A colleague once told me that the secret to my success with young learners is that I am still a child myself. While it certainly hurts my ego to be called "immature", there is some undeniable truth to it.
So what exactly did my colleague mean? I would like to think that being a child means being enthusiastic, excited and emotional about the world around us. As a teacher, you should be a playmate, an older friend and a cartoon/fairy character all in one. Below are some practical ways on how you can do this.
Say, you are about to introduce a new game. The way I see it, there can be two major ways of doing this:
1. "Now, children, we are going to play a ball game. I will throw the ball to you and ask a question and you will give me the answer". This might or might not get your students' attention. It might or might not take you several minutes to make sure they gather around and pay attention to what you have to say and the energy level will most probably be low to neutral.
2. Or... You can suddenly act excited, grab the ball (the soft, colourful ones with a bell inside are my personal favourites), make it tinkle or, even better, sing: "Ball game, ball game, ball game!" (Choose any tune you like). This will give you an instant reaction, especially once they are familiar with the procedure. Not only will they leave everything they are busy with and rush towards you but their energy and excitement will skyrocket as well. You can find more information on the ball game in Games and Activities. Mind you, this should be done as naturally as you can. Children, like no one else, can tell when you're fake.
Take Them to Wonderland
When I was little, my mum read me a children's book with a virtually unpronounceable title - "Tsipili, Timbaka and The Laughter". One of the main ideas introduced in the narrative was that when children cross a certain river, they enter the world of fairy tales with witches, ogres and talking animals. This was so strongly imprinted into my mind that many years later I would take the neighbourhood children to the nearest gorge (with their parents' permission, of course) and, once we crossed a huge water pipe, I would say: "Now, the magic begins". The same "magic" can be used in the classroom.
Say, your kids are super excited after the same ball game or are engaged in a noisy conversation. You want them to calm down, because the noise level is way too high to your liking, or you want to give them important information or instruction for the next activity. Again, we have two ways of doing this:
1. "Silence! Silence! Listen to me! Sam! Anna! Stop doing that! Look here! Look here!"
2. Or... You can lower your voice to a whisper and - with a mysterious face of someone sharing a secret and in the character of a fairy or a magician preparing to open a door into a Wonderland - say: "Guys... guys... Open your Pupil's Book at page 28". In less than a minute the general voice level will drop down. This is also a good classroom management technique.
Make Fun of Yourself
Remember that part about being a cartoon character? I will never forget my first time in front of a thirty-student classroom trying to get their attention thinking: "What I miss is a red nose and a pair of pom-poms". And while it IS important to keep the balance and I DO have the inner feeling of being in charge and the ability to communicate it, there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable from time to time.
Not only do I allow my students to laugh at my terrible drawing but I actively encourage them to do so, I dance around the classroom, sing songs, chant and act. Given you find the right balance and feel comfortable, this creates an amazing rapport with the students and an atmosphere of fun.
Dare to Take the Throne
Now that you have been an excited playmate, a mysterious fairy tale hero and an energetic, entertaining cartoon character, it's time for you to put your older friend hat on and your foot down. Remember that balance is important. The moment you reach the level of control when you may raise the classroom energy to a storm and lower it to the complete calm without a sign of a breeze, you may officially knight yourself ;)
However, before you reach this level, there are several things you need to do:
1. Do your homework. By this, I mean, plan your lesson and use fun activities.
2. Master classroom management techniques.
3. Have an inner conversation with yourself using the voice of the aforementioned fairy tale character. Affirm: "The moment you stepped into this classroom, you were granted the power and authority over it. You are in charge and they have to obey". It wouldn't hurt either to say in Mufasa's voice: "Remember!". As silly as it might sound, it is crucial to realise the power you have and communicate it through verbal and, mostly, non-verbal cues. In my experience, teachers who shout and use despotic measures are, in fact, the ones who are not confident about themselves in the first pace (or they are having a bad day and are really tired). Being unable to communicate their authority to the class naturally, they resort to extreme means.