How does one teach in a traditional but unruly class of 35 studentsI have problems in teaching a class of 35 naughty students, all age 13.  They are more interested in getting notes rather than...

How does one teach in a traditional but unruly class of 35 students

I have problems in teaching a class of 35 naughty students, all age 13.  They are more interested in getting notes rather than listening or discussing in the English class.


Expert Answers
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have similar problems with my seniors who think that they can't possibly fail even if they are all passing gas and entertaining one another in class.  My class is 24 and ALL BOYS!!

My plan of attack?  (Giggle)  I chose one or two parents a week to contact about the behavior.  Then, the students couldn't gang up on me about calling all of their parents and getting them in trouble.  The others started behaving better since they didn't want the dreaded phone call.  In addtion, I contacted coaches.  Most of my boys play sports, so I started recruiting the coaches' help since the grades of these kids were suffering and their eligibility was at stake for even trying out much less playing as seniors on the team.

In addition, I've put in place a seating chart which I never do for seniors, but if they want to act like freshmen, I'll treat them that way. 

You must also lay down the rules.  When my students started passing gas and giggling like little girls about it, I started sending them in the hallway.  Whatever they missed (quiz, notes, etc.) they weren't allowed to make up.  It hurts them to misbehave since their grades are effected.  If they didn't stop this ridiculous behavior, I sent them to see the administrator. 

Beside all of that, you've got to keep them busy from bell to bell.  I always plan more than we can possibly do in our 90 minutes together.  I have a bell-ringer that is up when they come in.  From the tardy bell, they have 1.5 minutes to complete it during which time, I take roll.  We discuss the bell ringer (usually a sentence full of grammar errors which needs to be corrected or diagrammed).  From there, I divide my time with them in 20-minute segments of reading aloud, discussing, groupwork activities, grammar lessons, role playing, review games, or silent reading since my kiddos are required to earn AR (accelerated reading) points.  There's not much down time, and that cuts out a lot of the silly behavior.

Now, with fewer than four full months of school left, they are finally acting more like gentlemen than roughnecks.  Most of them are passing by the skin of their teeth.  I pray daily that they will graduate and find decent jobs to support themselves.

I hope some or all of this discipline plan can be used in your classroom. 

marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
How does one teach in a traditional but unruly class of 35 students

I have problems in teaching a class of 35 naughty students, all age 13.  They are more interested in getting notes rather than listening or discussing in the English class.


  I taught your age group at one time and had similar problems.  To combat the problem, I enacted a rule that there was to be no note passing or writing and anyone caught doing it would be given extra homework and their note destroyed.  I also told them that I would periodically search their desks, seize all notes, and destroy them.  The thought of my going through their personal things was the clincher!  The notes dwindled drastically and I had no problems the rest of the year!

As for the lack of interest and respect for you:  English normally a dry subject and hard for students to understand, listen to, and absorb.  You have to spice it up!  With the class I have this year, I've learned to be creative and come up with material that's not in the textbook.  We do crazy creative writing that always produces giggles from the girls and snickers from the boys!  They dig right in and we get some fantastic compositions.  Dictionary skills are accomplished by forming teams and having them race each other to look up their words, right them down, and be done before everybody else.  Grammar is done in teams as well.  I've learned to pair the students up in twos, putting a fast learner with a slow one.  Neither one of them can go check their work until both of them are done.  You'd be surprised how well this works!  They feed off each others' strengths and help each other in their weaknesses!  And, if they get done early, they get to have free time to read a book, or work in whatever subject they want.  Another strategy I use is to give breaks quite often, especially when the material they've been studying has been intense.  Ten minutes of going outside or to the Library helps them be refreshed for another one or two hours!

I'm passionate about the Language Arts, love to teach them, and I think my students pick up on my enthusiasm and catch it themselves!

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll take a different direction with this problem.  Most of the above answers have focused on activities and keeping the students active and busy, etc., and all that is essential.  My students pick up any handouts/study guides, whatever, on their way to their seats so they don't have down time and time isn't wasted passing things out, for example.  Procedures are vital, as are relevant lessons, etc.  And all of the above suggestions have been wonderful.

But having worked in youth care and with at-risk students for years, I know there's another side to managing a class.  It's not all about setting up class each day so they don't have a chance to act up, etc.  If that were the main idea we could just show movies everyday, since that's probably the most natural way to keep a class quiet.

Class behavior is in large part determined by low tolerances and high expectations.  And these must be established immediately on the first day of class.  Students can be handed a list of rules and expectations before they're even through the door the first day, and then told immediately where their seat is.  I would never teach a class in high school without a seating chart, and it is installed before anyone ever sits in a desk.  The rules and expectations are taught, or "pretaught" really, immediately.  Preteaching is vital.  The students must know exactly what is expected of them and what will not be tolerated.  Inevitably one student will test you.  You must follow through with whatever consequence your system has in place. 

The point is that behavior should be what you expect no matter how you set up a class.  Students behave because you insist on it, and there will be consequences if they don't.  A teacher shouldn't have to face the pressure of perfectly setting up every class every day so he/she doesn't have behavior problems.

Of course, this applies to the entire school system you're in.  A system should have social skills training for the students starting at a young age, for instance.  Something like the Boys Town model for social skills. 



marbar57 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Give the students topics to teach the class, and disrupt them, interrupt them, and generally cause confusion. have them try to teach different things to each other and have them make their own tests.

But, personally, why is note-taking now such a bad thing nowadays when it has worked for the best classes in the world? And my students all tell me they have teacher centered classes and take extensive notes at the best schools in the USA.

I can't believe a previous post of a teacher who destroys the notes of students. I just Skyped my students at Harvard and Princeton, and they told me most of their classes are strictly teacher-oriented and massive note taking skills are required. Cornell even invented a better system of notes through their Cornell method.


  I apologize if my interpretation of notes was off.  I took it to mean note passing, which is extremely disruptive, and which I have alot of in my class. 

I firmly believe in note taking if it involves jotting down important points given in teacher lectures or lessons and which can help later in studying for tests and in writing assignments.  Those kinds of notes are indispensable, entirely permissable, and encouraged!  Thank you for bringing it up!

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some great suggestions here. I had a similar class a few years ago and my first step (once I had worked out all else failed!) was to involve them. We had a discussion about why we were there and what we all wanted to get out of being in class. Rude/difficult responses were discussed with parents and student until they got to the needing to learn part. Then we agreeed class rules and thought about what we were interested in. I suggested topic titles and they helped select what each topic was. I then organised my teaching points using resources on that topic. Grammar exercises are still grammar if they are about basketball.

All students value some control in their learning and like to have a voice. At 13 they are malleable enough to respond to small freedoms and encouragement. Humour goes miles and consistency is key. I now agree classroom rules with every class I teach: they usually surround mutual respect, mutual preparedness resulting in mutual outcome - their learning and my sanity.

A last point. Are there really 35 naughty students or does it just seem that way? Divide and conquer by getting to know individuals will improve relationships on both sides.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is something that worked well, however, it was done several years ago and I know that students are different now: 

Students had reading time in which they could read high-interest books--along with the teacher--for a short period of time (at the beginning of class). A couple of times a week, they wrote a letter to a classmate about the book they were reading, and the classmate had to respond.

Now, at first the notes were superficial:  "I really like this story" or "This book is not that interesting."  But, when there was a book that one really liked, the others, after reading the comments, wanted to read it, too.  Then, we worked on writing more about what transpires with the characters, their conflicts, etc.  I also had the students write to me each week in their journals.  

This idea is one that I took from Nancy Atkins who wrote a book about teaching middle school students writing skills.  Many of her tips did work.  (I'm sorry I cannot remember the title)

Nevertheless, the worst thing you have to deal with is the crowding--35 in a classroom is ridiculous! 

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My method has always been to create VERY strict classroom rules with definite consequences, but balance that with a lighthearted classroom environment.  For example, one of my rules has always been that the students must have their butts in the seats when the bell rings.  If not, it's an immediate detention.  I have ALWAYS given a detention for that infraction, no matter what.

How do I combine a lighthearted classroom environment?  I present the example of laughing together about rules like this.  We turn it into a game, with kids seeing just how far they can go, . . . as I literally stand there with my stopwatch.  It also helps that I make it a goal to make the subject fun for the students.  Without a good connection between teacher and class, it is all that much harder to teach.

Consistent discipline, . . . just like with toddlers.  ; )

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you structure the discussions, you might have more luck.  I choose an interesting piece of literature and have students make a list of 5 to 7 thought-provoking questions as they read.  Then we put the desks or chairs in a circle and I give them all poker chips.  How many depends on the size of the class, and since yours is large I would suggest one each.  The students pass around a ball or something else they can hold, and only the person holding it can talk.  Others are warned and then removed.  As a student asks or answers a question, he or she puts his chip in the middle of the circle.  Once everyone has spoken, anyone can talk that has the ball.  This has been very successful for me because kids love to talk and share their opinions, and they respect and understand the campfire-style structure.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dear JeDaniels

This generation of millenial learners cannot be taught the traditional way, and that is prob. where the problem begins.

Millenials need to operate in three ways  a) independent research,  b) cooperative learning ands c) in rotations where they move from work station to work station in your classroom.

Just do whole class instructions the first 20-30 minutes of first period to explainn the "game plan" for the day, where you list ALL the goals of the day in a checklist.

Then, have one-three activities in 5 separate locations within the classroom. Each activity is either enrichment or remediation for the lessons.Time  them for 20nminutes each center, and give them a water break to then come back and continue

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I had a couple of tactics for this note-passing and disruptive behavior at the start of every term (having learned the hard way in terms past!) I decided I would start with every new class with an 'etiquette briefing' for the first ten minutes of their first English lesson. They had to write down my 'rules' and write a sort of pupil'teacher agreement summarizing them for homework. I drew attention to these disruptions before they started to head the students off at the pass. My rules for these included no note passing unless you were happy to come up and read it out to everyone, no flicking, pushing items of the desks of others,no interrupting and top guarantee the right of every student to learn without disruptive stress.

davidroberts1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

13-year old students are not too young to begin to take more responsibility for their learning. The more engaged they become in their learning, the less unruly they will be or, what used to appear as unruliness might now be evidence of their grappling with the "messy problems" presented in authentic learning units.

Middle school students are capable of becoming more self-directed in the learning process. Problem-based learning tasks can be effective ways of increasing student learning and guaranteeing its relative authenticity.

You might also begin or continue to differentiate your instruction to make sure your students are learning in the ways most appropriate to them.

Best of luck!

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Proactive approaches in meeting the students where they are might be more uplifting for both you and your students. Make  positive parental contact about the positive things kids are doing in class, instead of waiting and making a negative phone call. Active learning is a must. Brain research has shown that most minds can only be still and patient for a relatively short amount of time before a break is needed. Traditional 55 to 90 minute blocks extend beyond this time. Find out what types of lessons most interest the students, and then build lessons that meet both student needs and curricular needs. This might be out of your comfort zone, but teaching is about the kids anyway.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think all of these posts have been fairly strong.  I would concur that breaking the class into segments would be critical.  For example, instead of a 40 minute class period, perhaps devising activities which go for 8 minutes at a time with some built in time for transition would allow for smoother sailing.  At some point, I think that investigating collaborative opportunities for learning could also break some of the monotony, enhancing active learning and minimizing the disruption by putting it on them.  However, this is contingent on where you are in your curriculum, as well as where your building and administrators are in such an approach.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Echoing a number of the points made my different contributors, I would say having 5 minute discrete activities is an essential for any class like this. I would also try to play along with the state of play in the class - by this I mean give group work and introduce an element of competition between the groups - with races or whatever. You can identify the natural "leaders" and place them in charge of a small group, giving them the responsibility to get their group to complete the activity first. Having a prize as a bribe also works miracles and you may actually find that they learn something :-)

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is often amazing how well even the younger students respond to debate. Oftentimes, the class will come to a silence whilst everyone focuses on what one student has to say - particularly if the student has been asked his/her opinions on the actions or motivations of a certain character. Students are often curious to hear what various class personalities have to say on the matter, and then to offer an opinion themselves. Try a class, or group, debate?

booksnmore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Have you tried short (like a couple minutes) video clips, jokes, short "real" stories/anecdotes from life, etc.? It seems like sometimes the best way to teach is to become a storyteller. I know I listen better when the instructor tells me something in story form. I often use pair/share. When you ask a question have them turn to the person next to them and give an answer before looking for answers from the whole group. Then they're all accountable.

clstockdale80 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having taught in difficult teaching settings for the past five year, currently instructing on an American Indian reservation, I can give some short and simple advice. The "naughty" students need to have clearly defined boundaries and when they act in a way other than in line with those parameters, there need to be immediate consequences. This advice, is of course, in addition to the helpful solutions posted above. Good luck!

ggunkel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With difficulty. You shouldn't have 35 students in a class, especially if they are "general" students or lower. I had basic classes in the upper twenties and lower 30s, and the only way to keep them from total disruption is to give them plenty of hands on stuff. 2,3, even 4 worksheets or assignments per class periiod. A lot of grading involved, but that's what it takes. Plus review games, etc.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Find ways to keep the students active in the learning process, it is very difficult for a group of 13 year olds to sit and listen to a lecture type lesson. Look for ways to make them more involved in their own learning process. Also lok for contemporary authors and books for them to discuss with you and the class.

connorj | Student
How does one teach in a traditional but unruly class of 35 students

I have problems in teaching a class of 35 naughty students, all age 13.  They are more interested in getting notes rather than listening or discussing in the English class.


Try learning and then using Revelation Theory of Learning (RTL) in this class. The theory is free to use. You will need access to a computer in your class and either an LCD projector or $25 cable (RF Modulator/TV-ater) to project your computer through a TV.

It will enable you to present your material/lessons in a multi-sensory way which will significantly maintain your  students attention; thus, reducing discipline issues significantly and enhancing learning-ease for your students. You can learn more about this by Googling in quotations "Revelation Theory of Learning"

jannats-singh | Student

i am a student and may be able to help.some of the posts above were not good.some people have suggested punishing which,let me tell you,will only fill more hatred in the students' mind for you.

we have a teacher and she is the best because apart from teaching she also gets involved in our other talks which are not part of the lesson being taught.the children now treat her as someone more than a teacher.she has never punished us.but everyone obeys her and respects her.

you must have read the book 'to sir,with love'.it may inspire you.

please don't take anything mentioned above as an offense for anybody.i am only expressing my views.

thank you.

keller888 | Student

One thing to consider is to incorporate note taking, participation and behavior a part of their grade.  In the past I have had hard classes to manage as well.  If you require notebook check weekly or assign each student a 0-5 scale each day for participation, you can stress how paying attention in class, note taking and answering questions can either make or break their grade.  It can help you manage your classes because you can positively reward students who raise their hand and answer questions by saying "thanks for that answer Jane, you have full participation credit today".  It won't have an immediate impact, but after a few weeks if you stick to your policy, it may help your classroom management and keep students on task.

claremore | Student

I taught in an inner city school with all African-Americans as students. I was also the basketball coach. In my class day one; the classroom rules were reviewed and they signed a document that said they understood them. I never went left or right of these rules. I had rules; only write in blue or black ink, no printing, lots of short writing assignments(no more than one page), they had to have all work in by 800am no acceptions(real excuses were accepted but they were due the next day) . We had two way conversation every day. We read the newspaper and watched the news everyday during homeroom. We had many stand up and speak assignments. Special education student had their work modified so that they could be successful but the time restraints still applied for them. I refused to allow anyone to act out in my room without serious action being taken against them. I hardly wrote a person up but I would visit the home of any student who caused problems in my room. I demonstrated a strong devotion to the students and they were extremely loyal to me. We started to work the minute they hit the door and we worked the entire class period. Most of my classes were 45-55 students everyday. I allowed students to choose their seat on the first day of school and that would be their seat unless they had problems. At this point they would set in my chair and they must prove that they can return to their chair on probation for a week. 

kalcindy | Student

Hi!  I have a few ideas. I remember at that it was a challenge just going to school and trying to fit in. First, I would recommend not doing the same thing the same way every day. That way your students do not know what to expect, and also, they might even begin to look forward to class wondering what the next class's activities might bring? I had this really good piece of advice one time, and I really thrive on it. I teach more adult learners, but I would bet that it might work for your teens as well. It seems that their focus is to pass notes in an effort to communicate or avoid boredom (nothing personal) or just to go along with the perils of peer pressure. How about asking them to take a few minutes at the beginning of each class (<5); tell them to write on a piece of a paper whatever is on their mind, or if they intend to communicate with someone else, they can write their notes accordingly. At the end of that time, they can either throw their papers away (effectively calling this getting rid of what's on your mind, or getting rid of the "garbage" so to speak"), or giving their notes to their intended person they want to communicate with. This time frame will allow them to clear their minds for class, get their note-writing done ahead of time (which will free their minds to concentrate on class), and also let them know that you support their need to be adolescents. Everyone wins, and you can get onto class without anymore interruptions! Good luck! Cindy

nusratfarah | Student

Three things need to be done, according to me, in order to tackle such situation:

1) Involving and engaging the students to your class

2) Making a good preparation by- a) studying well so that no pupil can make you embarrassed with any question from the text that you can not answer, b) taking tips from other colleagues, c) always being ready for facing a rival-like attitude in the first class etc.

3) Being neither too retiring nor too strict, always going through a middle path.

tomasina100 | Student

A very good way to teach is the "give and take" method. Offer the students something fun, even if its something small it will work. When they see that there will be an immediate benefit they will respond positively! Trust me it works all the time

teacher34 | Student

Ohhh and focus in on the ones that WANT to learn and praise them...the rest of the kids will want to be apart of that!

teacher34 | Student

I put my notes on powerpoint presentations now. The kids love it. Also, I found some great websites to create fun games with them...jepardy, who wants to be a millionaire, are you smarter than a fifth grader. After specific chapters in ss we do projects and they can do them on with these games, they have a blast! keep it fun and group related or even ask them what they want to do to make learning more exciting. If at all fails, ask for a transfer to the lower grades! Good luck!



washia07 | Student
How does one teach in a traditional but unruly class of 35 students

I have problems in teaching a class of 35 naughty students, all age 13.  They are more interested in getting notes rather than listening or discussing in the English class.


I teach 9th grade English and most of the students are around age 14.  One thing I find helpful with maintaining their attention is to discuss topics of interest to them.  To introduce Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet I had the students complete two anticipation guides that included statements about young love, dating, and keeping secrets from one's parents.  To my pleasant surprise, the students LOVED this activity and we ended up having a very engaging and opinionated discussion for about 60 minutes.  My suggestion to you is to find out what interests them and try to relate the curriculum to their interests.  Good luck!

epollock | Student

To Marba57,

Thanks, and sorry about my misunderstanding. While authority ultimately rests with the teacher, the person asking the question could relinquish some responsibility and give it to the students to possibly have a more harmonious class.

epollock | Student

Give the students topics to teach the class, and disrupt them, interrupt them, and generally cause confusion. have them try to teach different things to each other and have them make their own tests.

But, personally, why is note-taking now such a bad thing nowadays when it has worked for the best classes in the world? And my students all tell me they have teacher centered classes and take extensive notes at the best schools in the USA.

I can't believe a previous post of a teacher who destroys the notes of students. I just Skyped my students at Harvard and Princeton, and they told me most of their classes are strictly teacher-oriented and massive note taking skills are required. Cornell even invented a better system of notes through their Cornell method.


cpbycroft | Student

What is the importance of the “wind” in the poem? in stoping in the woods on a snowy evening