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Author Bio: Merve Oflaz is a teacher of English in Istanbul, Turkey. She has a B.A. in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Marmara University and an M. A. in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Yeditepe University. She holds the ICELT. Currently she is a teacher trainer and an educational consultant at Oxford University Press, Turkey, a material developer at the British Council Turkey, and a Cambridge ESOL examiner. She has written articles and given talks at local and international conferences. Her interests include learning styles, drama techniques, teaching young learners and teaching with movies. Blog:, E-mail:, Twitter: @oflazmerve

merveoflaz turning 37

I really don’t remember calculating my age before ‘29’. Everything started after I turned 30:) Today is August 18th and it is my birthday. Just having another discussion (with myself) about how old I am turning. I was born in 1976 and that makes me a ‘Dragon’ in the Chinese Zodiac. So am I ‘36’ or ‘37’? Some people say that you cannot count the year you were born, because you don’t just appear in the world when you are ‘1’ year old. If you think that you are ‘zero’ year old when you are born, then I must be turning ‘36’ today:)
36 or 37… It really does not matter, because every year has its own magic. With another magic age I am getting, I decided to share these classroom tips with you all. Schools are already open in some countries and they are about to open in others. These tips can help you to cope with some classroom management problems, to have a good rapport with your students and your students can enjoy their time while practising.
Tip #1 Greet them by singing: We all greet the students when we enter the class and expect them to reply back. Instead of a monotonous way, why don’t you use a song to greet them? This may be really fun especially for young learners. You can use the rhyme of a well-known children’s song and add your own lyrics or you can create a rap one with these lyrics. Here is very simple rap greeting I created:
Teacher: Hello Hello Hello everybody!
Students: Hello Hello Hello Ms Oflaz!
You can also change the word ‘everybody’ with some other words such as 4B, my dear students, dearies, sweethearts etc. This will surprise your students.
Tip #2 Pick a game: Think about games which can be played in the class and write the titles of them on cards. Put the cards in a box. If you want, you can ask your students to write down the games they’d like to play but make sure that you check them to see if they are appropriate or not. Students can colour or decorate the box with stickers or pictures. Whenever you want to give a break, you or your students can pick a game from the box and play altogether.
Tip #3 “Teacher! You’ve got mail”: Sometimes, it is difficult for students (especially the shy ones) to communicate with the teacher. This is a great idea to make them share anything they want. Make a box with a hole (maybe a locked one) and ask your students to write you notes or letters and drop it in. When students send you their message, they can write “Teacher! You’ve got mail” on the board or leave a message on the table, so you can check. You can reply their notes or talk to them afterwards. Another thing you can do with the mail box is to encourage them to write messages on special days, to cheer up their friends or to inspire each other.
Tip #4 Get together at break: As teachers, we all need a break to relax, have a cup of tea / coffee or visit Mrs.Murphy:) but it is extremely fruitful to spend time with students at the break time. Stay in class, hang out in the corridor or go out to the garden to chat with your students. Not all the time of course. Once or twice a week. Play games, eat together, listen to music or just make compliments. This unthreatening atmosphere will make you get to know them better and create a special connection with your students.
Tip #5 Who’s the teacher today?: Students, especially younger ones like acting as teachers. They sometimes play games acting as teachers and students. I used to do that a lot when I was a kid. I even had a little chalkboard. Why don’t you ask your students to become the teacher for five minutes and continue the lesson? You can start with the volunteers and ask them what / when they want to teach. You can add their names on the class calendar, so they can plan and get prepared. When the time comes, let them go through an activity, carry out a discussion, lead a game and so on. I’m sure this will be great for the students to become more confident and it will also help to improve their empathy skills.
Tip #6 Bring lucky charms: You can invent lucky charms to motivate your students or reduce their stress. Bringing a ladybug toy / picture before an exam, drawing an Irish shamrock on the board during a competition or hanging a blue bead after they perform well can change the atmosphere for a while. It can make them laugh, increase their motivation and have fun, but you shouldn’t exaggerate. Avoid changing the class into a tent full of totems:)
Tip #7 Arrange a ‘Fun corner’: You can leave a part of the bulletin board for this. Ask students to bring jokes, cartoons, inspirational quotes and interesting news they like. They can put these on this corner and share. Make them change the stuff regularly. You can even create a rating game at the end of the term / year and choose the funniest, the mosy interesting or the weirdest.
Tip #8 Silence is normal: This may not happen very frequently, but when it happens it might make you feel weird as if you have to start speaking immediately. If your students just stare at you or keep silent, that does not mean that there is always something wrong. Students may need time to digest. They might be thinking about the topic / lesson you are busy with. They may be brainstorming or reflecting. Do not panic and give them time.
Tip #9 Let them enjoy a ‘crazy moment’: As you can understand from the title, this is a crazy activity. Try not to use this activity very often not to lose the magic of it. When you feel that your students are completely lost in thoughts, tired or reluctant, tell them that they have 10 seconds to do anything they like. They can stand up, walk around, scream, dance, sleep, look out of the window etc. Ring a bell when the time is over and ask to sit properly and silently. Don’t forget to warn them about the actions they will do. They shouldn’t hurt their friends, offend each others’ feelings or damage the school property. I recommend you to inform your neighbours next door (other classrooms or the administrators nearby), so they won’t get shocked when they hear the ‘crazy’ sounds:)
Tip #10 Make them reflect: Students make a special page /section on their notebook and decorate it if they like. After each unit / theme, tell them to think about the things covered in class and write what they can do. This will be very good to make them reflect on their own work and performance. Seeing their own progress will be motivating as well.
Tip #11 Give them awards for nothing: Awards always motivate students and they get crazily happy if they deserve one. Some students can really feel useless if they can’t get any and the whole thing can lose its effectiveness. You can sometimes award them not for the things related with the lesson but with the special skills or features they have. Award for a sweet smile, award for a tech wizard or award for a helpful fairy etc. Check here to see more ideas on this.
Tip #12 Make a ‘class’ wall: You can change the classroom wall into a Facebook wall. I hope you have enough space for this. If not, you can use the windows or the doors of the cupboards. Students can share their photos of special moments and add captions to them, write their feelings or opinions. You can add your own and motivate them to comment on each other. This can be turned into a spoken activity at the end of the day or used as a warm-up activity. If students like each others’ posts, they can draw little hearts on them.
Tip #13 Give no homework for today: Decide on a day and don’t give homework on that day. Share this with the other teachers as well and encourage them to do the same. Students will love this. Having a day without any homework will make your students release the pressure of the school and relax.
Tip #14 Keep calm and come back: Choose an area in the class and put a ‘keep calm’ sign / poster there. Tell the students that they can use this place to get better whenever they feel down or angry. You can put a chair or a pillow there. They can sit, close their eyes or put their headphones on to listen to some music. The time they use at this area should be limited. They should go back to their place after 2 or 3 minutes.You can use the same place to show that you are not happy with an attitude or a misbehaviour but avoid using it very often.
Tip #15 You’ve got a message: Tell the students to write their names on a piece of paper and leave them in a box or plastic bag. Then allow them to pick one. If they pick their own names, they should change. Ask them to write an inspirational message for their friends and give it to them. Students will learn how to cheer up each other and improve their friendship with the help of this activity.
Tip #16 Help your buddy: Put the students into pairs at the beginning of the year. Tell them they are ‘help’ buddies during the first month. They are supposed to help each other about lessons, the new school / system and so on. This might be really good for the newcomers.
Tip #17 ‘Joker’ for homework: Homework can be boring for some students although you do your best to make it fun and catchy. Tell your students that they can have a ‘joker’ after each 5 / 10 homework. Once they get a joker, they can use it for any homework they like and skip that one. This can have some weaknesses such as missing things on the related piece of homework or receiving complaints from parents, but it can also motivate students to do more homework.
Tip #18 Reading time: Ask them to bring the book they are reading on a specific day. Friday can be a good day as it is the last day of the week and most of them can be tired. If a student does not fancy books, this can be a good start. Tell your students it is the reading time and allow them a specific time. You can begin with 15 minutes and extend the time later. You can also play classical music during this time. By the way, don’t forget to bring your own book to join them.
Tip #19 Share what you read: Bring a book you already read or you are reading and put it on your table or another place in the class. You can allow the students to have a look at it and raise questions aterwards. Then, ask a volunteer to bring a book and do the same. You can continue this activity till everybody talks about a book.
Tip #20 ‘Special days’ congrats: Use the doors of the students’ lockers for this activity. Learn their birthdays at the beginning of the year and put messages on the door of their lockers on their birthdays. You can also congratulate them for other special stuff like winning a school match or getting a poetry award. They will feel that you care about them.
Tip #21 “Who is the ‘prefect’ this week?”: Choose a prefect from the students. If you want, you can choose more than one at each time. The prefects can be your assistants during the week and learn to take responsibilities and maybe gain more confidence. You can change the prefects every week till everyone becomes a prefect at least once.
Tip #22 Group names: Divide the students into groups according to their seating plans and ask them to find a name for their groups. It might be good to call out their group names while warning instead of using the names of the students. This way, they can warn each other to stop the misbehaviour, listen to others more carefully and participate. You can give and take points to encourage the students and choose the champion group of the day / week / month.
Tip #23 Dance dance dance: This can sound a bit crazy if you have never taught young learners, but believe me it even works with university prep students. Just play a popular song and dance with them. You can do it in the middle of the lesson when you see that they are lost or before you start a lesson or a specific activity. Tell them that they are free to do any dance moves for blah blah minutes. When the music stops, they should calm down and sit quietly to get ready for the lesson / activity. Remember that moving can increase the brain power.
Tip #24 Make them talk for one minute: Tell them they have to talk to their pairs for one minute without stopping. They may talk about anything that comes up to their minds or on a specific topic. After some time, you can extend the time and make them talk for a longer time. This is a very helpful activity for their fluency. You can find more details about this activity here.
Tip #25 Share something about your childhood: Students can sometimes be very curious about their teachers. So why not using this for the sake of your lessons:) Show them photos from your childhood and tell them ‘stories’. Be sure that they will listen more carefully than they listen to other stories, because it is all about you. They can ask you questions when you finish or guess the end of the story.
Tip #26 Do not fear to share your feelings: If you are having a difficult time or if you are overjoyed, do not fear to share this with your students (unless it is very private:p). You can just tell them or write it on the board like a Facebook status and if they want, they can ask you questions about the details.
Tip #27 Watch a video: Do not wait for the perfect time to use videos. A short youtube video can change the mood of the students. It can make them smile and motivate for a hard work coming up or inspire them before a writing activity. Bookmark the videos you can use in your class and use this library whenever you need.
Tip #28 “Do you know what I did last weekend?”: Tell the students to bring an object related with what they did at the weekend. Tell them to show it to others and take a guess about their weekend. They can ask questions to learn about the details. If you want to save time, you can make students work in pairs / groups.
Tip #29 Tell them to dream on: This is one of the silent moments you can all enjoy:) Choose an appropriate piece of music preferably instrumental ones. Tell them to close their eyes and just dream on. They are free to dream about anything they like and they don’t have to talk about it afterwards.
Tip #30 Remember: Music is a therapy: Music can reduce stress, encourage positive thinking and even implant creativity. Do not fear to use it during the lessons. The only thing you should be careful about is to choose the right piece of music for the right time. Considering the activities you are dealing with, decide if you need something stirring, calming or relaxing. Here is a great link to choose a piece of music according to your mood. Some titles here may not be appropriate for the age of your students, so check before you use it in your class.
Tip #31 Why don’t you go out?: You don’t have to lock your students in the class all the time. Take your students out to the garden or use the other parts of the school. Make a good plan about the lesson you will follow there and be sure everything is under control. Inform your head of department or the vice principal beforehand not to cause any problems.
Tip #32 Invite guests: You can invite your colleagues (English teachers or teachers of other subjects), the head of department, vice principals or the principal to your class not to observe you but to encourage the students. When they are ready to perform pair work or group work activities, show & tell projects or just to play games, you can invite someone to your class. (Inviting more than one person can be threatening for them.) The aim here should be to praise the students. When they hear that a teacher or an administrator they care is appreciating their work, they will be really happy and motivated.
Tip #33 Give them coupons: Make coupons to be given as awards after any good work your students perform. Tell them to collect their coupons to reach other series of awards. You can learn more details about this activity I created here.
Tip #34 “What was the best thing today?”: Make students reflect on the lesson and their work at the end of the day / lesson. Then ask them to share it in pairs or groups. You can also tell them to share the same with their family when they go home. You can inform the families beforehand. This will help your students to focus on the positive things more and create a bridge between the school and home as well.
Tip #35 Change is good: You can change the decoration of the classroom by playing with the desks and chairs (if you can) or the seats of the students. You can make your students look after plants, add new parts on the bulletin board and so on. Change is good but it might drive some students crazy, too, so you should know your students well before you decide on a change. You can make it in steps and try to prepare them.
Tip #36 Enjoy the Colour’ful’ days: If wearing uniform is not mandatory at the school you are working at, this can bring ‘colour’ to your classroom. Decide on a colour and tell your students to wear something with that colour on a day you will announce. If they can’t, they can also bring some accessories. You can join them as well. You can read a text, sing a song or watch a video related with the colours. You can discuss about the effects of colours on people, colour therapy or play games related with colours.
Tip #37 “What’s your favourite photo shoot?”: Ask your students to take as many photos as they can at the weekend or on winter / summer holiday. After deciding on their favourite photo shoot, they can bring it to class (hard or soft copy) to share with their friends. Then, they can come to the front, show and tell. They can ask questions to each other. With the help of this activity, they will be sharing their experiences and have some fun.
Hope you will find these tips fun and useful for your students. Please feel free to add your own and share your ideas.
Oooh yes, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” to me 🙂