Classroom Management Online



We’ve all had difficult classes. Some of us have even heard a little devil whispering in our ear to just give up and let these hooligans run amok. Tempting though that might be, we mustn’t give in. We must persevere! Classroom management is a skill that all teachers can learn and one that we should continually hone as we grow and develop. Here are 6 things to consider about classroom management and how they might differ when teaching online:

1. Set Simple, Clear Rules and Keep Them

This may seem obvious, but rules are only useful if everyone understands them. It is not enough to just know the rules; students should also understand why they are important. So, on the first day of class, you should discuss classroom expectations with your students. To make this process more interactive, you can elicit ideas from your students. What do they think the rules should be? By working together to establish rules, students will understand that cooperation is important in your classroom, and they will work harder at following the rules they help set.


After these rules are established, your next step is to lay down the consequences for breaking them. Then, you must enforce those consequences consistently and fairly. In an online environment, you will need to add a few additional rules. First of all, students should be expected to have their camera, microphone, and Internet in working order.


Obviously, we don’t always have control over our internet connections, but students who are taking classes online should do their best to have a secure, reliable way to access the internet. Secondly, they should have a dedicated space that is distraction-free. An entire class can be disrupted by people talking loudly in the background of one student’s video feed. As a teacher, you might have to mute that student and tell them that they will lose out on participation points until they can find a quiet place for the class. As for other classroom rules, these classics ought to serve you well:

  • Be respectful. (Emphasize that being respectful means listening to your teacher and classmates.)

  • Be responsible for your own learning. (This is especially important in online environments.

  • Be punctual and turn in assignments on time.

  • Be tolerant. (As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”)

2. Reinforcement

To promote appropriate behavior, positive and negative reinforcement should be given frequently. Be careful though, as reinforcement can be (and often is) overdone. You should give plenty of reinforcement with new students but phase it out overtime. If you offer too much, it will have diminishing returns and will hinder student’s intrinsic motivation. Positive Reinforcement can come in many forms. You can read about some of them here. In ClassIn, our online teaching software, the trophy feature is a simple way to give students tokens that they can turn in for something of value later, but you don’t have to use these if you don’t want to. Create your own systems and be faithful to them.


Also, remember that negative reinforcement is not punishment; it is the removal of something unpleasant to the student. If students do well on a math test, for example, you might give them fewer homework problems with the caveat that they must do well on the next test to keep this reward. Use both forms of reinforcement wisely and you’ll soon find that you don’t need to exert much effort on classroom management; you can divert your energies towards teaching instead.

3. Put a Pin in It

When you do have behavioral problems (and you will), you don’t have to discuss them in front of the class. This will shame the student or students involved and won’t improve anyone’s behavior in the long run. You can’t, however, let things slide. You should remind students of whatever rule they break and follow through with the agreed-upon consequences, but you shouldn’t scold them in front of the entire class. In an online classroom, you must be particularly careful as you cannot address one student without all the other students overhearing (and likely snickering). So, you can put a pin in it. Tell students what they did wrong, then have them stay after class so that you can discuss why this behavior is unacceptable and doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest.

4. Priming

Warming up to tasks by using lead-in activities is a good way to put students in the right mood for learning. When students are genuinely interested in the topic, they are more likely to model the behavior that you expect from them. Songs, videos, visits from experts, brainstorming sessions, and fun role-plays are just some ways that you could introduce a day’s learning objectives. You might also consider providing students with a breakdown of what they will do during class. If you have some fun activities lined up, telling the students what is coming will increase their excitement and engagement.

5. Fast and Fun

Bored students are not learning as well as they could be, and boredom can lead to disruptive behavior. Make sure that your class is fun! Here is a list of some great ways to make your class more interesting. Another thing to think about is pacing. Unless it is a project where students understand what they are doing and why, any activity that lasts more than fifteen minutes is probably too long, both for kids and adults. Our attention spans are short for a reason; they helped us survive in the wild. Since evolution isn’t on our side here, we must work with what we got. Moving between activities quickly provides students with an opportunity to shift their focus and not lose interest. Just make sure that each activity is connected to your learning objective for the class.


When teaching online, you may not be able to have students move around the classroom, but you can prepare several different activities and move from one to the other. Mix videos, discussions, reflection time, writing, and problem-solving activities to make sure that students are not required to focus on any one task for too long. Also, you can still have students do physical tasks online! Just make sure you provide clear instructions, monitor them as they work, and have them show you the results when they finish.

6. Ask for Feedback

Finally, be open to feedback from your students. You can email students or use instant messaging to check in and see how they feel about class. This is helpful with younger students and adults. See what activities and topics interest them. Try to connect everything back to their real lives. They will feel more involved in their own education, and you might just get some good ideas for your next class.

There are many other articles scattered throughout the internet with great classroom management advice, and much of that advice can be adapted to online classrooms. Be sure to check out some research-backed practices from the APA’s website here.

Remember to develop a classroom management system from the very beginning of the year and stick with it. You can do it! We have faith in you.


Paul Chatham has been an ESL teacher for 9 years. For the last two years, he has been teaching online. He also works as a product marketer for ClassIn, an online teaching platform. For more information about ClassIn, check out our YouTube page here.





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