Teaching at primary level can cause many teachers, particularly those who have trained to teach adults, a variety of problems and generate a range of worries.

Gail Ellis, British Council Paris

Unfortunately, it is common for teachers to be asked by their institution to teach young learners even though they don't have specific training. Those first lessons with the class, which might even be in a different institution to your regular work, can seem daunting. In this article I provide some advice on how to deal with starting work with primary level students and I give ten top classroom management tips.

  • Before you begin to teach
    • Find out who your pupils are
    • Practicalities
  • Top ten classroom management tips for successful teaching

Before you begin to teach

  • Find out who your pupils are
    • Find out if the children are complete beginners in English or have already learnt a little.
    • Are there any bilingual children in the class? If so, use them as your helpers.
    • Do any of the children speak another language?
    • You will find that the children will be highly motivated and excited about learning a foreign language. Your main aim is to maintain this initial motivation and sustain their curiosity and interest so that they develop a real desire to learn the language, even if you don't feel they are learning very fast. You need to be realistic and so do the children about how much they can learn in the relatively short time you will spend with them.
    • It is quite normal for children to take some time before they actually start producing much language as they will need time to familiarise themselves with you and assimilate the language before they feel ready and confident enough to produce any.
    • Be patient and don't be afraid of repeating things again and again - children need and enjoy lots of opportunities to hear the language. Just remember to be natural.
  • Practicalities
    • How many pupils are in your class?
    • What can you and can you not do in the classroom, for example, move furniture around?
    • How long are your lessons? 45 minutes, one hour?
    • Are you allowed to display children's work on the classroom walls?
    • Can you create an English corner?
    • What resources does the school have that you can use?
    • How many photocopies are you allowed to make?
    • Can you take the children into the playground?
    • Can you use a computer? etc., etc.

Top ten classroom management tips for successful teaching

  • Plan what you are going to do in advance step by step and have clear aims so you and your pupils know exactly where you are going throughout a lesson. This is the only way you will be able to control up to 30 children in one class - and they will be the first to know if you haven't prepared and respond by becoming disruptive.
  • Start your year by being firm and be consistent in your own actions and behaviour - children expect a disciplined, structured classroom environment and respond well to routines. Check with the school what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and make it clear to the pupils that you expect the same behaviour.
  • Learn your pupils' names and address them directly.
  • Be mobile and walk round the class.
  • Have a clear signal for stopping activities or when you want children to be quiet. Get silence and wait for their full attention before you start speaking and give clear instructions or demonstrations. Make sure children understand what they have to do.
  • Never underestimate children's abilities or intelligence. They may have very limited English but they still have the same interests and aspirations as any other child of their age. Keep them interested by providing stimulating content and meaningful activities.
  • Always ensure that children have some English 'to take away' with them at the end of a lesson. Children will feel proud and have a sense of achievement if they leave the classroom being able to ask, for example, a new question in English, say something about themselves, or sing a song. This means (see the first point above) that your aims will be clear to the children.
  • Avoid too many activities that over-excite - it is often difficult to return to a calm and controlled learning environment after a noisy game. Avoid activities that require a lot of movement if there is little space in a classroom for this type of activity. Also avoid activities that require a lot of cutting and pasting unless there is a clear linguistic outcome, as these can cut into valuable time, apart from creating a great deal of mess.
  • Make positive comments about the children's work and efforts and let them see that you value their work.
  • Have additional material prepared to cope with faster and slower pupils' needs and don't let activities go on too long.

First published in 2003


Submitted by agus1 on Wed, 09/07/2011 - 11:13


This is a new good tips for me and  i will practice this in my home.I have 2 children in primary.  One thing that it is hard to have resources in my region.


Submitted by soniskars on Fri, 09/09/2011 - 08:22


Really great observation and very useful advice. Just let me add one more point, very essential for me, love each of your young learners as your own child.

Yes, we should know practicalities.They are the beacon light to guide us in the teaching of a foreign language like English,because in many countries like India, English is the main official language.Our students start learning this language at a very young age.Despite this they cannot learn the langauge as they are not properly taught at an elemenatry school.India has now been imparting training  teachers of primary schools to teach this langauge in an effective manner where emphasis is on speaking ability.The points that you made in the posting long ago are being emphasized and practised.But in the teacher-parent meeting parents are voicing their demand for grammar teaching.

They are not appreciating the play way method where songs and creative corners occupy  a dominant place.It is very painstaking for us to convince that they need flexibility in tongue to pronounce words and speak English.English medium schools are able to teach because of the content as there they have to read all the subjects in English.But in vernancular medium schools, their reliance on text books makes it difficult to teach this langauge iall its aspects.Many states are not in favour of Grammar books.They really need some books ehere grammar teaching is contextualised.Yes,this holds good in csase of upper primary.The situation in European counties is different from ours as there students get exposure.

 However, all the poits made in the posting are of immense value where langauge is taught independent of text books and oracy is the prime consideration, which ultimately leads to oral fluency.

Submitted by Apriliyantino on Fri, 11/25/2011 - 02:12


It's useful tips for me. I actually often feel unable to control my students. I really thank for the tips.

Submitted by miss carla on Mon, 12/26/2011 - 18:12


this year has been a learning year not only for my students...but for me...teaching primary kids has been the most challenging experience ever!  and I still believe that I need more tips to work with them because discipline is a major issue I need to solve...

I strongly believe I can make the difference but it's really hard trying to teach english and trying to make them behave...so I'd really appreciate any sort of advice you can provide...


Submitted by hamani on Sat, 03/24/2012 - 21:18


thank you for these interesting article. But how can we deal with mixed abilities classs using these tips?

Submitted by Elaine da Silv… on Wed, 05/15/2013 - 19:15


 Good afternoom to all!

It's 15:20 pm in my home town Porto Velho, state of Rondonia in Brazil.

As Gail said in her article, we could make positive comments about the children's work and efforts and show them, we value their work. I would like to say in brazilian culture we don't have this habit closest to us. But things have been changed in the past 2 decads in Brazil for the better.

kinds regards, Elaine Morais 


Submitted by Bruno Levy on Tue, 10/22/2013 - 23:47


I've been teaching ESL to 8 and 9 year olds for nearly 2 years now at a Primary School. I used to working with older kids and teens - 4th, 5th and 6th graders, but when I was told that I'd start teaching ESL to 3rd graders - young learners, I freaked out. At first, I struggled, but then started to get the hang of it thanks to the help I've found on some websites, especially here on the British Council webpage. These tips you give us are very valuable.

Submitted by Ana Cristina Rosado on Mon, 11/02/2015 - 17:56


Very important tips for teachers with primary children. Great for a reflection in group at the beginning of the school year. thanks

Research and insight

We have hundreds of case studies, research papers, publications and resource books written by researchers and experts in ELT from around the world. 

See our publications, research and insight

Sign up to our newsletters for teachers and teacher educators

We will process your data to send you our newsletter and updates based on your consent. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of every email. Read our privacy policy for more information.