I’m a newly certified ESL instructor and I saw your post on overwhelmed teachers.

I’m teaching in Spain and currently have a class of 3 boys, aged 11 to 14.  The boys flat out refuse to speak English, and even refuse to speak Spanish, even though they are fluent.  They prefer to speak Chinese to each other, and completely ignore me.

Read on to find out what Shelley Ann Vernon recommends to solve this disagreable problem that makes you feel undervalued and a failure…

1. Make an agreement

You need to establish rules for English class with the cooperation of the boys and their parents.  I would sit down together for ten minutes, parents, boys and you and talk about the problem, ask everyone for their suggestions, then write these up and get the boys and parents to sign the document.  This is your contract.  Establish with the parents what rewards will be in place for sticking to the agreement and if there will be any sanctions for ignoring it.

It is vital that any rewards or sanctions are carried through.  If you ignore your part of the agreement then the boys will do the same and the whole thing is a waste of time.  Threats must be carried out and rewards must be delivered.   Ask parents for their ideas on sanctions and suggest your own.  You need parent cooperation since if they think your sanctions are ridiculous they will not support you and you may need them as far as offering the rewards such as taking the boys to the cinema or giving them a small gift in recognition of their efforts.

I suggest keeping the rules short and sweet.  No talking in Chinese during the lesson – no exceptions, ever.  If necessary send the 14 year old out of the room/to a different spot in the room for ten minutes without his phone and with a worksheet to complete.  He is re-integrated into class when he has finished the worksheet.

You need those boys to respect you and if they do not, they aren’t learning anything anyway.

2.  Separate the Chinese boys

Another solution is to take the two Chinese boys separately.  Take the two 11 year olds together and kick the 14 year old out of the class and take him individually.  That allows you to tailor the class more accurately to age 11 as well.

I guess the two boys are brothers and it suits parents to drop them at class together.  Speak to the parents and explain the problem you are having and that it will be better for the boys to be separated so they learn more.  It may be a solution.

3. Teaching Materials

I recommend using ‘176 English Language Games for Children’ with these kids so that your lessons are engaging, with movement and repetition.  They need drills and more drills to absorb English and gain confidence speaking.  The games in that book are set up for learners to succeed and have fun in the process.

You can get that book in paperback on Amazon or in Kindle, or PDF instant download, whatever you prefer.

The two eleven year olds will be well into doing plays and skits so I suggest you download the free one from the plays page and try it out with them.  Give the 14 year old the chief role so he feels important.  The script is repetitive and simple and often this can be put on in one lesson, then you show it to parents.  You probably will want to polish it up over a few lessons, mixing in another topic.  When you show your work to parents it makes them feel involved in the process, they see where their money is going and they see you are getting results.  Consequently they will support you more.  You have them on your side.

As well as creating a bond with the parents the children themselves will have an end result to learning English, not just a seamless series of never-ending lessons.  Each skit that is performed is a finished product that gives satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

Okey dokes, let me know how you get on with the ideas above and we can take it from there if you need more help!

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games