Teaching Tip: Instituting the GAME Discipline System in an Elementary EFL Classroom

Mark Temenak, Incheon, South Korea

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“Teacher, game?” This is the first question my students ask me after excitedly rushing into my classroom.  Being an EFL elementary school teacher in South Korea is not the easiest job in the world since I am the only foreign teacher for roughly 600 students.  It is a big change for the children to see someone who looks and teaches very differently than their Korean instructors.  However, this novelty is a slippery slope towards them viewing you more as a clown than an educator trying to teach them a foreign language.  Therefore, I had to find a way to somehow keep my students focused while also maintaining the joy of teaching and learning in my classroom.  Thus, I utilize the GAME system.  It is a very simple tool that reminds the children that if they want to play a game, they will have to act in a civilized manner towards each other and apply themselves to the daily lesson.   Here is how it works:
  • Step 1:  Write the word “GAME” up on the board in big letters, so everyone in the room can see it.  Inform them that they will not play a game if there are no letters left on the board at the end of the class, and, if necessary, show them what their reprimand will be. I normally make them write key sentences repeatedly since they rarely practice writing at lower levels.  It also seems more effective than the intimidation factor the Korean teachers utilize in their classrooms.
  • Step 2:  Proceed through the lesson while having some sort of call and response system like, “Teacher:  Be; Students:  quiet” or “Teacher:  Eyes on me; Students:  Eyes on you,” for example.
  • Step 3:  If the call and response doesn’t work, then you erase a letter.  More often than not, this stops any sort of disruptive behavior, and it also encourages intra-class policing where the other children keep the more rambunctious pupils in line. If they are well behaved for a section of the lesson, they can also earn letters back on the board.  Thus, the discipline becomes almost like a game in and of itself. 
  • Step 4:  If you reach the end of class, and they still have letters on the board, then you can play a game.  If you don’t have a game planned for the lesson, you can substitute the “GAME” sign on the board with “CLASS" and use an alternative reward of your choice. It gives the pupils an extra letter to redeem themselves if necessary. 
I know there is a plethora of disciplinary systems out there, and what one uses really depends on the individual character of each class and their own teaching style.  The two key elements to effectively integrating this system into your classroom are laying down the rules in clear and simple language along with following through with the punishment if it reaches that point. I hope that you can use or perhaps modify the GAME system to let your students know that you have to work hard in order to play hard.

Mark Temenak teaches Kindergarten, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade EFL in Incheon, South Korea.

ITBE Link - Winter 2014 - Volume 41 Number 4

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