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Dealing with Monopolizing, Distracting and Withdrawing Behaviors

Issues to Consider

  • Disruptive behavior in the classroom is defined as repeated, continuous, or multiple student behaviors that prevent an instructor from teaching and/or prevent students from learning. (Akers, 1997)
  • What (or who) is a difficult student? A difficult student is anyone whose attitude or behavior prevents that student and others from learning.
  • Classroom management means establishing an environment that allows everyone to learn and participate freely.
  • Be extra firm on all matters the first day and week to set the "tone." ("Mean 'til Halloween") You can always be more flexible later, but it's hard to do the reverse.
  • Keep in mind those classmates who are uncivil, without consequences, become role models for other students.
  • Don't ignore the disruptive behavior. Act early and quickly. Otherwise, you can "lose control." (Not that you want all of it, but you want some control.)
  • Classroom management is an acquired skill.
  • Avoid becoming defensive and/or overly emotional.
  • No two classes are alike. Each class has a collective behavior or class personality.
  • Many problems can be avoided by being clear (in writing) regarding your expectations and policies on the first day of class and by employing participation or "ground rules." Better yet, have the students develop the "ground rules" so that they feel more ownership of them.
  • It is the instructor's responsibility to call a stop to student behaviors that endanger themselves or others.
  • Try not to take poor behavior personally.
  • Refer students with psychological, emotional, academic or financial trouble to the appropriate counselors. You can be empathetic but becoming a student's counselor is inappropriate.
  • Know all of your students' names. Students are more likely to cause problems if they feel anonymous in the class.
  • Utilize ten minute breaks every fifty minutes or a fiveminute break every twenty-five minutes.
  • Keep regular office hours and/or invite students to email you with questions and concerns. This can prevent many problems.
  • Seek feedback from students. Schedule a Small Group Instructional Feedback Session (SGIF) mid-semester by calling the CTE.

Suggestions for Dealing with Monopolizers and/or Domineering Students

They can overpower the group and hold it hostage. Getting the group back, without alienating the student(s) or disrupting the flow of learning, is key. Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Have the students develop class ground rules on the first or second day of class.
  2. Prior to developing ground rules, ask students how many of them have attended a class where one or more students' behaviors ruined the class. List the types of behaviors they found disruptive on a flip chart or the board and have students refer to these behaviors list as they develop a list of ground rules. (Pike and Arch, 1997)
  3. Have two or three students act as "process observers" for a day. At the end of class or at the onset of the next class, have them report their observations in terms of class participation, etc., and what suggestions they might have for improvement.
  4. State at the beginning of class that there will be limited time for sharing viewpoints, etc. Keep in mind that this may thwart any discussion.
  5. Say: "That's an interesting point. Now let's see what other people think." (
  6. Give the monopolizing individual attention during breaks or before and after class. (See the link in number 5 above)
  7. While still appearing to listen to the monopolizer, prepare for the next activity and begin handing out papers. This signals to the student that you are ready to move on to another topic or activity. Be careful however that this doesn't become a habit. Students who rarely respond in class may feel slighted and/or embarrassed if they are sharing something and your attention is elsewhere.
  8. Interject with a summary when students go off on a tangent and ask others to speak. (Silberman, 1996)
  9. Take advantage of the monopolizers' pauses. Using eye contact, thank them very much and direct a question to someone else, preferably in another area of the room. (Pike and Arch, 1997)
  10. Prior to asking a question, tell the students that you will be looking for 'X' number of hands before you select someone. And/or, when you pose a question, ask how many students have a response and call on someone whose hand is up.
  11. From time-to-time, suggest that only students who have not spoken answer a question addressed.
  12. On occasion, distribute a certain number of tokens or poker chips (e.g., 3) to all students and tell them that when they run out of poker chips, they cannot contribute for the remainder of the class session.
  13. You might tell the class that you have noticed that two or three students seem to participate much more than others and ask them for suggestions about what might be done to give all students a chance to participate. (McKeachie, 1994)
  14. If you speak to a student outside of class regarding their behavior, tell him/her that as much as you appreciate their input, it would be helpful if they could hold some of their comments until others have been heard. (McKeachie, 1994)
  15. If some students have a tendency to ask questions to get the class off track, designate a place on the board as the Parking Lot and list their questions there. Let them know that if there is time at the end, the questions will be addressed.
  16. Physically involve the monopolizer by giving him or her a task, such as posting group responses on flip chart paper or the board, distributing handouts, etc.
  17. If someone is monopolizing a small group, approach the group and squat down so that you are at eye level. Make eye contact with each group member and remind the group that they have "X" number of minutes left. Look directly at the group leader and say "Please cover these two points (name them) and try to ensure that everyone in the group has contributed." (Pike and Arch, 1997)

Suggestions for Dealing with Withdrawers and Inattentive Students

  1. Make eye contact with inattentive students.
  2. Stand near them from time to time, but don't hover.
  3. Let students know in advance that everyone will be called on to answer questions and participate in discussions.
  4. Write every student's name on a 3x5 card. Shuffle the cards and have a student select a card. The person whose name is drawn answers the question, and then she/he gets to pick a card and the process repeats. You may need to remind students that in the workplace they will be asked questions on a regular basis and will be expected to respond.
  5. Have a policy that students rotate seats periodically. Have those sitting in the back move to the front and all others move back a row. Research shows that students sitting in the front of class tend to be more involved and get better grades.
  6. Keep it interesting. Change teaching strategies from group discussion to individual written exercises or a videotape. (
  7. Give strong positive reinforcement for contributions.
  8. If a student appears shy, make a point of getting to know him/her during breaks. You might even ask the student a question about what is being discussed in class. If you are impressed with the response, you might ask if he/she would be willing to share this insight with the class after break.
  9. For paired work, pair a shy or introverted student with a moderately outgoing student versus a dominant student.
  10. On the first day of class, find out what special interests or hobbies students have and call upon the quiet students for comments in their area of expertise, as appropriate. (McKeachie, 1994)
  11. Ask the class to write "One-Minute Papers" and ask the inattentive students to share theirs out loud.

Suggestions for Dealing with Distracters and Socializers

Examples of distracting or social behavior include holding side conversations on a chronic basis, reading the newspaper, packing up early and/or rustling papers, etc. Suggestions for dealing with this behavior are as follows:

  1. Approach student(s) quietly and discreetly after class, preferably outside of the classroom.
  2. When talking with a disruptive student privately, focus on what you observed and how his/her behavior affects you and the other students.
  3. In writing, be very clear regarding behaviors that you will not tolerate and review these at the onset of the semester
  4. Stand near the students who are holding sideline conversations.
  5. Don't embarrass students who are talking and/or assume their discussion isn't related to what is being discussed in class.
  6. Ask their opinion on topics being discussed. (
  7. Ask talkers if they would like to share their ideas or ask them if they need clarification on a particular concept. (See the link in #6 above)
  8. Standing near the talkers, ask a nearby participant a question so that the discussion is near them. (See the link in #6 above)
  9. Make eye contact with the students.
  10. Lower your voice. This causes the socializers to become more obvious in contrast and other students may ask them to be quiet. (Pike and Arch, 1997)
  11. As a last resort, stop and wait. (See the link in #6 above)
  12. Try long dramatic pauses. When they stop talking say "Thank you" and move on.
  13. Direct intervention and public embarrassment are strictly last resort and usually backfire. (Nilson, 1998)
  14. Reserve some important points or classroom activities (i.e., quizzes, One-Minute Papers, writing exercises, distributing study guides or important handouts, etc.) until the end of class to minimize the early packing up behavior. (Nilson, 1998)
  15. End class on time. If you frequently let students out early, they will begin packing up before the class is over.


McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips. Lexington: D.C. Health and Co., 1994. Print.

Pike, B., and Dave Arch. Dealing with Difficult Participants. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/ Pfeiffer, 1997. Print.

Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. Print.

Nilson, L.B. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Bolton: Anker Publishing Co., 1998. Print.

East Bay AIDS Education Training Center. "Difficult Behavior in the Classroom." Faculty Development at Honolulu Community College. Web. 6 May. 2010.

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