During my first year teaching middle school students, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. When the bell rang, I knew that my class should be orderly and on task. But it simply wasn’t. In fact, it was often a bit of a disaster. I had an activity on the board for the students to complete, but no one did it. Instead, they just kept chatting and laughing.

How to Calm a Disruptive Class: The Quick & Easy Method that Saved My Sanity

Now some teachers have a natural air of authority and a voice that commands respect, but I do not have those gifts. I cannot (and will not) raise my voice loud enough to be heard. In fact, I often struggle with losing my voice altogether. Moreover, I knew that even if I could get their attention that way, I didn’t want to have to yell for class to come to order each day. I had repeatedly told them that this behavior was unacceptable, but I wasn’t following through with anything, and I wasn’t sure what to follow through with. With half the class talking, I wasn’t about to give them all detentions.

Eventually I went to my mentor teacher, and she gave me the following idea: When the bell rings, calmly walk to the board and start writing down the names of everyone who is talking. When they notice, tell them that each student with their name on the board now has a warning because they were talking after the bell. If they speak out of turn again during the class period, they will receive a discipline essay (or whatever penalty is appropriate at your school).

Well, this seemed a bit juvenile to me, but I tried it, and wow did it work wonders! The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong explains how to make this method work on a regular basis. I tweaked their plan to fit my situation and soon had a surprisingly effective discipline tool. Here’s how it works.

  • Explain to your students that if they are communicating in class without permission that they will receive a warning. You will give a warning by writing their name on the board. Take a few minutes to talk about how this is not meant to embarrass them or to treat them like little kids but as a way for you to give them a warning without stopping your teaching. Explain that if they talk again, you will give them another warning by putting a mark by their name. If they get a third warning in the same class, they will receive a punishment. (This of course will vary depending on your school’s policies.)

  • Watch carefully for the very first person who talks and be sure to give him a warning in the form of his name on the board. This shows right away that you mean what you say. When you give the first warning, say something such as, “Taylor, you see I’m putting your name on the board. Remember that talking is not permitted and that this is just a warning to you that you were talking and that you need to stop. You are not in trouble at this point, but you will be if you continue to talk without permission.” This shows the class that you are not demeaning the student and that he isn’t yet in trouble but that he is being warned to correct his behavior.

  • From then on, simply walk to the board and write down the name whenever you need to give a warning. The student is warned, the incorrect behavior ceases, and the flow of your teaching is not interrupted.

So what happened when I started writing names on the board?

The level of talking decreased dramatically, students were more on task, and I was less flustered.

In addition, I found that I hardly ever actually have to give out any discipline. I probably give out consequences for talking only about ten to fifteen times in an entire year. Having a visual warning serves as a deterrent and helps students get back on track without my actually having to hand out many punishments. Please note, however, that you do need to be ready to hand out the penalty when a student gets too many warnings. Otherwise, the students will quickly see that you don’t mean what you say.

This method made the biggest difference at the start of class. There would still be days when the bell rang and half the class was still talking, but instead of allowing my stress level to rise, I would calmly walk to the board and start writing names. It didn’t matter if I got everyone because it normally only took three or four names for the class to notice. Then they would quickly quiet down and get to work. What a better option that is than yelling!

Now the obvious downside to this method is that it seems juvenile. Elementary teachers, you have no problem there. For middle school, yes, it seems juvenile to me, too, but I can’t believe how well it works! High school teachers, I didn’t use this method when I taught 11th and 12th graders, but it would still work if you needed it to. Personally, I would only use it in high school to correct an issue that is not being resolved by other methods.

This method may not be a good fit for everyone. But if you’ve had trouble keeping order in your classroom, I do highly recommend that you try it. For me, it was a miracle worker.

Need more suggestions? Get my free video mini-course that will teach you how to get your students to listen, cut out the disruptions, and motivate them to learn.

Update: If you teach high school, sub, or are just not crazy about putting names on the board, look for ways to modify this method. For example, you could give a student a warning by putting a post-it on their desk. Of course, you’d go through a lot of post-its, but it should work as effectively. Class Dojo is another great option. The key is that you 1) personalize the warning to the student and 2) don’t interrupt your flow of teaching.

What methods do you use to keep control in your classroom? Share them by leaving a comment.


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49 Thoughts on “How to Calm a Disruptive Class: The Quick & Easy Method that Saved My Sanity

  1. I’m trying this tomorrow! :)

  2. And I did…
    Didn’t remember to use it until my afternoon classes though. My class immediately after lunch is HORRIBLE. Only 27 kids, which probably sounds great to some, but one of my most crowded classes. I have one empty desk, so I have tweaked and re-tweaked the seating chart trying to find a way to seat everyone without the problem students being able to interact. There are about 5 boys in there who cause problems. I have tried other methods with them, and have had to give a couple lunch detention. I hate doing that bc they need that time to run off energy, but that;s all I’ve got. :/ This got their attention. I did have to follow through with detention for two sadly, but hoping this method continues to work.
    End of the third week, the students should be used to routines and procedures now, so there were several teachers who decided it was time to crack down. I am on a long-term sub assignment (Newly certified teacher, but 20+ years of teaching uncertified) so I have hesitated to change the teacher’s layout of desks, however, I observed the layout of my friend’s class next door and am going to try that next week. I am sure i am driving the special-ed teacher crazy. He comes in for three different classes, and just rearranging the seating chart has thrown him for a loop enough. LOL I have found that this is also helping me get to know the students’ names since I am looking at them in different places.

    I would definitely recommend giving this a try in a talkative class situation. Just be sure and follow through with the punishment so students understand the consequences.

    BTW, my daughter is a secondary history major who doesn’t like this idea. lol Says it just seems like it might violate a confidentiality issue. I say it’s no more than continually telling a student to be quiet. As a matter of fact, it’s much less intrusive to the classroom environment!

    • When your daughter has a class of her own someday, she will “get it”! Kind of like getting parenting advice from someone who has no children.

    • Hope things have been going better! Yes, I know some people have a natural hesitancy to use this method. I did too at first, but it works wonders and is actually better for the kids because 1) the classroom is more controlled and 2) they normally don’t end up receiving any actual punishments.

      I think sometimes we are too concerned about kids’ self-esteem. Of course we should never demean a child, but if they’re not following our rules, it’s okay to call them on it. It’s ultimately for their good.

      • I still have a few who insist on acting like fools, but I’m working with them on self-control so hoping the detention assignments will be a thing of the past soon.

  3. Do you have any advice for a sub who does not often know the names of the students? This method has worked well for me on the rare times that I have subbed two or three consecutive days, or if the teacher has left seating charts and the students are in the correct seats, but otherwise it is very hard to use this method.

    • Subbing is it’s own challenge for sure. You can adapt this method, though, by using small sticky notes. Tell the students that if you put a sticky note on their desk they have received a warning. 2 or 3 warnings results in whatever penalty is appropriate (even if it’s just that you’ll refer their name back to their regular teacher.)

    • Anonymous on August 25, 2014 at 11:24 am said:

      When i was a sub, as I called roll, I would make a seating chart so I knew where everyone was in the class. Then I was able to call on them by name and also write their name on the board if need be. It worked great! Rarely had any problems with the kids.

  4. Pingback: When Your First Year Teaching is Harder Than You Thought It'd Be | Teach 4 the Heart

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  6. I have a blog post people seem to enjoy on different ways to settle a class http://eslcarissa.blogspot.mx/2013/04/10-classroom-management-techniques.html I am shocked 1. that I forgot about this, 2. That no one else has commented with it.

    This was a big winner for many substitute teachers I had growing up!

  7. Linda, thank you so much. Love these suggestions and will implement it in my classroom.

  8. Linda, thank you so much. Love these suggestions and will implement it in my classroom.

  9. Cool! I thought I was the only one doing it!!! I have been doing this for few years now and it really works!!! I also add a rectangle for general class misbehavoiur ( sometimes it isn’t easy to know who is making the noise) and if I colour the space with +2 they get two extra exercises, if + 4, 4 more exercises and so on, the photo was of a VERY disruptive class I had last year…I forgot to tell you I teach English to 11-14 year olds in Italy

  10. Linda, thank you so much. Love these suggestions and will implement it in my classroom.

  11. Eric Collins on May 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm said:

    I’m not sure if the book on Assertive Discipline in the Classroom by the Canter’s is mentioned anyplace in this site, but would suggest it too. The crux of the above successes is being assertive with your students.
    Linda – great to see you for a moment this morning in church. This looks like a delightful site. I’ll mention it to other colleagues here at PCC.

  12. Thamk you. I would like you to help me please by an exchange of rmails. There is a terrible attitude among my students towards school snd myself.

  13. Anonymous on May 29, 2014 at 11:40 pm said:

    Depends on whether your administration and parents would support it. Many of our parents would be upset from the humiliation of it by doing something like that in front of the other students. Absurd I know but sad to say so many school administrators don’t want to upset parents these days….

  14. Heather on June 6, 2014 at 8:17 pm said:

    I think the tech savvy version of this is ClassDojo http://www.classdojo.com. It might take care of the juvenile aspect a bit because its techie and it uses avatars for the students. Also you can get a printable report to give the teacher or administration and notice trends, such as which classes are having behavior issues or which students are repeat offenders. You can also add in bonus points for positive behaviors.

  15. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  16. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  17. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  18. Anonymous on June 23, 2014 at 8:41 pm said:

    I use class dojo the same way. You can give the kids a number so it is not their name posted.

  19. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  20. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  21. Helen on July 3, 2014 at 5:43 pm said:

    I have found this to be very effective. I also use The Circle…! When the class are failing to stop talking and give me their attention, and I am just too weary to start clapping or calling for their attention, I go over to the board and start drawing a circle. If it joins up, they lose a minute of their play. There are several good things about this: firstly, I can take as long as I like to draw the circle. Second, once the children get used to it, they start urgently shushing each other as soon as I pick up the board marker. I can also choose to except some children from the class punishment (which is always a last resort). At my last school I only joined the circle once; in the most difficult Supply job I had, I drew about 4 circles in a row but it worked and I got the class under control. I wrote the cumulative minutes lost on the middle of each circle. Basically, it works because I rarely have to follow through with the sanction!

  22. kishore kumar on August 5, 2014 at 10:52 am said:

    hi, iam teaching at the P.G level.. often come across with this issue… so i generally adopt method… like this… i wait and become silent … look towards the student.. so entire class focus turns towards the person … so he come to know he is the culprit… so adjusts him/herself…. …
    with regards…

  23. Karen on August 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm said:

    I teach middle school and I use this method. However, instead of writing the names on the board, I hand the students a clipboard and have them sign their name.

  24. Kim Ket. on August 11, 2014 at 11:40 am said:

    I taught 9th grade English for eight years. I used this method, and it worked beautifully!

  25. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  26. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  27. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  28. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  29. In my opinion, it is a practical idea which I will try in my class, thank you!

  30. The only thing with class dojo, is you have to keep it projected on a screen/board so they can see it.

  31. got 43 pupils in my class,,,dont really have much problem…bt the kids do really talk a lot,,,will try this…

  32. got 43 pupils in my class,,,dont really have much problem…bt the kids do really talk a lot,,,will try this…

  33. actually I just break into song dance rap; anything out of the ordinary works with “kids” of all ages because you are doing the unexpected. I find that the writing on the board isnt very effective because when you give out the assignments they are done half hardheartedly. my goal is not to even address the talking or the unruly behavior. So when they are acting up and I stop my lesson and ‘do my thing’ they get the hint and stop the behavior..works for me and Ive been a teacher for 20 years. If there are still a few who persist I speak with them after class and together we come up with a plan. I believe that students as in life should suffer their own consequences and figure for themselves where they are going wrong. I only resort to more direct measures if it continues

  34. Anonymous on August 13, 2014 at 10:43 am said:

    Gain SS attention by doing your classes interesting enough. Talk to the leader and persuade her or him to pay attention to classes. Explain the benefits of being well-educated and knowledgeable in this real world. I always do that and I have never had problems of discipline with my SS. I was taught that we should treat SS as human beings rather than robots. Humanistic Approach. Teach your SS that is not easy to be there for them.

  35. got 43 pupils in my class,,,dont really have much problem…bt the kids do really talk a lot,,,will try this…

  36. kathleen on October 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm said:

    I do this, but have been running into some issues. I’m not always able to get to the board without stopping my lesson. I’m a music teacher and am often demonstrating things on instruments or modeling something I want the students to do, so it can become a disruption. Also, as a teacher new to this urban middle school, I often am met with a “that’s not fair because everyone else is talking” response. Any advice??

    • Yes, I would get arguments when I first implemented this, too. What I did was try to respond quickly and move on. And to respond with something that basically said you need to worry about yourself. For example, “It’s very simple. You chose to talk, so you received a warning. Let me worry about everyone else.” Also, I’m actually working on a post about some misconceptions we have about how things should be fair…….so watch for that in a couple weeks :)

      As for getting to the board without stopping your lesson, that can be challenging, but what you want to try to do is just keep talking (or singing or whatever you’re doing) as you walk to the board and write down the name. If you can’t at that moment, maybe come up with some sort of modification. Maybe just say, “Elizabeth, that’s a warning” and then write it down when you have a moment…..Hope that helps….

    • Oh I have to add one more thing….Another great way to respond is just to say, “You’re not in trouble. It’s just a warning.” This normally helps lower defenses & help them realize it’s not the end of the world…. while still maintaining that they ARE receiving a warning and need to change their behavior.

  37. Janice on October 31, 2014 at 9:38 pm said:

    what about younger grades, like second grade?

  38. Ok, somehow I was not able to finish that statement. So when kids come to my room with such a lack of self control it takes up a lot of time taking names and then dealing with the crying. So classroom teachers …please raise your expectations.

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