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June 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Reaching At-Risk Students in a 5th Grade EFL Classroom

Stephanie Ptak is an assistant professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, South Korea. She has taught English in South Korea and Spain, from elementary school to the university level. She is interested in fluency markers and methods of teaching writing. Email:



For three years, I worked as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher at a public elementary school in Seoul, South Korea. One of the fifth grade students during my final year, M, stood out for a variety of reasons. I believe he was an at-risk student. He was an enthusiastic but disruptive student. He was eager to please my co-teacher and myself but frustrated some of the other students. In this paper, I will discuss the characteristics and behaviors of M, and then I will develop an action plan to effectively work with students like M.


Characteristics and behaviors

M exhibited a few risk factors. The school culture in South Korea is quite restrictive, and students are mostly taught to memorize a large amount of information in order to pass tests, including the most important exam of their lives, the university admission exam. This School Factor was a risk for Min, as the school culture did not support the ways in which M learned and thrived in the classroom (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). The opportunities for multiple ways of learning were very limited, and effective student assessments were lacking, (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). Additionally, M experienced a negative school environment, as he was often teased by his peers in the classroom (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).

I believe M was a kinesthetic learner for a variety of reasons. During class he was very physically active, for example he would constantly move around in his seat and also walk back and forth to the supply baskets (LinkedIn Slideshare, 2014).  According to Madison McWilliams, one way to determine if a student should be referred to a specialist to test for ADHD or is simply a kinesthetic learner is to see how they react during a kinesthetic lesson (2013). During role-play days and singing time, M thrived (McWilliams, 2013). When reflecting on his behavior during those activities, I believe he was a kinesthetic learner.

M displayed a few characteristics of underachievers, and those characteristics fall into the “Conduct Disorder” category (Schneider, 2003).  M was an impulsive student who “seeks immediate gratification,” especially from the teachers (Schneider, 2003). His behavior earned him the attention of the teachers because his conduct disrupted the class so much so that the teachers needed to address M. This relates to the attribution theory in that one’s past will shape how one thinks about the future (Burditt, 2015). M continued to act in this way to earn attention. However, I would not categorize M as an underachiever. He was an energetic student with a high level of English. His behavior disrupted the class because he wanted positive attention from the teachers and his peers. However, he was not underachieving.

M was not a student in poverty, but he did have one risk factor of a student in poverty. M had “exposure to inadequate or inappropriate educational experiences” ( M benefited greatly from the few kinesthetic activities in the EFL classroom. However, in other subjects there was a serious lack of kinesthetic activities. In this way, the educational experiences could have been more appropriate and robust to benefit M and students like him. 


Action plan

In order to foster resilience in M, I would focus on my instructional pedagogy because “Fostering resilience requires instruction that is student-centered and engaging” (Wright, 2013). I would try to plan “lessons that stimulate active participation in the learning process rather than merely allow students to sit and listen” (Wright, 2013). Considering that M is a kinesthetic learner and has shown enthusiasm with engaging lessons, this is important to focus on to engage him and develop resilience in him. Additionally, I would focus on material that “relates to real-world situations while prompting reasoning and joyful learning,” as this is an EFL class, it is most beneficial when the material can truly be used outside of the classroom (Wright, 2013).

M responds well to kinesthetic activities in the classroom. To cater to this, I would use beach balls in class with different sentence frames, questions, grammar points, etc. written on the different colored parts. Students could throw these to one another and make sentences and questions using the part they touched. This activity would keep students’ attention, especially M’s, as they wait to catch the ball.

One of the social-emotional learning components is self-management. In order to foster this self-management in M, I would use a hand model of the brain to discuss with students the different parts of the brain that manage our fight or flight and our emotional responses (Siegel, 2017). Most importantly, I would use this to share with students how these parts of the brain can grow and shrink in size with meditation, which helps us to better manage our emotions and responses (Siegel, 2017). This would help M, as he could understand that he has the ability to choose his movements and reactions in our class. With time, he could see how his movements and actions affect him and those around him. It is surprisingly that students rarely learn about their brains in school, and I believe this knowledge can be powerful to help students understand themselves.

To reach M, I would “Display a personal interest daily” (Boynton). Before class, I would try to show him that I like him and value him by asking questions about his interests, school, and so on (Boynton). This would help us to foster a positive relationship (Boynton). I also hope that by doing this, I could give M attention at appropriate times. During class, he would often earn attention because of his disrupting behavior. By interacting with M before and after class, I hope that he can come to understand that the focus of class time should be on learning, and that personal attention can be had at different, more appropriate times. I would also call his parents to report good news (Cutler, 2015). M was an enthusiastic student, and it is important that his parents could also receive quality feedback about M and his classroom behavior and accomplishments. Hopefully, this would also prompt his parents to give him the positive feedback that he desired.



“ADHD or Kinesthetic Learner?” LinkedIn SlideShare, 18 June 2014,

Burditt, Raina. “Self-Efficacy.” YouTube, Raina Burditt, 27 Mar. 2015,

“Chapter 13. Dealing with Challenging Students.” Educator's Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems, by Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton,

Cutler, David. “8 Tips for Reaching Out to Parents.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 20 Aug. 2015,

“Dropout Reduction: Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery: Overview.” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,

McWilliams, Madison. “Is It ADHD or a Kinesthetic Learning Style?” Alt Ed Austin, 1 July 2013,

Schneider, C. Suzanne. “Overcoming Underachievement.” Center for the Gifted - Overcoming Underachievement, 2003,

Siegel, Dan. “Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain.” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Aug. 2017, 

“The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning.”,

Wright, Cheryl J. “Three Pillars for Supporting Resilience.” ASCD Express, vol. 8, no. 25, 12 Sept. 2013,


Please check the English Course for Teachers and School Staff at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Methodology and Language for Kindergarten course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website

Tagged  Various Articles 
  • Class Oral Storymaking
    Andrew Wright, Hungary

  • Reaching At-Risk Students in a 5th Grade EFL Classroom
    Stephanie Ptak, South Korea