8 ways to redirect off-task behavior without stopping your lesson“So, I want to hear your thoughts on…[quickly cut your eyes over to the kids having side conversations; freeze and glare at them for 3 seconds in dead silence, then look back at the on-task students]…the different strategies your group shared just now. Raise your hand if…”
Then continue on with the lesson as normal. The off-task students will usually notice that the room suddenly fell silent, and you don’t have to interrupt the rest of the class’ train of thought by saying a word. If the engaged students are furiously taking notes or otherwise involved in the activity, they often won’t even notice the freeze/look.
When the off-task behavior is really disruptive and distracting the whole class, the freeze/look is very effective at not only letting the kids who are off-task know that you notice what they’re doing, but also letting rest of the class know you’re aware of the misbehavior and you’re not going to tolerate it. If the kids don’t get back on-task, you don’t have to stop your whole lesson. You can keep right on teaching without fear of losing respect of the rest of the class, because you have acknowledged the problem. Then you can…
5. Create a natural break in the lesson to talk privately with students who are being disruptive.
Ask the class to do a quick pair/share, turn-and-talk, quick guided practice activity, or solve a sample problem independently. Then use that moment to quietly walk over to the kids who are misbehaving. You can give a quick correction (one of your go-to phrases from strategy #1, perhaps) or talk with them about their choices.
6. Ask simple questions that prompt students to self-correct.
Try asking questions that require the child to think about what she or he is doing and help the child determine a more appropriate behavior. This strategy works well because you don’t have to give command to kids which they might then rebel against, and you don’t force them into a position where they have to give in because they were never told what to do.
What should you be doing right now? is my absolute favorite question for promoting self-correction, and it works in just about any situation. You can also try replacing your teacher-direct commands with problem-solving prompts, like this:
Usually when I ask these types of questions, students will pause, think, and then self-correct without any problems. They’re effective because students determine the solution and choose a different behavior, and instead of wearing us both down with more nagging, I get to say something positive and encouraging afterward (“Thank you” or “That’s exactly right.”)
7. Involve students in the lesson to engage, not embarrass.
It’s great to call on off-task students during a lesson, but only for the purpose of drawing them back into the lesson, not for shaming them for not following along. If you ask a question you know the student won’t be able to answer, that does nothing to keep up the lesson momentum or help the child successfully participate. It creates frustration for everyone involved when the entire class is staring impatiently at someone who has no idea what’s going on.
Instead, say, “[Off-task student], I’m going to call on you in one minute to demonstrate how to solve #4. [On-task student], would you solve #3 for us right now?” That gives the student a chance to prepare and also figure out what’s going on before being put on the spot.
You can also draw the off-task student into the activity through a task that doesn’t require him or her to have been paying attention. It could be as simple as: “___, what color highlighter should I use to mark our sight words here?” That gives the child some ownership over what’s happening in the lesson and allows him or her to begin participating again. You can also ask the off-task student to hold the book up as you read, pass out materials, come up to the board and take notes for the class as you explain something, and so on.
8. Provide support until the students experience success.
Sometimes your attempts to engage kids in the lesson work only for minute or two. If you see that a student is getting off-task again right after a subtle redirection or attempt to engage, you may need to be more persistent.
Don’t lecture or nag, just walk over to the off-task students and say, “So we’re discussing #8 right now with partners. Can you two share how you got your answers?” Stay there for a few moments to make sure the students understand what they need to be doing and are experiencing success. Give a compliment before you walk away to end the exchange on a positive note: “I knew you could do it!” “That’s exactly right, thanks” or “That’s it–keep it up.”
Those are some strategies that have worked for me. How do you redirect students who are off-task without interrupting your lesson?