Hard then Soft in the TEFL Classroom

Hard then Soft is a general technique in classroom management which allows your classes to be productive and useful. Using this technique you do not end up with a classroom out of control and students being noisy and disrespecting their teacher.

It is based on the “first impressions” idea and it is highly effective. Quite simply, it works extremely well and cannot be faulted.

It is ideal for the first lessons of a new term or a new class.


Many new teachers approach their first class determined to be a “friend” to the students. This is laudable, but unfortunately with many classes it simply is not practical. Other new teachers are nervous because they are facing a new class (and possibly have just started on this new career).

The first few lessons finds the students testing their teacher. This is especially common with teenagers who will, even unconsciously, find themselves testing the teacher to see how far they can go. School is often not something they really enjoy and if they find they can avoid working in class they will!

The truth is that students require boundaries and these need to be set early on – in the first lesson. Without them they will slowly take over. The class will become noisy and they will not respect your authority as a teacher or you as an individual.

Classroom Control Technique

In the first lesson with a new class, quite simply you MUST be the boss. This does not mean you need to be mean and nasty, it simply means that when you speak the class listens; when you ask the class to do something they do it. It means that what you say goes!

The only alternative to this is letting the students take control which leads to disaster. Here are a few quick and simple ways to do this.

Students Don’t Speak Over You

Do not allow any talking over you; students must ONLY speak when you allow them to and when you are speaking they listen. In the first class the students are waiting to see what happens so if you speak and a student turns and talks to their friend, you stop the class and tell that student (politely but firmly) to stop talking.

Only when there is complete silence do you continue.

This simple idea becomes a habit and you’ll find that later in the term when the class are all chatting away all you have to do is start speaking and they will become silent and listen to you.

Make it English Only

No other language is used in class. Get the students used to this on day 1 and it will last all term. It keeps the general noise level down and even if the students are talking about something which has nothing to do with the lesson then at least they’re practicing their English!

Move your Students

Get the students used to the idea that you can move them. Do this without apparent reason just to mix things up in the first lesson. Don’t force someone to sit next to someone they don’t like, but rearrange groups and pairs and try different arrangements.

Then, later in the term if you have a disruptive pair of students and you want to separate them you’ll find they respond much more easily than if it’s the first time they’ve ever been moved.

Silent Work

When the students are working on an individual activity have them do it in complete silence. If someone speaks tell them firmly (but politely) that they should continue working in silence and if they have a problem they should raise their hand to request your help.

If the class get used to this you won’t have problems trying to keep them quiet later in the term when they need to work as individuals on a test or some such exercise.

Involve ALL the Class

Do not concentrate on just a few eager students. Make sure you ask questions of all the students and get everyone involved. If you can use the Hands Down (see below) method to do this properly.

This will mean that later in the term you will not have disengaged students who do nothing whilst a few bright sparks do everything.

Be There to Work

Do not make jokes and mess around with the class. Do not tell a funny story or be personal. Be there 100% as a professional teacher. Later on you can relax but for the first few lessons keep things serious.


From the very first lesson the students will understand that they are there to work and cannot mess around with the new teacher. Some may complain, but that doesn’t matter. Some of them might find it tough and feel that their last teacher was perfect, but that’s hard luck for now.

We are not talking about shouting and being nasty to the class. Just be quiet, fair, firm, businesslike and professional. You might find it a little strange and out of character but stick with it for a few lessons because it will pay handsome dividends later on.

The consequences are major. As the term goes on you can begin to relax a little with the class and have more fun, but they will know that the moment you start to speak they need to pay attention again. They will know that if they’re asked to move positions they can do so. They will know that YOU are the boss there and they must respect that.

And that means they will learn more.

Useful Links

English Only‏‎ – the only language to use in class

Move Them on Day 1‏‎ – moving students to keep order

Hands Down – a way to involve the whole class in the learning process

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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