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Teaching Strategies to Redirect Off-Task Students

Janelle Cox

There will always be those few select students who seem to get off task right when you are in the middle of your lesson. Ideally, you want everyone to be engaged and on task during your lessons, but that is not always the case.

While the teacher “Stare” may work for some children, it will not always work for all children. Here are a few teaching strategies to help you redirect those off-task students, and get them back on track without interrupting too much of your lessons.

Teaching Strategies: Use a Verbal or Non-Verbal Signal

Verbal and non-verbal cues are great for capturing a student’s attention. There are two ways that you can redirect an off-task student. The first way is to show the whole class a set of signals that you will be using when you or they need something. The second is that you show only the disruptive students a few special cues. Sign language is a great tool because you can teach the students signs to say sit down, line up, be quiet, yes, no, etc. You can also make up a private sign between you and the disruptive student so that they know they better get back on task quickly.

Move Closer to the Student

A simple light tap on the shoulder while you are in the midst of teaching a lesson may be all you need to do to get the off-task student’s attention. Just you moving closer to the student while you are still teaching can have a huge effect on changing their behavior. You don’t have to stay there long, just a gentle touch of their shoulder, or even just your presence standing next to them, can do the trick.

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Stop Mid-Lesson and Wait

Do you remember the teacher “Glare” or “Stare” that you got when you were not paying attention in class? Teachers do this for a reason, and most of the time it works. All you have to do if you notice any classroom disruptions is to stop talking (mid-sentence) for only a few seconds and stare at the off-task students. You can regain your whole classroom’s attention by doing this. Usually, the on-task students will notice that the room went silent, and the off-task students will soon realize too, especially when they see you staring at them. This “Glare” is very effective because it doesn’t disrupt the on-task students too much, and it also shows the off-task students that you notice what they are doing.

Ask the Right Questions

If you want to promote self-correction in a student, you must ask the right questions. You want to choose questions that will make the child think about what he/she is doing in that moment. Instead of giving the student a direction, ask them a question. For example, instead of saying, “Put that notebook away,” you should say, “Where should that notebook be right now?” This will help the child become aware of what they are doing so that they can change their behavior to be appropriate. When you start to change your teacher-directed commands, and change them into student-centered questions, you will see that they child will self-correct their behavior usually without any problems.

Involve Off-Task Students in the Lesson

Most of the time, off-task students are lured to something else because they are not engaged in the lesson that is currently taking place. The best way to keep them on task is to get them involved in what you are doing. That is why cooperative learning activities are so great to incorporate into your lessons. They allow for the students to continually be a part of the learning. What you don’t want to do is call out a student who you notice is off-track. Shaming them is not the answer. What you can do is politely say, “Johnny, I am going to ask you what your take is on (a certain topic) in a few minutes, so start preparing an answer.” This will let them know that you know they are off-task, and it will prepare them without embarrassing them to answer the question and get back on task. You can also ask the child something simple like, “Will you please pass out the worksheets to the class?” This will also help to get them involved and back on track.

Be Persistent

Sometimes you can do all of the suggestions mentioned above, but the student still seems to get off-task. For these students you really need to be persistent. Instead of just giving them a “Glare” or tapping them on the shoulder, you should stand by their desks for a period of time. This can be for ten minutes or the entire lesson, whatever will drive the point home. You should also get them involved in the lesson using one of the suggestions above, and also position yourself right next to them so they know you mean business.

How do you redirect students who are off-task? Do you have any different suggestions then the ones listed above? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.