Teaching Tips for Challenging Students

We’ve all had students who were challenging in one way or another. Perhaps they’re a bright child who feels bored in the classroom or someone at the other end of the scale who struggles to keep up. Maybe a child has trouble paying attention or just likes being the class clown. Whatever the reason, challenging students are a fact of life for teachers all over the world. Here are a few top tips to enable you to teach well, even to the most challenging of classrooms.

  • Breathe. This is always the number one rule for challenging students. Whatever the situation is, breathe.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. If an altercation arises between two students, don’t automatically assume it’s the ‘troublemaker’ who’s in the wrong. All too often, a ‘naughty’ student who is trying to change their ways will continue to be the scapegoat, which only discourages them from behaving better.
  • Listen well. All students, even challenging ones, want to know that their opinions are valid and matter. Listening to your students will promote good behaviour across the board.
  • Don’t punish harshly. If bad behaviour needs punishing, take your time rather than acting rashly. Waiting until the end of the class can sometimes be more effective than immediately dealing out punishments.
  • Give the student an opportunity to correct what they’ve done. Rather than saying ‘you emptied the bin all over the floor, now you’ll have a detention’ you could say ‘would you please pick up that rubbish you threw on the floor and then we can move on’.
  • A new day is a clean slate. Just because a student displayed challenging behaviour before doesn’t mean that you should have your guard up and expect it in the next class. Give students the chance to genuinely turn over a new leaf.
  • Watch your words. Rather than telling a ‘bad’ student to be more like the ‘good’ classmate, tell your ‘disruptive’ student that they should mimic their classmates ‘positive’ work ethic.

(You can also get more on general classroom management here.)


If a student persistently displays challenging behaviour, seek advice from your supervisor. Perhaps this student has something stressful going on at home, or an underlying issue which needs to be addressed. There are numerous ways to deal with challenging behaviour, but the most important thing is for you to breathe, remain calm, stay professional and not to give up.

Do you want more articles like this? Be sure to visit our Teaching Tips blog.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is a TEFL teacher and freelance writer living in the UK. She spent five years teaching English in China and Japan and now teaches Skype lessons to students around the world. She writes pedagogical articles, travel guides, and stories for children.


Related Posts

Teaching English Online: The Beginner’s Guide, Part One

Teaching English Online: The Beginner's Guide, Part OneIt’s estimated that roughly 1.5 billion people are learning English as a second language (for everyday use) or as a foreign language (to use for pleasure, holidays or work). An increasing number of people are learning and practising their English online rather than in a traditional classroom. As a TEFL teacher, teaching online is a […]


English Pronunciation: How to Teach It and Why

English Pronunciation: How to Teach It and Why TipsIn today’s world, English has become an international language that people from all parts of the world use to communicate with one another. To enable their students to use and produce this language effortlessly and smoothly, it is important that teachers include pronunciation in their lessons and pay attention to pronunciation. In an average classroom, […]


Using Real-World Materials in the Classroom

Using Real-World Materials in the ClassroomI love using real-world materials when teaching English. Authentic materials are plenty and easy to find. Whether it is news articles for reading lessons, realia (real-life objects) to make learning new vocabulary more memorable or playing the latest hit song for listening practice, including real-world examples has many benefits. For some ideas on how to use […]


Setting Homework for Adult Learners

Setting Homework for Adult LearnersHomework isn’t just for school children. Everyone can benefit from it, no matter the age. Read on for some tips on how to effectively set homework for adults. The benefits of homework are numerous, from consolidating knowledge, through giving students time to work through things at their own pace, to encouraging students to use English […]


Activities for Teaching about Animals

Activities for Teaching about AnimalsAll TEFL teachers have their go-to topics when they get a class assigned at the last minute. It’s good to have a few games and activities up your sleeve for when you need to teach at short notice, and if they have a similar theme, it comes across much better than as just a bunch […]