Tips For Preventing Students From Derailing Your Lesson

Julie, Head of Content and Curriculum, shares tips for managing a chatty class. If you are losing instruction time due to crosstalk and constant interruptions, these strategies will help you get back on track tomorrow.

Updated: September 2, 2019

A blog post with classroom management tips for overly talkative studentsIt sounds good in theory: your students are all eager to share their ideas and participate in class. However, what happens when your chatty class is off topic and engaged in so much crosstalk that you can’t get a word in, let alone teach the lesson? Here are our favorite strategies for encouraging participation while not losing essential instruction time:

Put Your Two Cents In

This one works well for all grade levels. The premise is simple: you give each student two pennies. If you aren’t comfortable using actual money, you can give them two small Lego bricks, two stickers, really two of anything that is small and can sit on their desk. Each student has two opportunities to share during the lesson. You circulate the room, and collect their “pennies” as they participate. Once they have used both, the expectation is that they shift to listener. It is up to you if you want to require all students to participate twice or not. During the beginning of the year, I recommend offering students the option to pass. I also passed out Post It notes, and if students didn’t want to speak, but still wanted to share, they could write down their comment or question, and I would read it.

Parking Lot: Park It!

If I was stranded on a deserted island with all my students and could only use one teaching strategy - this one would be it. It is that good. Here is how it works: somewhere in your classroom post a large piece of chart paper on a wall. Create a space for each student and write their names in the space. Make sure that all students have access to Post It notes. Let students know that if they have a burning question or comment during your lesson that they should write it down. When there is a break in the lesson or you shift to independent work or partner work, that they should get up and place their Post It note on their space in the Parking Lot. You can then check the notes and circulate and check in. An added bonus for this one: If students start to interrupt you during a lesson, all you have to say is “Park it!” You can go right back to your teaching, and the student has a place to write down their questions and knows that you will get to them when you are ready.

Predictable Structure and Routines

If your students are chatty and off topic, it is essential to have a predictable class structure with an entry and exit routine. Greet students at the door as they walk into the room and provide them with a Do Now or activator so they know to sit down and get started, and there is no time for them to start chatting with their neighbor. Write the agenda for class on your board, and use it to redirect students and remind students what needs to get done. Give students an Exit Ticket or provide them with a self-assessment during the last five minutes of class. If students complete the classwork early, give it to them sooner so they have something to do. Make sure you have some choice boards or extensions ready to go for your early finishers so they don’t think they can start chatting and distract other students because their work is done.

Stop and Stay Silent

I learned this one from my cooperating teacher when I was doing student-teaching. If your students won’t stop talking and it is keeping you from getting through the lesson, stop. Stop talking and stand still. This will feel very uncomfortable at first. You will likely feel like it isn’t working, but trust me. Your students will begin to realize that you are no longer talking. They will stop talking and stare at you. Even once the talking has stopped stay still and silent. Your body language is sending a powerful lesson that you will be respected and not interrupted. You can also try hand signals. I would raise my hand up and ask the students to also raise their hand up. Eventually all hands would go up and it served as a class reset. This is an important expectation to introduce at the beginning of the school year.

What strategies do you use for not letting side conversations derail your lesson? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Julie Mason is the Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision. She brings an expertise in blended and personalized learning, instructional coaching, and curriculum design to the role. She was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and most recently taught at Dana Hall, an all girls school in Wellesley, MA. She was a blended and personalized learning instructional coach for K-12 teachers at BetterLesson for two years, and she has presented at The National Principals Conference, ISTE, and ASCD where she shared her expertise on how instructional coaching builds teacher capacity in K-12 schools. She has extensive experience designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, and she oversees the TeacherVision advisory board.

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