Classroom Distractions: How much can we avoid them?

A great lesson plan becomes difficult to execute when there are classroom distractions. Here’s a list of some of common distractions and tips to follow so that you aren’t led off track.

  1. Off-task talking.  It can be uncomfortable to be in the position where you must correct unwanted behavior of adult learners. You expect a certain level of maturity and mutual respect. I think respect is the key word. It may be helpful to post a pledge of respect* and call attention to it on the first day of class. Leave it on the wall as a reminder to all. When off-task talking occurs, it’s usually enough to say the students’ names followed by a firm please. If it repeats, you could make eye contact with the students in question and point to the pledge posted on the wall. I’ve also found it effective to continue teaching but move in close proximity to the talkers. They stop chatting as I approach.                                                                                                          *MODEL:  This is a place of learning and mutual respect. We will listen when others are talking. We will allow others to state their opinions.  We will encourage everyone in his or her efforts to learn English.   
  2. Cell phones. State your rules clearly. Allow no exceptions.
  3. Students coming and going. State your rules about tardiness and early departures. Consider the set-up of your room in relation to the door. If you can, allow a clear path on one side for a smooth exit (e.g. for trips to the restroom).
  4. Lighting. Move about the room throughout the day and see the board and everything else from the students’ view. Is there a glare from the sun? Is one corner too dim? Don’t have blinds on the window? Talk to your school director about your concerns.
  5. Classroom temperature. This can be a tough one to control when you don’t have access to a thermostat. Share your concerns with the school director. What are your options? Use of windows, fans, space heater, or what?
  6. Outside noise. At home or at work, it’s annoying to deal with car alarms. Construction noise is another potential lesson-breaker. The same fan you requested to cool down your hot room may come in handy when dealing with outside noise. White noise is the next best thing to quiet.
  7. Coughing, sneezing, etc. Winter colds and allergy season can lead to a chorus of distracting sounds. While I don’t like to see food in the classroom, I feel that bottles of water or juice are fine. I’d rather students take quiet sips of a beverage than deal with someone clearing his throat every two minutes. I also find it helpful to keep a box of tissues handy for everyone’s use.
  8. Smells. A bottle of OJ is fine, but aromatic coffee is likely good only for the drinker and not the rest of the class. Both pleasant and unpleasant smells can be distracting. State your rules for beverages. Also, explain that some people are allergic to fragrances, so no strong perfumes or colognes, please. Finally, empty your trash when it’s full, and use windows and fans to combat sweating in the summer.
  9. Room size. Small numbers and high numbers of students can challenge your use of an assigned room. With small numbers, get students to work more closely together, not letting anyone drift off to the far side or back of the room. With high numbers, increase students’ workspace by keeping unnecessary bags, coats, and other items on the floor or off to one side.
  10. School announcements. Whether these interruptions come over the PA or through a visit by school staff, don’t let them throw you off. Remember where you are in your lesson and promptly return to that point when the announcement is over. If the announcement is long, you might use that time for yourself either to prepare for the next activity or to complete an administrative task. The nature of the announcement might actually serve you well: Can you make it a discussion topic in your conversation class? Can you use the content to illustrate a grammar point you’ve been working on? Not all interruptions threaten a lesson.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Edwards says:

    Get the scool to consider a liquid ioniser for the classroom to remove the allergens and stop the kids keep coughing. Recent reports have reported reduced attention and exam grades due to allergens in the classroom

  2. Jeanne, I wanted to let you know that I used your blog post while working on a curriculum for Department of Labor making their employment workshop accessible to wounded warriors. I thought it was a sharp, well thought out entry- and the most thorough treatment of the topic I’ve seen

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Dale. I’m happy to learn that the post has application outside ESL.

  3. Ravi says:

    Everybody can not be intelligent,can they?

    Everything is bright and beautiful,isn’t it?

    why first sentence takes ‘they’ (plural) But second one takes ‘it’ (singular)

    1. Hi Ravi,
      It’s a curious thing, isn’t it? The pronouns everybody/everyone are supposed to be singular, but it’s awkward to use constructions like he or she/ his or her. In everyday speech, we often just use the plural because it’s convenient.

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