Dealing with Disruptive Classroom Behaviour

We have all faced these scenarios before: students keep talking with their peers, they are off-task doing their own things, they don’t show up for class, or they even adopt a tone that does not seem appropriate. You may have reflected and started to ask yourself some of the questions that follow. Below you will find a crystallization of good ideas recommended by our fellow teachers both locally and internationally.

1.  How do I stop my students from talking at inappropriate times in class? interactions
2.  How can I get my students to be more engaged?
3.  What should I do if students challenge me?

4.  What can I do to encourage punctual attendance?
5.  What are ground-rules and how do I use them?


1.  How do I stop my students from talking at inappropriate times in class?  

  • Explain clearly to the students in the first lesson about how they are expected to behave in the classroom. Establish ground-rules in the course (see below).
  • Learn students’ names. Bad behaviour often occurs due to anonymity.
  • Explain to the students the harmful consequences of talking to the classroom environment and – potentially – to their outcomes in the course.
  • Do not debate with students too directly about the problem during the class. Keep your composure and talk or write to them after class.
  • Physically move around to check that students are staying on-task. Use this time to establish a relationship with students or to casually mention that you find their talking disruptive.
  • Occupy students’ time with lots of activities. Use these activities to provide students with times when talking in class is entirely appropriate.
  • Invite the students who are talking to share their ideas or start to share first.
  • Call on specific students (by name, if possible) to answer questions.


2.  How can I get my students to be more engaged? 

  • Give students authentic tasks to do, e.g. real-life problems and real projects. Link their major with real-life problems, possible jobs they might hold in this field in the future, and current “hot” topics in the news
  • Give students assignments which are meaningful to them or something that they can see as connecting to the world outside of the classroom.
  • Let students know that they will be responsible for answering questions in class about homework and class-work.  Set their expectations and let them know that there is no escape.
  • Plan breaks in lectures when students have to actively engage with classroom assignments.
  • Bring in real practitioners from outside to give students feedback on their work. Ask the guests to explain how course-work links up what they do in their job.


3.  What should I do if students challenge me? 

  • Be open-minded when listening to students’ comments.
  • Remember that we often wish to encourage creative thinking and problem solving. Sometimes challenges are just examples of students trying to “think outside of the box.”
  • Get students to reflect on when cases do and don’t have the correct answer. See if they can articulate the difference.
  • Have a clear grading policy that can be justified. As students more and more adopt a consumer mindset, they are more and more likely to plead for special grading considerations.
  • Explain to your students why they have to learn or do certain course material and what would be the consequences if they don’t.
  • Learn together with your students. Try to interpret their challenging behaviour as a way of expanding your range as a teacher
  • Remember that if we encourage our students to think independently, then sometimes their ideas might have an element of “challenge.” Strictly speaking, we can’t successfully encourage critical thinking and never be challenged.


4.  What can I do to encourage punctual attendance? 

  • Provide opportunities for bonus marks to students who come to class on time.
  • Teach things outside the textbooks and materials already given to the students. Make the time worthwhile.
  • Interact with students regularly; learn some names. Ask questions which you can use to give guidance to their career outside of the University.
  • Make the class informative, interesting, and relevant to students’ lives.
  • Use lots of supplemental illustrations or examples.
  • Invite guest speakers to address topics of interest in applied fields and create exam questions based on their presentations.
  • Give short in-class assignments as chances for students to apply what they have learned and give students credit for completing the assignments.
  • Put outlines up on the course webpage and let students know what to expect and how they can use them as a guide for taking notes.
  • Count participation toward the final grade.
  • Give students a topic to be thought about and discussed at the beginning of the next class discussion.
  • Give regular team quizzes at the beginning of class and allow small teams to discuss quiz questions before individuals submit their answers.


5.  What are ground-rules and how do I use them? 

  • Ground-rules state expected behaviours for a class. They are established rules for a class either provided for by the teacher or negotiated by the teacher and students.
  • Establish ground-rules at the beginning of the semester and get student agreement on their reasonableness.
  • The rules are behaviours both for the students and teacher. For example, if one of the ground-rules is that phone calls are not appropriate, then the teacher should also follow this rule.
  • Sample ground rules state a code of conduct and include behaviours disruptive to learning: (e.g.) arrive on time, use laptops/mobile devices for legitimate classroom activities only, do not leave early without permission, don’t talk when others are speaking, etc.
  • If a certain type of behaviour drives you crazy in the class as a teacher, include it in your list of behaviours that distract learning.
  • Remember that the behaviour that is distracting to the teacher is also distracting to students. Setting up a good set of ground-rules is something that students also appreciate. Ideally, a good set of ground-rules is enforced by teacher and student alike.


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