Passing notes is a time-honored method of classroom communication. For many students, exchanging secretive, and often personal, information is an exciting way to pass the time in school, especially during lessons or classes they find boring. Although rarely a serious problem, note passing suggests that the students involved are not attending to the lesson. Moreover, the contents of the notes -- which can include gossip about other students -- can trigger student conflicts.
A simple request to stop usually is sufficient to deal with the problem. If the note passing takes place during a test, disrupts a lesson, or triggers conflict, however, you might want to respond in a more serious manner.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Make clear your rule against note passing. When discussing classroom rules, tell students that passing notes is not allowed because it indicates that those involved are not paying attention to the lesson. Point out that some notes can cause problems between students. Note passing is not a major disciplinary concern, however; don't spend a lot of time discussing the issue.
Discuss the matter in a low-key manner. Note passing rarely demands more than a quick reprimand, so don't make a big deal out of it. If you see a student passing a note, simply say, "Sarah, could you please put that away. Passing notes is not allowed during class," and proceed with the lesson.
Do not embarrass the note passer. You probably are displeased that the student isn't paying attention to the lesson, but resist the impulse to read the note. Certainly do not read the note aloud or make the student read it aloud. Such a response only will humiliate the student, making her less likely to cooperate with you in the future.
Separate note-passing students. Students find it much more difficult to pass notes back and forth if they're seated at opposite sides of the room.
Move the note passer to the front of the class or near your desk. Your primary concern isn't that she's passing notes; your concern is that she isn't paying attention to the lesson. Moving her closer to you allows you to monitor her more closely; she will be less likely to pass notes and more likely to pay attention.
If the problem persists, treat the note passing as a disciplinary matter. If the same students exchange notes in class after being asked to stop, speak with them after class and ask for their cooperation. Let them know that the note passing interferes with your lesson and, if it continues, you will treat it as a disciplinary matter. If the note passing occurs a third time, consider giving those students an after-school detention or contacting their parents.