Split the group according to your seating plan. Tell them that if they want to sit with their friends they have to earn that privilege. Use a calendar to show the number of lessons there are left this year and tell them that as long as they work quietly and respectfully, you will change the seating plan after another ten lessons. That way, as long as they behave appropriately, they will be able to enjoy the majority of the year’s lessons sitting with their friends.
Be quick to thank and acknowledge students in this group when they do the right thing. You may have to test the best way to do this. Some students, who are lucky to be part of a generally supportive class, may be grateful for public praise while in some groups receiving praise from the teacher can result in students being ridiculed for being ‘goody-two-shoes’. Try private praise outside the room (after/before the lesson) and written praise – postcards/letters home. When negative behaviour has become entrenched (as it does with a very difficult group), focusing on what the students are doing RIGHT is the best way to turn the tide.
Offer a number of choices of work of varying difficulty and let the students choose what they want but… insist they do the work they have chosen in silence. Insisting on short periods (up to ten minutes) of silent work gives students (and you) a break from constant noise and reminds them that YOU are in charge.
Any teacher who struggles to be heard over classroom noise will be perceived to be weak, and ignored by students. Always wait until they are totally silent before speaking to them en masse, use a quiet speaking voice (if anything you should speak with less volume than usual to make them have to try harder to hear you) and limit the number of times you stop them or interrupt them to give instructions. If you have a lot of directions to give, do so quietly by addressing small groups and individuals rather than the whole group.
There is a tendency, understandable when faced with a disruptive class, to stop trying hard to engage them and instead allow yourself to be backed into punishing them with dull, uninspiring lesson tasks and negative classroom management strategies. The occasional ‘copying from the board’ or ‘worksheet-based’ lesson is fine to remind them what they’re missing, or to give yourself a well-earned break, but if these tedious activities become the norm, behaviour will undoubtedly deteriorate. Believe in the value of good education and let the students see that you want them to succeed. Ask them the type of activities they would like to do in the lesson and strive to include as many of their suggestions as is realistically possible. In time they will respect you for this.