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Classroom Management Strategies for Teaching English Online

Are you struggling when teaching your online English lessons because of a misbehaving or distracted student? Whether you’re teaching kids or adults, at some point, you’re going to run into situations that call for managing the classroom. So, how can you rise above these challenges and run your class like a pro? Let us help you with tips for effective classroom management for teaching online.

Take a Micro-credential Course in Teaching English Online to Groups to learn more skills for managing small or large groups of students in the virtual classroom.

What are the challenges of online classroom management?

When you teach English online, part of your class’ success relies on how productive and well-managed your learning environment is. Given the unique setup of a virtual classroom, however, you may face challenges that are unique to this setting.

  • Firstly, the lack of physical interaction in an online class may require you to look for a plethora of ways to keep students engaged. Kids, in particular, may have a short attention span while learning in front of a computer, which could lead them to feel bored, misbehave, or even disappear in the middle of the class.
  • In addition, it’s not uncommon for students learning from home to be surrounded by distractions, which could range from family members talking to mobile phones ringing in the background.

While these issues and challenging online student types may keep you from running your virtual classes smoothly, it’s not impossible to overcome these challenges as long as you’re prepared and you’ve got the right online TEFL/TESOL classroom management strategies in hand.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

How do you deal with misbehaving students online?

Students using mobile phones during class time, lack of concentration, disrespect, and other sorts of misbehavior can all disrupt your lesson and put off the rest of the class. Nevertheless, you can deal with misbehaving students by applying the following tips for classroom management when teaching online.

1. Set clear rules and expectations

As you start your online English class, make sure to:

  • Emphasize the importance of being polite and punctual early on.
  • Let students know what they should do in special cases, such as how to excuse themselves in the middle of the class.
  • Explain which language and expressions are acceptable and which aren’t.
  • If a student continues to misbehave, don’t hesitate to remind him or her of the rules or the etiquette that you have set beforehand.

2. Address issues right away

If a student starts holding side conversations during class, don’t wait until he gets comfortable doing this in the next lessons. Instead, advise the student to mute his or her microphone if he or she has to talk to someone else outside of the online classroom.

It’s crucial to deal with misbehavior or disciplinary issues immediately, whether it’s a simple but frequent distraction or something offensive like using foul language.

3. Talk to students in private

Instead of calling out a misbehaving student in front of the class, opt to correct or discipline him or her through a one-on-one conversation. Also, make sure to speak with the student in a formal but positive tone.

However, if the misbehavior is beyond your ability to fix, it’s best to notify the parents or the school administration and let them handle the situation.

  • Pro Tip: You can address an issue during class both immediately and privately with a student by using your online teaching platform’s private chat box feature.

4. Be a role model

Finally, implementing rules and promoting good behavior becomes easier if you lead by example. When students observe your positive attitude, respect for others, and professionalism, they will most likely follow your example and strive to create a better learning atmosphere for everyone.

Here are some rules of etiquette you should follow when teaching English online.

online English teacher

EFL teacher, Rachel Cordova, working with students online

What are some strategies for managing an online classroom?

Depending on the type and age group of the students you teach, the way you manage your virtual classes may differ. Here are some strategies for running online English classes with children and adults smoothly.

Learn even more strategies for classroom management in the Teaching English Online to Groups Micro-credential course.

Teaching groups or pairs of young learners online

1. Put distractions away

Before your lesson, check that your learners have put away their phones, toys, and anything that can divert their attention or create background noise later on. Also, make sure that they’ve closed apps and webpages unrelated to the class — you wouldn’t want them to suddenly play their Roblox game while you’re speaking!

2. Establish habits and routines

Aside from ensuring a distraction-free class right from the start, train your young learners to prepare themselves for the lesson. See to it that they are dressed up properly (no pajamas, please!) and that they’re ready with their notebooks and materials for the class. This way, they won’t have to run around their house later on and potentially get distracted by things around them, like pets and other people.

Additionally, your class can run more smoothly by incorporating routines. When students already know what time they should arrive to class, what activities to expect in the first minutes, and how to access online books and homework, the flow of your class will be predictable and your students will have more time to do productive tasks.

teaching English online

GoGoKid teacher Mari motivates her young learners by using incentives and rewards.

3. Incentivize and reward

From stars to cute stickers to virtual tours, you can always get your young learners’ excitement up and keep them from getting bored by using incentives and rewards. These will also engage them more in your activities and get them to be more focused on achieving their goals.

4. Engage students through gamification

Kids may tend to look for other things to do or wander off your lesson topic once their attention span has reached its limit. There’s no better way to prevent this than through games and interactive activities. Whether it’s an online Snakes and Ladders game or a fun competition between groups, you can always steer them away from boredom and even make quiet students participate more by incorporating a few games.

Get more online ESL game ideas for young learners by taking a short Micro-credential course.

Sallie, Teaching Online with TPR

Online ESL teacher Sallie uses TPR, realia, and other strategies to motivate her students.

5. Make use of Total Physical Response (TPR)

Sitting still in front of the screen for half an hour may not work for some students, who could become bored and restless during your class. When these issues arise, you can always re-energize students by using TPR. You can introduce miming games, for instance, or warm up the class using a song with a lot of movement verbs.

6. Use teaching platform features

Nowadays, video conference platforms have a lot of practical features that you can use to make your online English classes more dynamic yet organized. Here are some ideas:

  • Learners can click the virtual hand button if they want to answer a question.
  • Use the chat box for creating vocabulary lists.
  • For group activities, split students up into smaller groups using the breakout rooms.

By using these digital tools to your advantage, young learners can focus more on what’s going on onscreen than on their surroundings.

Find out more about the differences between teaching one-on-one vs. group online English classes.

7. Control disruptions

It may be inevitable to hear noises from your students’ end or for someone in the class to take over the group by talking too much. If these distractions arise and it’s difficult to communicate with the distracting learner, you can manage them by muting their microphone and then, if necessary, sending him or her a quick message about the disruption.

8. Build relationships

A huge part of classroom management for teaching English online is creating rapport with your learners. If you and your students connect, interact, and understand each other in a positive way, they will not only feel motivated to take part in your class but will also strive to behave well.

Learn more about building rapport with your online ESL students.

Teaching groups or pairs of adults online

Although most of the tips above may also apply to managing older students, there are challenges specific to classes with adults that you may need to handle. Let’s look at the best strategies to manage these issues.

Check out some top companies where you can teach English online to adults.

1. Maintain your authority in the classroom

As a teacher to adults, you may get students who are your age or older than you. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can just let them answer their work calls or come to class whenever they want. Remember that, as a teacher, you are still in charge of running the class. As long as you treat students with respect and keep the atmosphere positive, you have all the power to let them know if they’re affecting the quality of the class.

Find out more about the differences between teaching English to adults vs. kids.

Jhonny and students in an online classroom

Jhonny, from Venezuela, teaching a group of adult ESL students online

2. Make sure everyone is heard

Adult learners can usually discuss and provide insights on a wider variety of topics. Though this is a positive thing, there may be adult learners who like to speak a lot in a group class, giving less time for their classmates to share or answer questions.

  • Make sure to note the amount of time a student speaks in class.
  • If you notice that a student is talking excessively, you can politely cut him off by thanking him and calling on another student right away.
  • For shy or quieter students, make sure to ask follow-up questions or use techniques to reduce teacher talk time (TTT) to encourage them to speak more.
3. Manage debates and discussions carefully

Asking a group class for their thoughts on certain topics encourages them to participate more in class, but you wouldn’t want a discussion to heat up once their opinions start to clash! As an English teacher, you’re also in charge of facilitating your students’ conversations.

  • Listen to both sides carefully and know if it’s time to stop their debate.
  • Avoid bringing up taboo topics, such as religion, politics, and personal finances.

Various issues may arise during an online ESL class, regardless of the type of English learners you have. However, by applying the virtual classroom management strategies above, there’s no doubt that you can handle any kind of student behavior with confidence and carry on with your lessons with minimal problems.

New to teaching multiple ESL students at once in the virtual classroom? Here’s a guide to teaching English online to groups.

Back in her hometown in the Philippines, Krzl worked as a writer at a TV station before moving to Chile. After she completed her TESOL certification, she worked for language institutes and then decided to become an independent English teacher to business professionals. When she’s not giving classes, she’s either surfing along Chile’s long stretch of coastline, traveling, or practicing photography by the beach.