The Behaviour Question

21st September 2012 at 01:00

I've been an English teacher for quite a while now, but have never found behaviour management a natural skill. While I am not being crushed by badly behaved classes, I have never really felt that I have successfully created a safe, nurturing environment where pupils feel comfortable to take risks and try their hardest. A few big personalities in my classes have too much influence, while I frequently come across pupils who pretty much refuse to speak in front of their peers. How can I get reluctant pupils to speak?

What you said


Gently. Some tactics that work for me are:

- Drawing names for answers - everyone has to come up with an answer and it's entirely random (or you can rig it).

- Mini-whiteboards - they write a short answer and you pick people to elaborate.

- Paired answers.

- Circulating around the classroom talking to pupils one-to-one.

The expert view

It is common to feel that your class is not exactly as you would like it to be; it just shows that you want things to get better, which is the first essential condition of actually making it so.

Now you have identified the areas you want to improve: big mouths dominating and little voices too shy to say anything. There is probably a common factor here: you need to step up a little and reinforce your authority in the room. Left to their own devices, without clear boundaries, the big personalities take as much attention as they want; this can only make it more difficult for quieter pupils to speak up.

So restore the balance by rebooting your classroom boundaries the very next time you see them. It is a simple tactic, but requires tenacity. Just tell them what will and will not be tolerated and then - and this is the hard part - do something about it. If someone shouts out when you have forbidden it, they need a deterrentsanction that very day, without fail. If they repeat the action, the sanction needs to escalate relentlessly until all but the most determined to self-destruct will comply.

It is not sexy, but it is the way you wear them down. Eventually they realise that the room has rules - your rules. If you do not do this, big mouth will continue to strike and the quiet children will continue to feel that they cannot speak. Praise and encouragement for quiet pupils works well. Do not get them standing in front of the class reading their poems quite yet - little and often will do. Get them working with groups or peers so that they get used to the idea of sharing their thoughts verbally. Perhaps even have a little one-to-one time with them where you get them to talk just to you. Good luck.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog,, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum

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