My new cohort of students (less than 15) are a specific group that can be highly talkative and don’t always pay attention when I’m teaching. I’ve tried some interactive learning games in the classroom and have been firm that disrupting others is not allowed. Other than being strict, all I can think of is something that keeps them on their toes. Any experienced academic can advise me?

  • Grade level / year of postsecondary? Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:58
  • @LukeSawczak college
    – user178335
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 0:16

2 Answers 2


A wee bit of interaction between students is probably ok: "What did she say?". But if it goes beyond the occasional and minimal there are two tricks you can use, neither of which is especially polite, but the students will get the idea, especially in a small class, I suppose.

First you can just stop speaking and turn to the class and wait for it to stop. Then say "Thank you" and return.

If it persists, and you can identify one of the disrupters, walk over to them, hand them the chalk/marker and ask them to continue the lecture at the board. This is embarrassing to an individual, of course, so use with caution.

The "hope" of the above strategies is that other students will apply suitable pressure on their peers. It might happen (or not).

But it is also possible that your lectures aren't doing what you think they are supposed to be doing and the students feel they could do fine without them. A more drastic solution, that works in many cases is a Flipped Classroom, in which you don't lecture at all, but depend on students to read/view the essential material between classes and use the face time to do interactive things and/or exercises/writing.

In a different context and for a different reason, I once convinced a group of students to pay attention (and improve their note taking) by spending the last few minutes of each lecture asking students to give me back their "take" on the most important idea(s) in the lecture just ended and I would confirm or not. You can ask this generally, asking for volunteers, or ask it of individuals. It might take them a bit to catch on, so a bit of patience might be needed.

I also have a worst case option that only applies if you are well respected by most, including the administration. And, I wouldn't have tried it pre-tenure. I once suggested to a group of students that they didn't seem interested in the topic (an important major course) and we could just agree that they would all fail the course and we could avoid all future lectures so they could get on with things that interest them more. As you expect this caused quite a stir, both among the students and the administration, but the outcome was very good, actually. I don't recommend this for general use and you need to be very careful before you try it. But students don't always recognize the consequences of their actions on their future success. It was a major wake-up for most of them.

  • 1
    "If it persists, and you can identify one of the disrupters, walk over to them, hand them the chalk/marker and ask them to continue the lecture at the board. This is embarrassing to an individual, of course, so use with caution." I am loath to contradict a much more experienced instructor than myself, but I want to note that as a student I would consider such a display of passive aggression to be embarrassing mainly to the instructor. If you have a problem with their behavior, tell them directly, tell them why, and if they don't stop, tell them what the consequences will be if they persist. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 14:33
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    @AdamPřenosil, I would also do that, but outside the classroom. I once had a "talking to" by my main mentor, but for a different reason. Very effective, but it was done in private.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 14:38
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    @AdamPřenosil I have seen Buffy's suggestion implemented as a student effectively when the right personalities are involved, and I wouldn't say it was embarrassing to the instructor nor would I consider it passive aggressive: it's just aggressively aggressive. But, I do think that it will be difficult to pull off by an inexperienced instructor especially if they're not really getting the respect of the students in the first place.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 15:52
  • @Janey, for what it's worth, I was once told that the students at Oxbridge could be very disruptive in lectures, snapping fingers (disapproval, I think) and shuffling feet (approval). I suspect, however, that those "lectures" were more for performance than for actual education. Perhaps someone with direct knowledge can comment on this. My information is over half a century old.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 16:19
  • Another passive-agressive move that works even if you don't have a board marker/chalk to hand over, is to ask the talker whether they could please repeat what they just said so that everyone in the classroom can hear it.
    – Bergi
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 2:00

Asking students to stop talking while you’re lecturing doesn’t have to be strict. It’s you making sure that the common purpose of the course can be achieved. Most students are in lecture because they want to learn the material and other students talking is distracting to them. As the lecturer you’re in a position of authority and most college students are disposed to behave well in class and respect your position. Because of this you can politely and directly address the issue. I’ve had success by either pausing the lecture and waiting for the talkative students to realize and quiet down, or loudly saying something like “Alright, let’s get focused back on class.”

I’ve had success with both of these and doing this once usually curtails the issue for the semester. However, if after doing this once or twice you continue to have issues you should talk with the offending students outside of class or over email and say something like “Talking in class is distracting to other students and interferes with their learning, please don’t do it.” If things continue to be a problem after this, you’ll have to escalate the issue, talking to your director of undergraduate studies or department chair is probably the best next step.

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