From the vault: this article originally ran in our May 2013 newsletter.

Here are ten tips to help you deal with late students in your ESL class:

  1. Start with a bang!  Use a mini-lesson or a quick comment based on the front page of the newspaper, so that if students come in late they have missed something and have to catch up and feel disoriented.
  2. Start on time!  It seems obvious, but if you start your class like clockwork students will realize time is important.
  3. Make the class a welcoming place to come early to, greet students by name with a smile.
  4. Start with a quiz. Late students get the questions wrong that they missed.
  5. Sing “O Canada” and start class exactly as the song ends (YouTube has many variations if you have access).
  6. Keep the door closed.  Students have to feel embarrassed to open the door and come in.
  7. Keep the door closed and locked – students have to remain outside until someone comes and opens the door for them.  I try to open the door during mid-sentence of instructions so the student doesn’t have a chance to say good morning and must sit down immediately.
  8. Reward students with perfect attendance at the end of a term with a certificate and/or small gift.
  9. Explain the importance of punctuality in Canadian culture and if you have examples of late for work, late for church stories, cite these.
  10. Teach a lesson on lateness where students can fill out all or some of these blanks and then discuss their answers vs. the “key” below:

Occasion                                  Time to Arrive

Job Interviews:                          5-10 minutes early

Bride for Wedding:                   15-30 minutes early

Domestic Flight:                        60 minutes early

International Flight:                   120 minutes early

Work or Class:                           1-5 minutes early

Fri Night Party at Friend’s:       10-30 minutes late


Meet Friend at Coffee Shop:

1-2 minutes late = no explanation needed

3-5 minutes late = “Sorry I’m late”

Possibly a text message

6-10 minutes late = “Sorry I’m late, + excuse”

Text message or phone call accompanying

11-20 minutes late = “I’m so sorry, + excuse”

20+ = person may not be there waiting for you.

Bonus: Write out a scenario where they are late.  Back them up and ask what time did they arrive, what time did they catch their bus, what time did they eat, what time did they wake-up, what time did they go to bed.  Write out their schedule.  Decide where the change should have been made, re-do the new schedule where the student is on-time.


James-EdelJames Edel