocal students. Also, keep in mind that many Dominators don’t mean to disrupt; they just want to do their best in class or they simply value the opportunity to practice talking in English. Therefore, another solution to dealing with this enthusiastic student type is to pair up two Dominators for partner work, giving both of them the outlet they are seeking.

2. The Class Clown

You remember this student from when you were a kid in school, or even from when you were in college (maybe you were this student). He’s always got a witty comeback to the teacher’s question and loves making the class laugh. Sure, it can be funny, but if his antics keep his classmates (or him) from learning English, it’s a problem.

How to effectively deal with this student:

It might seem like ignoring this student would be the solution, but usually he’s attention-seeking, so that will likely just make him clown around more. Instead, try physically moving toward the student. Walk over and stand by him while you’re teaching or give him a task, like handing out worksheets. Try praising him for good work so that he gets the attention he needs in other ways.

3. The Silent Student

Students might be silent for many reasons: fear of making a mistake, general shyness, or just a preference for listening and observing. Whatever the reason, silence is deadly in the EFL classroom, where communicating in English is the goal.

How to effectively deal with this student:

Try talking privately to the student after class to find out why he is quiet in class. He may not even be aware he’s not participating! Also, try taking the pressure off quiet students by utilizing partner or small group work. It’s much easier to speak to one or two people than it is to a whole class! Also, a strategy such as posing a question to the class as a whole and giving them a couple of minutes to write down their answers individually can also help the quiet student participate.

4. The Translator       

Imagine that you’ve painstakingly created vocabulary flashcards for your class of Saudi Arabian students so that they can associate the new vocabulary you are teaching with an image, rather than with an Arabic word. Yet there’s one student who insists on calling out the Arabic translation right after each English word is presented—just what you’re trying to avoid!

How to effectively deal with this student:

While translation is discouraged in the EFL classroom, the truth is, some students learn this way and maybe she’s one of them. Have a private conversation with this student after class and instead of telling her “no translating in class,” ask her, for the courtesy of others who learn visually, to please write down, rather than say the translation if she feels this method benefits her.

5. The Arguer

The Arguer has a gift for analyzing concepts and pays great attention to detail, but as a result, she seems to challenge every grammar or speaking point you present. For example, you’re teaching students how they might hear native speakers pronounce the phrase, “Don’t you?” as “dōnchū? The Arguer tells you you’re wrong because it’s nowhere in the book!

How to effectively deal with this student:

First, always stay cool, calm, and patient and avoid arguing with the Arguer. Instead, present evidence of your point rather than simply relying on your expertise as “the teacher.” For example, make an activity out of bringing in a short song or clip from a TV show, in which students can hear this pronunciation for themselves. Or, ask the Arguer to bring in similar examples to demonstrate her own point.

Challenging students often represent different learning styles, so bear that in mind when faced with The Dominator, The Arguer, or other student personalities. Knowing what challenges you and your  TEFL students can expect and having a plan for dealing with them can make your classroom much easier to manage.

Ready to learn more techniques for your TEFL/TESOL classroom? Earn a Specialized Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners or Teenagers.

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