October 2017
Rita Naughton, Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, New Hampshire, USA

In the second language classroom, it is necessary to have a system that promotes language learning, supports the various curricula, and meets the specific needs of language learners. In a higher education learning environment, classroom management techniques can not only promote conducive language learning but also create meaningful learning experiences. Classroom management techniques are pragmatic approaches that include “rules of behavior, routine, established procedures, room organization and layout, student job assignments and organization of learners into teams” (Marshall, 2002, p. 71). The techniques presented here are based on my own teaching experience and on the experience of other educators, and they emphasize the roles of educators, learners, and lessons. These three key components integrate with one another for optimal classroom management and learning.


Educators of second language learners, especially of those learners who have just entered the United States, need to establish a supportive and encouraging learning environment which will allow for meaningful student engagement (Scrivener, 2014; Slavin, 2012). You can create such an environment through establishing rapport, clear communication, and routine procedures.


Rapport can develop through the experiences shared by the educator and learner. It is “the relationship in a classroom: student-teacher and student-student [which] is not primarily technique-driven, but grows naturally when people like each other and get on together” (Scrivener, 2014, p. 40). Furthermore, and as stated by Scrivener (2014), rapport consist of four elements: being authentic, showing respect, being a good listener, and having a good sense of humor (p. 40). Even though educators hold a position of authority, it is critical for us to be authentic and approachable. We also need to show that we will work hard for our students because we care about them (Glasser, 1990). This can be done in a variety of ways: welcoming greetings, establishing structured and unstructured learning, and establishing clear rules and expectations.

Rapport needs to be established in the first class meeting for it to grow. The educator must present an inviting and safe learning environment, one in which he or she knows the students’ names, home countries, interests, goals, and even fears. Getting-to-know-you activities, such as Find Someone Who?, Hobbies- Bingo, Two Truths and a Lie, Word Association, and Twenty Questions establish respect and recognition of your students and their cultures. As a teacher, it is important to be as equally open and honest with your students as you expect them to be with you. They will be curious about where you are from, what your name means, what interests you may have, and even why you chose to teach. These students need to trust you because you are their best advocate in their new educational environment, and you should do your best to see learning from their perspectives and points of view. Additionally, it is important to note that “like the authoritative parent, teachers need to balance nurturing with setting clear limits…setting high standards of responsibility, encouraging independence…and giving guidance without controlling” (Cummings, 2000). This means being a responsible and relatable educator who is culturally sensitive, genuine, and committed.

Clear Communication

Along with building rapport among your learners, communicating clearly and concisely is a must. Listen to a recording of yourself. What do you notice? Any idiosyncrasies? Any part of it that surprises you and/or pleases you, such as your tone, pace, or message? Are there any surprises or shocking revelations? Considering the answers to these questions will permit reflection and possible change in how you communicate. Out of trepidation or reverence, language learners may not inform you if you are talking too fast, if your tone is slightly abrasive, or if your volume is too soft. Often, we do not consider such factors until they are brought to our attention.

Once you have reflected on how you speak to your language learners, the next step is to examine how you listen to them. In respect to listening, there are three ways a teacher can listen effectively: conversationally, analytically, and supportively. When communicating with your language learners, your focus should be on analytical and supportive listening as conversational listening is casual, does not require focused attention, often does not have a clear purpose, and may include high-jacking attempts (Scrivener 2014 p.44).

In analytical listening, our goal is to help the student; you are paying close attention to the language—noticing the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation being used. From your analysis, you will provide feedback. Although this type of listening is essential to language development, it cannot be the only type of listening you engage in with your language learner.

In supportive listening, you are fully engaged and your focus is on the message and not on the syntax or pronunciation. You are committed to listening without interrupting and your goal is to empathize and withhold judgment (Scrivener, 2014, p. 44). Often, international students are far from home and need assistance that may be unrelated to their lessons, and they will look to you for such help. In these cases, it is important that all your students know you have designated a specified time for them during which you’ll be an available and nonjudgmental listener.


Time management is a necessary component of classroom management. Effective use of time will avert most disciplinary matters (Slavin 2012). Connected with the effective use of time is preparation, both that of the instructor and of the students. The educator must present the rules and expectations of the course on the first day of class and show how these principles will ensure that learning takes place. It is not only the presentation but also the application that will ensure effective management.

Moreover, it is necessary for the educator to “model good organizational skills; reflecting expected” behavior” (Marshall, 2002, p. 74). Within this model, “the instructor arrives on time and comes prepared with an instructional plan that is communicated to the learners” (Marshall, 2002, p. 74). This may involve posting the agenda for the class meetings every day, having clear “do’s and don’ts,” and abiding by a system that is routine and uncomplicated.


Learners’ social and language needs are critical factors when considering classroom management. Effective classroom management approaches deter problems because they allow students to be on task, motivated, challenged, and engaged (Glasser, 1990; Slavin, 2012; Scrivener, 2014). Determining the right levels of teacher control, increasing motivation, and utilizing group work will lead toward fulfilling learners’ language needs.


Language educators need to examine their use of control in the classroom. Scrivener (2014) provides the following: “Is it possible that over-organizing by the teacher takes away or reduces the student’s own ability or willingness to make decisions, self-evaluate and organize?” (p. 53) It is natural for educators to command learning situations for which they spend time preparing, organizing, presenting, guiding, and monitoring. With low-level language learners, this is expected, and such a context requires a highly controlled learning environment with clear steps, directions, and outcomes. Yet, for more advanced learners, it’s worth experimenting with lowering the teacher control. Less teacher intervention may provide more opportunities for students to ask questions, communicate with fellow classmates, rely on intuition, take risks, and make discoveries.


“Humans are naturally motivated to learn” (Scrivener, 2014, p. 117). Furthermore, according to Glasser (1990), “students are the ones who make the ultimate judgment about how important [learning] is to them” (p. 41). It behooves us to discover why a student is in our class in order for us to champion his or her personal learning needs. Hence, it is our responsibility to show that learning and performing a particular task is “as much or more to their benefit as it is” to ours (Glasser, 1990, p. 41).

Group Work

Creating an environment in which group work can succeed must take place on the first class meeting. At this time, students should be given the opportunity to introduce themselves and share their goals and interests. It is through sharing that amity and trust are first established. Learners, no longer strangers to one another, will be more likely to lower their affective filter and learn. Correspondingly, “learning together as a member of a small learning team is much more needs satisfying especially to the needs for power and belonging than learning individually” (Glasser, 1990). Moreover, groups may be created by personal choice; randomly; or based on mixed language backgrounds, ability levels, or gender (Marshall, 2002, p. 85). Group assignments may include completion of information gap activities and word puzzles, participating in marketplace activities, writing skits, designing models, and interpreting graphs. Through these group activities, educators connect with language learners and establish comfort, security, and traditions (Cummings, 2000).


An interesting lesson is an integral part of creating a well-managed teaching environment(Scrivener, 2014; Slavin, 2012). Engaging and enjoyable lessons promote favorable learning experiences when they are well managed.

A lesson must create a setting where students become responsible language learners who take ownership of their learning and overall success in the classroom. A well-designed lesson promotes “punctuality, responsiveness, accountability, and initiative” (Marshall, 2002, p. 71). These characteristics reflect “the culture of the United States but may or may not coincide with a learners’ understanding of appropriate behavior that they bring from their countries of origin. (Marshall, 2002, p. 71).

Fundamental to every lesson is awareness of duties and responsibilities. Awareness can be achieved through weekly checklists, homework charts, and assignment notebooks (Marshall, 2002, p. 75). This is then followed by acknowledging rules and procedures, working within a system, taking ownership of learning, practicing organizational skills, and identifying and remedying difficulties (Marshall, 2002, p. 80).

The techniques presented here are a composite of experiences from the author and educators in the field of education. These management techniques strive to provide positive giving and receiving of information for both learners and educators.


Cummings, C. (2000). Winning strategies for classroom management. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Glasser, W. (1990). Quality school: Managing students without coercion. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Marshall, B. (2002). Preparing for success: A guide for teaching adult English language learners. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Scrivener, P. (2014). Classroom management techniques. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Slavin, R. (2012). Good teaching is good classroom management. Better: Evidence-based Education, 5(1), 4–5. Retrieved from http://www.bestevidence.org/word/good_instruction.pdf.

Assistant Professor Rita Naughton teaches writing, reading, and grammar to international students in both the Intensive English Language Program and the Undergraduate Bridge Program at Southern New Hampshire University. Her scholarly interests include academic research writing, metacognitive learning strategies, classroom management strategies, ESL writing workshop programs, and exploring university bridge programs for international students.