If you are having trouble getting through a lesson without interruptions, then you’ll be happy to hear that this is simply a classroom management skill you can learn by changing just a few things! It’s actually a collection of teaching habits that allow you to control the flow of the lesson. So here are my best tips on dealing with interruptions, blurters, potty needs, and a host of other things!
I bet we’ve all been there. Imagine this: You’ve just started a lesson. Someone raises their hand to ask to use the restroom. Then someone else also wants to go. You begin your lesson again. A child begins to whine that she is tired or hungry. Another raises a hand to ask for a tissue. You start your lesson again. A child hits or kicks someone because the other child was looking at him or breathing in his direction. And on it goes!
Tips for Getting Through a Lesson Without Interruptions
A lively, intelligent, and determined group of children can easily hijack a lesson and drive it down another lane if you do not have a few procedures firmly in place. But here are a few things that I do to make sure that my lesson can proceed and the children do not manage to divert the class’ focus down some other rabbit hole!
1. Tell kids you’ll take questions at the END of the lesson.
I tell kids that they must put their hands DOWN while I’m giving a lesson. Questions must wait until the end. Of course, if it looks like there is something amiss, I will call on a child! But generally, I tell them that I will simply not call on them if they raise their hand. If a hand goes up, I just shake my head at them and mouth the word, “no.”
I do this because very often when young children raise their hand to speak in the middle of a lesson, it’s to tell a story or make an off topic comment rather than to ask a question. And of course, if I allow one child to do this, then there will be three or four more children that would like to do the same. And that rabbit hole will take us down somewhere other than where my lesson was supposed to go!
This system also solves the problem of tattling during lessons as well. If something important happened, they will not forget to tell you at the end of the lesson. If it was not very important, they likely will forget by then.
Here’s The Tattling Song from Music for Classroom Management.
Always remember: Just because a hand is raised does not mean that you need to call on a child.
2. Make sure kids know when they MAY and MAY NOT use the restroom. Take your whole class for a restroom break all together if necessary. THEN give your lesson.
I tell my TKs that I expect them to use the restroom before school starts and at recess if they possibly can. I tell parents the same thing at the beginning of the year, and ask them to take their children to use the toilet RIGHT before they drop them off! I also ask them to tell me if they think their child may have trouble waiting one hour before using it again. Send home a questionnaire and get their answers in writing if you are nervous about it, and have parents send a spare change of clothes.
Once I have this information and I know that everyone (probably) used the restroom right before school, then I feel fairly confident that I can ask them to wait a while before going again. A child that really needs to go is usually doing “the potty dance” and is visibly squirming, etc.
3. Establish some non-verbal “secret signals.”
In Kindergarten, I always used the secret signal of one finger up to ask to go to the bathroom, two fingers up for a tissue, three to get a drink, and four to put away or get a jacket. This way, you can always give permission for any of those things (if you wish to do so,) totally silently, without ever missing a beat in your lesson. Most of the time I found that by giving permission with eye contact and a simple nod of my head, usually the rest of the kids never even noticed that another child was just given permission to do something such as go to the restroom or get a drink. This solves the problem of others wanting to do the same just because they see that one child was given permission.
4. Suggestions for Constant Blurters
Most classes have rules about raising your hand before speaking; that’s not new. But when children forget- whatever the reason- what can you do?
Over the years, my most constant, continual blurters and interrupters all responded to incentives for remembering to either raise a hand or be quiet for a small, set amount of time. We kept track of it on a contract that went home and back daily. I’ll attach a copy of the behavior contract for you here.
The best way to break the cycle of the constant blurter is to reward a child for raising a hand, or for being quiet for a set amount of time. (Example: the child would have to be quiet or raise a hand -and wait to be called on- for ten minutes until a timer goes off.) If the child blurts out something without permission, you simply say “No. No interrupting. Try again, you can do it! Let’s restart your timer.” There is no other penalty other than that the child must restart the timer. If the child blurts out again, you can remind them of the reward.
And speaking of rewards, I used to let a child put a chip into a jar every time he was good for the set amount of time. At the end of the day, if he had a certain amount of chips, he earned a prize! The prize was provided by his parents.
Now the kicker for this method is that you must be able to tolerate a timer constantly going off. I started this one year with a child that simply didn’t respond to anything else, and it really worked! A few years ago, I tried it again and it came in handy, but I needed it for TWO kids at once! It was difficult to manage with two kids simultaneously, for sure. I have never tried it with three at once, and I hope I never need to! But the timer going off continuously for one very severe discipline problem is tolerable, provided that it is making a difference.
Here’s the Interrupting Song from Music for Classroom Management!
Dealing with Discipline Problems Mid-Lesson
It may seem that children act up during lessons more than any other time. When children are unengaged with a lesson, they tend to become creative in finding ways to entertain themselves, unfortunately. And kids are now used to a LOT of exciting stimuli, in the form of computer games, television, and tablets, etc. Sadly, this leaves teachers in the unfortunate position of needing to put on “a show” to capture the attention of their little students.
To handle this situation proactively, be sure that you are totally ready for each lesson and do not have to leave your students to go find supplies, etc. Also be sure to tell children WHY it is important that they learn a new skill. Relate it to their life so that it is meaningful to them! Involve them in the lesson as much as possible, and be sure to include MOVEMENT in your lesson, whether it is through music or something else. Giving children permission and a reason to move during a lesson can solve a LOT of problems before they even start!
Despite any proactive efforts, your students may still present discipline problems during lessons. If this happens predictably during a specific type of lesson that the child seems to dislike, (such as every day during phonemic awareness exercises, etc.), do NOT stop the lesson for more than a moment when the child misbehaves, or you will be reinforcing that behavior! Simply stop briefly and put the child in time out, tell him or her you’ll talk about it later, and then proceed.
Sometimes in cases like this, I have the child do the part he or she “missed” with me one-on-one during playtime. This is usually a very effective deterrent for the child to repeat that same behavior! Remember, most behavior has a function or purpose. If you can figure out what the purpose is and work on fulfilling or solving that problem, you are more than halfway there to solving your discipline problem!
For more information on Behavior Functions (or the underlying purposes or motivations for a child’s behavior), click here. Also known as QABF, these Questions About Behavior Functions can help you figure out WHY a child is doing something and help you solve the underlying issue that is causing the problem. If you search for QABF, you’ll find much more information!
I hope this helped! For more classroom management and behavior blogs, tips, or ideas, check out my post here.