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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver

Student Interruptions

Calling out is one of the more common problems teachers encounter in the classroom. Fortunately, it also is one of the easiest problems to manage. A student's classroom interruptions may take different forms -- from blurting out an answer without raising his hand, to responding when another student has been called on, to making an unsolicited comment in the middle of a lesson or discussion. Whatever form the interruption takes, students who call out can get you and the class off track, as well as prevent other students from participating fully in class activities. In addition, if a student is allowed to gain your attention by calling out, classmates likely will be encouraged to follow his lead and call out as well.


Seat a student who is prone to calling out near you. Seat the student near the place where you typically stand when presenting a lesson. That placement allows you to anticipate when the student is about to blurt out an answer, and to signal him quietly to raise his hand.

Ignore a student who calls out; only call on students who raise their hands. Giving attention to a student who calls out will make him more likely to call out in the future. Try to ignore the interruption, if possible; continue with your lesson, calling on a student who has raised his hand. You might make a comment such as "Daniel, I like the way you're raising your hand and waiting to be called on." That sends a message that a student who raises his hand gains more attention than a student who calls out.

Use behavior modification to change the student's behavior. An easy way to do that is to draw lines dividing a 3-inch by 5-inch card into ten boxes; tape the card to the student's desk. At the beginning of each day, set a timer for 30 minutes. If the student does not call out within the 30-minute period, initial one of the boxes and reset the timer. If the student does call out, reset the timer immediately, and do not initial the card. When all ten boxes are initialed, reward the student with an agreed-upon prize or privilege. (Note: You can adjust the length of the time period and the number of boxes on the card according to the age of the student and the severity of the problem.)

Teach the student to monitor his own behavior. Raise a student's awareness of how many times he calls out by taping to his desk a 3-inch by 5-inch card divided into five sections -- one for each day of the week. Have the student put a check in the appropriate box each time he calls out. At the end of the week, review the card with the student and count the number of times he called out each day. If he has made progress, reward the student either with praise or with a classroom privilege.

Set aside a specific time every day to talk with individual students. Some students call out simply because they feel the need to talk with you. Set aside a specific time during the day when students can talk to you about their concerns. Suggest they write a note to themselves if they are worried about forgetting what they want to say.

Teach the impulsive student how to hold onto his thoughts. An impulsive students might tell you that he called out because if he didn't speak immediately, he would have forgotten what he wanted to say. If you have a student with this problem, suggest that he jot down a phrase or sentence that will help him remember what he wanted to stay. After calling on him, pause to give him time to reconstruct his thoughts.

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.