Tips and Tricks for Redirecting Off-Task Behavior

What’s Here

Getting students to pay attention and follow along during instruction is a critical part of classroom management; after all, what’s the point of having a great lesson when kids are off task? On this page, you’ll see several videos which show you how to keep children on task through non-verbal correction and signals that don’t interfere with the momentum of your lesson.

About the Videos


I’ve included 3 videos on this page that are produced by Teach Like a Champion. I first heard about Doug Lemov’s work through a blog post (Miss Teacha’s book review of the Teach Like a Champion book.) I watched the videos on YouTube and thought they demonstrated some excellent techniques for responding to misbehavior. I’m incredibly picky about which instructional videos I feature on this site (hence there are VERY few), but I felt these were extremely consistent with my own philosophy. I have not read Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion and so I can’t comment on it’s usefulness. But the videos? Superb.

It’s my understanding that the videos are filmed in urban private and charter school classrooms (primarily in New York and other areas of the northeast).  If you teach in a different community, you might find that the teaching styles are bit more regimented than what you’re used to. However, the techniques you’ll see below are often very effective in high-poverty classrooms, and I think the basic principles they underscore are relevant to all teachers.

Redirecting Kids Without Interrupting Your Lesson

It’s easy to lose momentum during instruction when you have to stop to correct misbehavior. One of the best ways to redirect off task behavior is with non-verbals, either a look or a specific hand gesture. If that doesn’t work, the next option is to redirect students privately. This can be done by whispering a direct correction to the child or by addressing the behavior anonymously (“I hear talking and I need you to listen.”)  Stopping the entire class to wait specifically for one or two students is the most extreme redirection technique and should be used sparingly, but there ARE ways to do it that don’t humiliate kids or cause them to give you attitude back.

Check out the first 40 seconds of the video below to see how one teacher uses non-verbal redirection. The rest of the video shows other teachers correcting privately and publicly.

I watched this video five times and I still don’t think I caught all the different hand gestures that Colleen, the first teacher, used. She wordlessly tells kids: put your hands down because I’m not taking questions, I see that you have something to say but I’m not ready to call on you yet, look at the person speaking, keep your hands folded on your desk, and many other important messages that teachers too often convey verbally. Keep in mind that for this to work in your classroom, you need to teach the hand signals to your students like any other routine (model, practice, reinforce). Colleen doesn’t have to verbally correct her students because she’s already taught them how to respond to specific hand gestures.

Self-Interrupting

One of the most subtle ways to communicate to students that you expect them to stay on task while you’re teaching is to pause when students misbehave: interrupt yourself mid-sentence and give a firm, direct stare at the student who is not meeting the expectation. (I model how I do this in The Cornerstone Pro-Active Behavior Management Webinar.) No words are exchanged, and the student is not singled out by name. As soon as the student makes eye contact with you, there’s a good chance he or she will stop and you can continue your sentence.

This is something I like to do the first time a student goes slightly off task during my lesson. It reinforces the fact that I expect students to remain silent with their eyes focused on me while I’m talking. Doing this once or twice during the first few minutes of instruction prevents more severe misbehaviors later on. If you’ve already got multiple kids playing around or being disruptive, you’ll probably need to choose a more direct technique, but this is a GREAT pro-active one. Watch the kindergarten teacher in the video below demonstrate what she calls “Strong Voice”:

Notice how she’s not giving him any attitude, just staring directly at him. She interrupted herself mid-sentence, not at a natural pause in conversation, so that it’s very obvious she stopped for a reason. The whole thing happens so quickly that the other students don’t even take their eyes off the teacher–they stay engaged and the off task child isn’t embarrassed.

Want to see another example? Here’s a first grade teacher using this technique:

More Techniques for Keeping Kids On-Task

I’ve created an entire web seminar series to help you make the most of every moment with your students! In the second session, Consistent Procedures, I share with you how to get kids to pay attention and follow along. I model how to conduct the self-interrupt, and how to create a demeanor and teaching style that command aut-ority and positive energy so that students will listen when you talk. In the Instructional Routines session, I share techniques for keeping all students actively engaged during whole-class and small group lessons, as well as during hands-on activities and cooperative learning projects.

Want to know more about The Cornerstone Pro-Active Behavior Management Webinar? Check out the overview video or sample pages of the webinar note-taking/summary guide here on the Webinars page.

Cornerstone Cross-Reference

Find even MORE lesson resources in The Cornerstone book and eBook! Book-exclusive content includes:

Ch. 25: Teaching Techniques That Minimize Off-Task Behavior
*How variety and creativity in lesson implementation make the difference: NINE pages of tips to help you keep your kids engaged WITHOUT spending hours designing perfect lessons and activities!

Ch. 26: Making the Most of Every Moment
*Guidelines for giving clear directions: how to get your kids’ FULL attention through special signals and ‘magic words’
*How to get students actively involved in your instruction and ensure equitable participation
*Teaching kids when and how to use choral response, and when to use individual responses
*How to maintain control during class discussions and instruction (without yelling or repeating yourself)
*Tips for eliciting student responses: when to call on low kids and when to call on high kids
*Handling the children who always want to be called on (and those who never do)
*How to support students’ answers and teach them to support one another, as well (instead of groaning and getting impatient)
*Ideas for supportive responses to wrong answers, off-topic responses, and “I forgot”
*Transition tips for between lessons and lesson components

Ch. 27: Hands-On and Cooperative Learning
*Inexpensive ways to get (and make) hands-on materials
*Organizing, distributing, and collecting materials and manipulatives
*Keeping kids on task with manipulatives: introducing routines and distinguishing between using and playing with materials
*3 guidelines to help you determine when to use cooperative groups
*Partner work vs. group work, and how to pair students up according to your purpose
*Managing cooperative work: teaching and reinforcing expectations, monitoring noise level, ‘jump start’ groups that are stuck, and getting your students’ attention when time is up
*A systematic approach to cooperative learning: assigning group jobs and/or leaders
*Solving social problems during group work: teaching respect and support, and what to do when cooperative learning just doesn’t work

Ch. 28: Time Management for Kids
*8 tips for teaching kids to use their time wisely, including the use of a ‘When Finished’ sign and ‘Not Finished Folders’
*Planning for fast finishers and slow workers: handling students’ workload needs and work rates on an individual basis (without losing your mind or creating extra work for yourself)
*Logical consequences for students who don’t get work done
*How to help the 6 types of time-management-challenged kids (The Brainiac, The Christmas Tree Kid, The Overly Unfoundedly Confident, The Dawdler, The Slow Processor, and the Perfectionist)

Now What?

Visit the main Behavior Management page
Determine how to meet the needs of your most challenging kids on the Individual Behavior Plans page
Explore a fun and simple whole-class behavior management plan on the The Bead System page
Check out another whole-class management plan on the World’s Easiest Token System page
Visit the main Routines and Procedures page
See how to help kids transition in and out of the classroom on the Arrival/Dismissal Routines page
Learn how to set up predictable daily routines on the Bathroom, Hall, and Water Fountain page
Create an efficient system for managing paper procedures on the Passing Out/Collecting Papers page
Read the blog post ‘Rewarding Kids in the 21st Century’ to find out how to motivate your students
Get tips for working with at-risk youth on the High-Poverty Schools page

More Behavior Management Resources

Follow Angela Watson’s Teaching Ideas’s board Behavior Management on Pinterest.

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Check out the free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment