When you are teaching young learners, setting rules is one of the most important things you can do. Every classroom is different, some students might look like perfect angels and you might think that setting rules is unnecessary. Some may be completely unmanageable and you might find yourself thinking that not even rules could tame them! One thing never changes though, without rules you’re going to find yourself up a creek without a paddle pretty quick. Rules might make you feel like you are sucking the fun out of your classroom but they are absolutely vital in order to establish structure within your lesson. Without them it is going to be hard to have any fun at all!
There are ways to make rules fun and a lesson establishing them is a must when you introduce yourself to a new young learner class. So how can you get your students to understand the rules of your classroom and how can you make it fun for everyone? I have an idea or two for you to try! Not all of these activities will work in every classroom, some will work better with younger students and some will work better with older students. I have tried to give you an idea of the age range next to each title so you can cherry pick what ones will work for you.
- Create a Student/Teacher Agreement (age 8 and over)
The main goal of the student/teacher agreement is for the students to understand that you all have a responsibility in the classroom. This agreement should include what they expect from you as a teacher and what you expect from them as students. You should decide on the exact content of the agreement as a class and spend a lesson creating either a page in their notebooks or a poster for the wall that everyone signs, teacher included. This agreement should be something they can refer to easily and if someone starts to misbehave you can remind them of the agreement they created. If they helped to set the rules they are more likely to stick to them and respect them.
- Design a Classroom Rules Poster (age 6 – 12)
As a class create a mind map on the board of all the rules the students can think of. Then pick the top five rules from the list. It is important not to overwhelm younger learners with lots of rules, between three to six rules should be the perfect amount. This will ensure they can remember them and it will also stop them from getting bored when it comes to writing them down! Younger students can find it hard to concentrate for too long on one activity so it is important to keep things short, fun and to the point to maintain engagement. After you have decided on the final list you should then split the class into groups (if it is a smaller class this part could also been done individually). Hand out a blank sheet of paper and explain to them that they are going to design a classroom rules poster, encourage them to make it as colourful and decorated as possible. You could even award a prize for the most creative poster! If this is a whole lesson you could wrap up the class with a game of Pictionary, giving the students a rule to draw for the rest of the class to guess.
- Create the Characteristics of a Good Student (age 8 and over)
This fun activity can allow your students to get creative and invent their own character. Split the class into small groups of around three to five students and ask them to come up with a list of characteristics that a good student might have. This should take around five to ten minutes depending on the proficiency level and you may need to elicit what a “characteristic” is before you start the activity. It does work best with older students but you could easily adapt it for younger student by using more simple language. Once they have come up with their list ask them to create a poster in their group, drawing their “good student” in the middle and characteristics of that student should be written in the white space around them. Another fun way to do this activity would be to have one student from each group lie down on a large piece of paper and get the rest of the group to draw around them. They can then use the outline to create their character and make a large poster. Remember to explain to the students that nobody is perfect and while these are good traits to aim for, everyone has bad days and can’t live up to every characteristic all the time.
- Invent a Board Game (age 12 and over)
Ok, I know this sounds completely unrelated but stick with me for a minute. Split the students into small groups and tell them that they have fifteen minutes to invent a board game. Give them some paper, dice and coloured pens/pencils and walk around the class checking in now and then to make sure they stay on task. After they have invented their new game ask them to stand up in front of the class and explain the rules (see how this is related now? If not keep reading, I’m getting to the point I promise). You should then have a class discussion about why the rules of the game are important and that is when you should steer the class into a discussion about classroom rules and what they are or should be. This activity is also a great one for halfway through the semester when the rules start to be forgotten and your class seems to descending into chaos…
- Have a Reward System (all ages)
As I mentioned earlier, positive reinforcement does wonders for young learners. The reward could be anything from a sticker to a Mr. Bean clip but the important point is that it has to be earned! There are a few different ways to do this and it really depends on your class and how many classes you actually have. If you have your own classroom then a reward chart on the wall is an excellent way to keep track of good behaviour. Set a goal for the students, for example if they have ten stickers by the end of the month they earn a novelty eraser or something equally as cheap and cheerful. If you have a lot of classes and have to move around a lot or even if you have slightly older students then this becomes a bit more difficult. However, a good way to do create a reward system in this case is to tell your students what the reward is, for example; an clip of Mr. Bean at the end of class or a music video. You can then write the reward on the board in as many or a little words as you wish, for every time a student breaks a rule or acts out you rub a letter of the board. If all of the letters are removed it means they get no reward that lesson. So, you could write “Mr. Bean” on the board which would give the class six chances per lesson or you could write “A clip from Mr. Bean” on the board and give them 15 chances. It really just depends on how generous you are feeling!
When creating your classroom rules something to keep in mind is the language you use and how you phrase each rule. Try not to use negative language when you are writing rules. Students will respond much better to positive reinforcement than to aggressive authority and that come right down to the rules you set in the class. If you use “don’t speak out” instead of “raise your hand if you want to talk” then their naturally rebellious spirit is going to tell them to shout out. Telling a child they can’t do something is going to make them want to do it more.
The most important thing you can do when setting rules in class is to ask them their opinion. Coming into a classroom and just telling them what the rules are going to be is never going to work. They are mini humans after all and a lesson that gets them involved in creating classroom rules will give them responsibility for their own learning in a way that they might not have in their other classes.
I hope this has been helpful and please let me know if you try any of these activities in your classroom! If you have any fun and creative ideas for setting classroom rules leave a comment and share you knowledge.
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