Toggle nav

The Trinity: Motivation, Management, and Behavior


In ESL classrooms around the world, kids are studying English like crazy…and not receiving a grade for all their hard work. A lot of private academies and cram schools will write a report for parents, but overall students are viewed as customers not, well, students. Kids are clever and figure this out early on. As teachers, we need to find a way to motivate our students to learn.

Many private schools do have some kind of reward system in place, which can take the burden off of the teacher. That being said, a lot of teachers will make reward systems for their classes. In a basic reward system, students will collect points, stamps, stickers, etc. for some kind of prize.

Points and the like can be earned or awarded for good behavior, participation, being prepared for class, winning a game, special duties like cleaning up, etc. Points can just as easily be deducted for poor behavior, unpreparedness,
and no homework.

Students need to be aware of your reward system. It needs to be used in every class and applied fairly.

There are so many examples of reward systems. Reward systems can be used for individual students, groups, or a whole class. The system can involve the teacher giving out a prize, like a pencil, notebook, candy, or it can reward with a special activity.

• Students spell out a word, which is also their reward, i.e. GAMES, MOVIE, NO HOMEWORK, etc. Students earn letters for positive behavior and lose letters for negative behavior.

• If students are in groups, students can earn points for their group. The winning group can line up first to go home, choose an activity for the class, get a special reward like a sticker or a candy.

• Students can earn raffle tickets. At the end of the month or the semester the teacher can draw a few raffle tickets and award a special prize.

• Students earn marbles and fill up a jar. When the jar is filled, the class gets a special reward, like a pizza party or a movie day.

Kids need clearly defined rules. So many ESL teachers complain that students do not bring pencils, notebooks, textbooks, and homework to their classes. This behavior can be curtailed if kids are aware there will be some form of punishment, like losing points for their group.

A lot of teachers will hang up a poster of classroom rules. This is a good idea, especially if our students help us come up with the rules. They can also help us come up with the punishments, as long as it doesn’t involve anything too crazy. Rules can be made with the whole class or as a smaller project in groups. The important thing is that the
students are aware of the guidelines and know what will happen if they don’t follow them.

Which brings us to an important topic, punishment. Punishing kids can be difficult and uncomfortable. You have a reward system and clearly defined classroom rules, but a student is having an off day and acting out. What can we do?

Some schools will have a system in place for dealing with behavioral problems, others will not. Punishment can be tricky depending on the culture of the country you are teaching in.

Here are some universal options we can do as foreign teachers, that shouldn’t give you a headache later.

• Redirecting or refocusing a student is always an ideal way of dealing with a behavioral issue. If a student is not paying attention, call on that student to read or answer a question. Try to give them more responsibility and a larger stake in the class.

• If students aren’t getting along or are talking too much, separate them. Rearrange the students.

• If students are talking over you, trying talking more quietly instead of shouting. It seems kind of silly, but it does work. Students will strain to hear what is being said and sometimes quieter students will shush the noisy students for you.

• If the students are 10 years old or younger, teachers can do call and response to get the class under control. For example, the teacher says, “clap 3 times”, students paying attention clap, “clap 2 times”, more students are now paying attention and clap, “clap 1 time”, now all students are paying attention. Teachers can also make a chant
to bring their class to attention. Teacher says, “When I say be, you say quiet!…Be…”,students shout “Quiet!”.

• Sometimes a good old fashioned time out is the best course of action. Have the student take some time alone to calm down or reflect on his or her behavior. The time out can be standing or sitting, in the back of the class or in the hallway. If it is in the hallway, just be sure to keep an eye on the student, we don’t want other classes to be

A lot of teachers have students write lines or copy a sentence as a form of punishment. This can quickly get out of hand. The students can easily rack up a ridiculous amount of lines to write. This punishment is time consuming, not only for the student, but also for the teacher. It also uses writing as a form of punishment and we don’t want our students to view writing in English as a punishment.

A lot of teachers also keep students after class. This can be effective, however, it is another time consuming punishment for teachers. You don’t want to miss out on your lunch or keep the next class waiting. Be mindful that you are not punishing yourself.