The courtroom – Learners on trial for bad behaviour

You would think that adult business English learners would understand the meaning of manners and respect and would also comply with these principles, wouldn’t you?  Not always the case unfortunately!  In one of my classes today, 2 adult male learners (aged 27…ish) first of all arrived 20 minutes late during a learner’s presentation (I know what you’re thinking – that’s not too bad, probably got other work commitments, happens all the time.) Then later during another learner’s presentation they were occasionally playing their own little soundtrack of German chit-chat and giggles in the background.   This was distracting and annoying for me and needless to say must have been for the learner doing their talk and the learners listening.


I had a choice to make as this was breaking one of my strong values “respect”, so the blood was soon bubbling and pumping.  Do I try to calmly stop the talk and try to tactfully address the disruption and run the risk of creating conflict or a dark, an awkward or a negative atmosphere?  This is difficult to avoid when the fight or flight emotions are flowing.  Or do I turn a blind eye to it, ignore it and focus on the learner who is conducting the presentation?

I have been thinking about how to solve this challenge but even better still, how to avoid it in the first place.

I am sure many of you have read, heared of or used the following method.  First of all….

  • As a group, brainstorm, discuss and create the values and rules of the classroom.  (ideally done at the start of a program)
  • Define and clarify the rules and values
  • Again as a group, create the guidelines on how the rule will be enforced
  • Get some kind of personal tag or symbol to enhance commitment. (Via a contract with a signature or a fingerprint)
  • The contract / code of conduct (whatever you want to call it) is distributed to the learners and also visibly hung on the wall.
  • The contract is also referred to periodically to check the values are being met or rules followed.  If necessary update / amend the rules and values.

How we can enforce the values and rules?   This is an idea / task I have come up with.

Rather than alternative  more direct and confrontational methods, this task should give the learners ample opportunity to practise their speaking skills and using functional language like making suggestions, giving advice, handling conflict, consequences, giving reasons and explanations and decision making.  I also think even though the context can be seen as negative and serious it can be done in a light hearted, fun and enjoyable way that should avoid hostility and conflict.

The task (The courtroom)

Towards the end of each class ask the students to identify & report any acts of non-compliance.  This is the accusation.  It can and possibly should be done anonymously to avoid any possible hard feelings or conflict.

A report or identification of non-compliance can also be done by the trainer.   Also bear in mind that the trainer can also be accused and trialled.

  • Nominate a judge (this could be the trainer) – If you prefer and if they are available you could wear an English crown court judge wig and use a wooden hammer to keep order and to add humour.
  • The other learners act together as the prosecutor and importantly the Jury.
  • The accused is his / her own defender
  • The judge reads out all the accusations one at a time and the accused is put on trial.
  • The accused can speak freely to defend him/herself
  • The jury discusses and decides upon a suitable sentence.

The sentences

The sentences could be a small fine, where the learner has to put money into a fine pot / money jar, or it could be something more productive to their English learning like they get extra homework or they have to prepare & conduct something in the next lesson.  Of course in the case of the money collection this can be put to good use and put towards a team building or social event at a later time (one my favourites is night out at a German beer keller / garden with the learners).

Now remember we are working with adult learners who have their own opinions, experiences,  ego’s, attitude and beliefs, so they probably won’t enjoy being lectured, patronized and talked down to.   In light of this, I think the points below need emphasizing;

  • It’s not a real courtroom or a school headmasters office… have fun and have a laugh.
  • Really sell the importance of the values (e.g respect) and explain why it is so important.
  • Explain how you feel about the rules and values and how you feel when they are broken.  (this shows your emotions and shows that you are only human, thus helps with rapport )
  • Really get the learners involved in the task.  Get their buy-in / commitment.

So thanks for reading.  I now invite you to comment and also feel free to make any suggestions / recommendations on how you handle disruptions or incidents that touch your inner raw nerves and trigger your fight & flight emotions.


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