We all know what our classroom would be like with no rules. Complete chaos. Utter mayhem. An environment that is not conducive to learning.
It is obvious that there should be classroom rules; however, these should not be set forth entirely by the teacher. There’s no better way to establish classroom rules than to do it with your students’ collaboration. This way they will have to obey rules that they've come up with, and you've agreed to. Still, establishing class rules requires a contract between teacher and students, and reaching this agreement is a process all on its own.
Let's take it step by step:
Review their goals
Ask students why they’ve enrolled in the course, or if they were enrolled by parents, why they want to learn English. Adults will most likely tell you they need English for better job opportunities. Lots of teens think about their future studies or employment opportunities as well. And don't be surprised if you hear very young learners say they want to learn English simply because they want to learn it.
Review their goals. Do they want to be able to read a book in English by the end of the year? Understand native speakers better? Write job application letters? Chat with friends in other countries? Whatever their reason is for wanting to learn English, and no matter what their goals are, tell them that it is essential that all of you as a group establish a contract together, to create the best learning environment, one that will help them reach their learning goals.
Brainstorm possible disruptive behavior
Ask your students to come up with things that might disrupt the class, anything that will make the class stray from its goals. For example, if students want to improve their listening comprehension or learn to think in English, it will be highly disruptive to hear students speaking their native language. Little ones might say that they don’t want any shouting, yelling, or hitting in class. Some students may say that they shouldn’t interrupt someone when he or she’s speaking.
Here are some more classic examples of disruptive behavior; if your students forget any of these, you may want to mention them yourself:
- Name calling, insults or put downs
- No respect for other students and their personal belongings
- No respect for the teacher
- Reluctance to share
- Unwillingness to participate in an activity
- Not following directions
- Not completing tasks, assignments, homework
- Untidiness, littering
Never underestimate your students. They know full well the types of behavior that are disruptive in a classroom. As they come up with these ideas, make a list on the board.
How to avoid disruptive behavior
Tackle each of the point mentioned one at a time, and ask your students what the rule should be so that this does not happen in class. For speaking their native language, they'll say that it is forbidden in class; they should try to speak English at all times. Your young learners will be quick to say that no shouting, yelling, or hitting is allowed in class. And to avoid interruptions and make sure everyone has a chance to speak, your students will suggest that they have to raise their hands.
Try to phrase each of the rules in an affirmative way, for example, in a way that tells them what they should do and not what they shouldn’t do. Having your walls filled with “No shouting”, “No eating in class”, in other words, no, no, no everywhere does not contribute to creating a very positive learning environment either.
Here are some more examples of other possible classroom rules:
- Treat your classmates with respect
- Treat the teacher with respect
- Respect others’ personal belongings
- Participate actively
- Complete your assignments and tasks
- Follow the directions and rules for each game or activity
- Keep the classroom neat and tidy
Now, what happens when a student breaks one of the rules? They can also come up with ideas, but they may need more guidance or suggestions from you. It is recommended that you implement a system of rewards as well, not just consequences of not following the rules. Some consequences may be logical: if a student throws paper or garbage on the floor instead of in the garbage can, he or she will be responsible for making sure the classroom is tidy before going home. You may choose to give them a warning first: the first time someone insults or disrespects a classmate their name goes on the board; the second time, they lose a privilege, like going outside to play; the third time, a call is made to his or her parents.
However, rather than coming up with “punishment”, why not think of a positive reinforcement of the rules? Like a star chart with stickers, prizes for collecting the most good behavior stickers, etc...
The written contract
Now you have to put it all in writing, after all, verbal contracts won't hold water in a classroom. Young learners can make a poster illustrating the rules, and then put it up some place where it's clearly visible. Older students may write it themselves as a group activity, and you may also put it up on the wall, or make copies for each to paste onto their notebooks.
Keep in mind that classroom rules are important for students of all ages, even adults. Don’t think that adult learners don’t need rules. They may not resort to name calling, yelling, or other forms of immature behavior, but they may unwittingly disrupt the class by interrupting, speaking in their native language, answering their cell phones, etc…
You don’t have to treat them like children to teach them the importance of following certain rules.
So, to sum up, make sure each and every student is clear on the rules, the consequences for breaking them, or the rewards for following them, and that your contract is visible to all. Once you have accomplished this, everyone will be ready to get to work.