Not all lessons are smooth sailing, but that’s no reason to give up. Even after you lose control of a class, it’s always possible to get them back on track. Good classroom management means staying flexible.

There are plenty of reasons why your TEFL class might end up not going to plan. For example, if you are covering a class for a different teacher and the students aren’t used to your teaching style, or maybe if you are a new teacher and haven’t yet got good discipline systems in place. Whatever the cause, a class full of talking (or shouting) students who just won’t listen is a problem that most teachers will need to face at some point. If this happens to you, don’t panic! Even if you have twenty six-year-olds all running around screaming with paper planes in their hands, you can still regain control without losing your cool. Read through our top suggestions for how to reel them in without panicking.

The Good Example

Even if it seems like the whole class is going nuts, there are usually at least one or two ‘good students’ who you can count on to help you grab back the attention of the others. You can use these well-behaved students to your advantage in a number of ways. One way is to enthusiastically praise the good student – “Wow, look at Yuki! She’s sitting so nicely! Nice job, Yuki – you’re listening to me really well! Ten points for Yuki – who else is sitting quietly?” Another way is to ask the good student to stand up and lead an example – maybe the two of you can start playing a game or demonstrating an activity. Other students will gain interest in what you’re doing and want to join in until, one by one, you’ve got the whole class paying attention.

The Distraction

Most teachers of young children come to class armed with a few game tools, like a ball or soft toy. If your class is full of boisterous kids who just won’t settle down, grab a ball and bounce it off the wall above a students’ head, or maybe off their desk. In their moment of surprise, you’ll have a prime opportunity for grabbing attention back. When you have the attention of at least some of the students, they’ll be in on the joke as you go around and bounce the ball, surprising more students. Once you’re getting the students under control again, you could turn it into a quick-fire ball game that harnesses the students’ energy. For example, throw the ball to a student and shout out a letter of the alphabet – students can then throw back and continue recalling the alphabet in sequence, or maybe name a word which begins with that letter. Don’t stop to explain the game, just elicit until they get it and do something they are familiar with. Hey presto, you’ve distracted them back to good behaviour.

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The ‘Join In’

If kids are going crazy at the start of your class and can’t keep to their seats, the reason is often that they simply have too much energy. Maybe their last class was really boring and they just want to get up and move, or perhaps they’ve been sat in a car for forty minutes on the way to class. Whatever the reason, if your students are misbehaving because they have too much energy, rather than admonishing them a better move might be to join in. Encouraging students to ‘shake it out’ means that they have a chance to use up their energy so they can pay you their full attention. One way to use up energy in a structured way is to put on a piece of music that the kids love – something current that is popular, or an old favourite like Crazy Frog, Gangnam Style or PPAP. As soon as the song ends, call out a countdown to get back into their seats and dive straight back into your lesson plan.

The ‘Weird Teacher’ Move

There is nothing kids like laughing at more than their teacher, and if you just can’t grab their attention in the usual ways, weirding them out might be an amusing approach to take. If your students just won’t quieten down, try being quiet yourself – sit down on the floor, cross your legs (or go proper meditation style – Full Lotus Pose), hands together, close your eyes and… Ommmm. Seriously – this actually works. When students are expecting their teacher to be standing sternly at the front of the class, a pillar of professionalism and probably telling them off for making so much noise, to glance down and see your teacher meditating and chanting really knocks them for seven. When I tried this with my boisterous students, some of the more outgoing students came and sat on the floor with me. Within a minute or two I had most of the class sitting cross-legged on the floor, quietly chanting ommm and thinking that the whole thing was hilarious. In this situation, it doesn’t take long for a moment of quiet and calm for the teacher to spring back into action, give instructions and get on with the class as if nothing had ever happened, much to the amusement of the students.

Still not sure? Check out our primer on class management.


There are all different techniques for regaining control of an unruly class – these are just a few ideas to get you started. Think outside the box and remember that no matter how badly a class is going, it is never a lost cause – you can always find some way to reel them in which doesn’t involve shouting or threats. The important thing is not to panic, and by having these tricks up your sleeve, you’re prepared for troublesome situations before they even arise.

For more teaching tips, check out our collection here.

About the Author

Celia Jenkins is an EFL teacher and freelance writer/editor. She currently lives and teaches in Japan.

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