Dealing with discipline

No matter how interesting and well prepared our lesson may be, it can be ruined by a confrontation with students.

Clare Lavery

A bad atmosphere can result. Here are some strategies for ‘telling off’ students and still avoiding confrontations.

The way you reprimand will have an effect on classroom atmosphere so:

  • Anticipate misbehaviour. Keep scanning the room during the lesson. Be aware of times when students may be distracted e.g. when you are writing on the board, helping individuals or when you are changing activity.
  • Use non-verbal signals first. Delay the need to intervene by walking close to disruptive students, catching their eye or involving them in your questioning.

If the above avoidance strategies do not bring about good behaviour then intervene with care:

  • Keep calm. Use a firm but calm tone, no matter how outrageously the student is behaving. Remember that they may wish to provoke your anger. Use your calm voice to maintain authority. If you lose it, you will lose respect.
  • Be fair. You need to be absolutely clear in targeting the troublemaker(s). Some pupils may be reacting to others who are disturbing or distracting them.
  • Don’t get personal. Make it clear that the behaviour is unacceptable, not the person. This helps avoid building up a negative relationship with a student
  • Don’t compare. Avoid making comparisons between students and classes as this is unfair. For example: My other classes don’t make as much noise/made more effort/enjoyed this.
  • Avoid empty threats. Don’t threaten to do things which you will not be able to carry through. For example: The next person who talks will be sent to the Head. Avoid threatening punishments which you would not wish to implement!

When you need to reprimand it can be best if you:

  • Keep it private. Before making it public, try speaking discreetly to the troublemaker. A quiet word is less embarrassing for the student and less disruptive to the others (if they are busy doing a task).
  • Avoid confrontation. If the student seems tense, agitated or likely to explode it is best to postpone the reprimand until the end of the lesson.
  • Defuse confrontations. Faced with a very angry situation and shouting, maintain a calm tone and recommend dealing with things at the end of the lesson. Never get involved in a shouting match.
  • Reprimand the troublemaker not the whole class. Avoid blaming everyone for the bad behaviour of a few!

Useful links


Submitted by jvl narasimha rao on Sun, 11/22/2009 - 16:38



      I THINK the topic dealing with discipline will help the teachers especially the English teachers a lot in the class room. Keeping discipline is the greatest test for any teacher. The govt of Andhra Pradesh prohibited corporeal punishment in the class room. The teacher is no longer the old pedagogue who carried a long stick in his hand and had the frowning looks on his face. He is a smiling facilitator of language construction by the students.

I think your tips and suggestions will help us grow professionally and teach English in a more amicable atmosphere. I hope I will keep the trouble maker under control and make teaching English a joy with your tips and suggestions. You are really doing yeoman service to the English teaching fraternity across the globe around the clock

Thank you

yours sincerely,





Submitted by Bruno Levy on Thu, 09/26/2013 - 05:57


I found the pieces of advice on how to discipline students who have misbehaved in class very useful. In the school where I work the Merit-Demirit System is used as a way of acknowledging students' good work or deeds as well as punishing them for lack of responsibility or bad behavior. For some students, getting a demerit is no longer a big deal, and therefore, they disrupt the class without fearing being given one. Every 3 demerits a student receives, he/she has a detention. Most of the time, students' bad behaviour is a consequence of the problems they are tackling at home. So, it's good to talk to these students privately after the class and ask them in a very calm and soft tone of voice if everything's okay with them. Not always will they confind their problems in you, but they will always feel better because at least you have asked for it and seems to care about them. I'm not a psychologist or anything, I'm just saying this because I have tried this before and some of my students confinded in me and I then had a whole picture of what they were going through and I could understand their behavior better though they were still unecceptable. Thanks for your awesome article and for all of the valuable tips you gave us. It's great to learn how to deal with this issue in a different way/ approach.

Submitted by Sebastian Cont… on Sat, 09/17/2016 - 13:41


It is so good to have all these tips. Personally, I go to these distracted students and I sit with them (when needed) and we work together. They feel part of the lesson and then, when we check the answers they want to participate because they know they have the right answers.

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