How to Handle Unfriendly Relationships Between Students
It is inevitable that not all students in every class will get along. Unfriendly relationships can develop in the classroom, but they may also develop outside the class, or even exist prior to entering the EFL classroom. In any case, our first priority as teachers should be to improve the relationship between the two (or more) students who do not get along. However, if the antagonism runs deeper or becomes too disruptive to the class, it may be better to separate the students so that their dislike of each other does not bring down the atmosphere of the entire class.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Colleen W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Engaging Activities For Enemies
One way to facilitate the improved relationship between two students could be to have them do pair work or group work that is necessarily cooperative. It would be especially beneficial if this pair work involves sharing information about themselves, so that, hopefully, the two students can not only connect through the common aim of completing some task but also learn to better understand each other. One activity to force cooperation with a common aim could be to group the students to complete a task where each student only gets part of a story and they must then share information to figure out the full story. It could also be beneficial to pair them up for a pair-share activity where each student must ask the other student some questions about him/herself and then report the information about their partner to the class. Some form of accountability (in terms of a completed activity or report to the class) will be necessary to ensure that the students actually work together instead of ignoring each other and failing to complete the activity or attempting to complete the activity individually when it is meant to be done as a group. However, if done correctly, this will make sure that the students interact in a productive manner, which will hopefully increase their respect for each other in the context of the class.
If this manner of improving their relationship doesn’t work, it might be beneficial (depending on the age of the students and whether or not this can be done without making it obvious to the rest of the class) to speak to each of them individually and find out what the source of the antagonism is. Again depending on the previously mentioned factors, it might then be helpful to mediate a discussion between them so that they can clear up their issues or ask someone with a better grasp of the native language to do so, since this would be a situation when being able to express exactly what they meant would be especially important. This could be effective regardless of whether the antagonism developed in or out of the classroom, but it must be done carefully so as not to make the antagonism public to the class.
The Morale of a Larger Group
However, especially with younger students and especially if the antagonism is related to some issue outside of class, it may not be possible to get the students to interact in a civil manner. If two or more students have a public antagonism, it can affect the morale of a larger group, or even the whole class. Rather than forcing two students who continually do not get along to interact, it might be best in these instances to separate them to ensure that the class as a whole can maintain a non-hostile environment. This can be done by rearranging seating or ensuring that, in group activities, they do not end up paired together. It is important in these instances to not make it public that you are separating them because that will likely only embarrass the students and make existing hostilities worse.
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The goal is, as much as possible, to allow the students to sort out their own problems, as this is less likely to embarrass them and more likely to produce a lasting result. If it is necessary to step in more directly, then we must again be careful not to embarrass the students in front of the rest of the class by singling them out or making their problems public.
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