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Attending to Sideline Conversations

Even though sideline conversations may be related to the topic, they can still make it difficult for those around them, and the instructor, to focus. The following are suggestions for addressing this common behavior:

  • Maintain your composure. As much as you might want to say something out of anger or frustration, keeping your composure will keep you from losing credibility with the other students.
  • Keep in mind that wherever you are is the front of the room, so move around. Move closer to the students talking, and as soon as they stop talking, instantly move away to reinforce their behavior.
  • Rather than warning particular students, consider a general word of caution to the entire class, (e.g., "We have too many conversations at the moment; let's all focus on the same topic.").
  • Try a long, dramatic pause. If a dramatic pause doesn't work, say something general like "I really think everyone should pay attention to this because ..." or " I am having difficulty concentrating while there is talking and your classmates might be as well, so please wait until the break or share your conversation with the rest of us."
  • Address the behavior as soon as possible. Delaying your response may suggest that you are condoning the behavior.
  • If the problem persists, tell the disruptive student(s), preferably during the break or after class, to make an appointment to see you.


"Dealing with Disruptive Classroom Behavior: Suggested Faculty Guidelines for Handling Classroom Disruption." Student Conduct. Butler U., 2008. Web. 11 Jan. 2008.

Nilson, L. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. 1st ed. Bolton: Anker, 1998. Print.

Reis, R. "Tomorrow's Professor Msg. #310 Handling Specific Disruptive Behaviors." Tomorrow’s Professor Mailing List. Stanford U., 2008. Web. Jan. 11 2008.

Sandler, B. "How to Handle Disruptive Classroom Behavior." Accessed January 11, 2008.

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