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Learning Environment Tips and Tricks

Handling Disruptive Elementary Students

There are some simple things you can do to keep these kids on task.

He’s the student that causes you to lose sleep: Your own personal Dennis the Menace. He’s also someone’s kid, who is sweet (at times) and certainly deserves your best. After all, you’re his teacher, and teaching him to cooperate and go along with the program is also part of your mission – along with the reading, mathematics, and social studies curriculum.

Dealing with these kids can certainly exhaust you and compromise learning for the rest of the class, but there are several ways you can work around this behavior.

Find the root of their issues

Kids inherently want to please their teachers; the positive strokes can really boost a child’s morale. But if you have a student with special needs, such as ADHD, or a kid with issues at home, often they can’t help being a distraction in class. Talking out of turn, not staying on task, cracking jokes, or just downright stirring up the class might be side effects of whatever deeper problem they might be grappling with.

Learn more about your student. Are there special needs or learning delays and disabilities to consider? Is their home front in good shape or dysfunctional? Are there other family issues to consider, such as a parent illness? Knowing what’s going on with the disruptive student can be helpful in getting the kid under control in your class.

Give the student a job

In her third grade classroom, Laura Gage of Hilliard city schools has a morning jobs folder that includes student jobs such as weather watcher and calendar kid. “These jobs are super popular, and kids who are often off task are perfect for these because it builds their confidence and helps keep them on task,” she says. Other jobs include book nook monitor and office runner. “Having little jobs like these is very important to them and makes them feel special. These are very simple things that really help.”

Roll with it

If your disruptor is the class clown, experts advise letting loose with a laugh rather than choking it back. Acting out might be a cover for insecurities or academic issues, or a way for the student to feel accepted among peers. If your student can’t sit still, place their desk at the back of the classroom so that their fidgeting won’t distract the other kids. However, make sure you’ve got his attention, and if necessary, adapt the lesson to include him.

Put students in teams

Gage’s class is divided into community teams where they try to earn the “tabletop trophy” for the day as a reward for cooperative behavior. “Instead of me monitoring them, the kids keep each other on track by making good choices and helping each other,” she says. “Groups can also earn extra iPad time by working together.”

Record the day

A teacher in Iowa once had a class with 15 disruptive students, and she was at the end of her rope. After checking with the building principal, she would announce every morning that she was video recording the class and the recordings would be available to their parents, teachers, and principal. “I never had anymore trouble and I never had to use the recordings,” reports Shirley Woodruff, as quoted in the online article, “Classroom Disruptors!”

Don’t flip out

Admittedly, a disruptive student can fry your last nerve, but it’s really important to not get unglued. Keeping your cool helps keep the classroom under control, and yelling only adds fuel to the fire. If a student just won’t behave despite repeated requests, then send them to the office – it will help both of you cool down.


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