How to Turn Classroom Distractions Into Engagement Tools


Distraction is inevitable - at home, at work, and in the classroom. This blog post offers suggestions for how to transform five common classroom distractions into engaging, academic materials.

When Life Gives You Distractions…

As a teacher, one of the most frustrating common classroom occurrences is when you're in front of your students, ready to deliver a carefully-crafted, engaging lesson plan, and look up to see a sea of distracted faces. If this sounds like a typical Monday, check out these tips for how to turn common classroom distractions into engagement tools. Because sometimes you have to go with the flow instead of swimming against the tide.

Students distracted in the classroom

1. Fidget Spinners

It was the trend that swept the nation, taking over the hands of youth everywhere… fidget spinners. They might no longer be at the very peak of their popularity but, like cockroaches, you just can't completely get rid of them. Instead of confiscating left and right, doing your best to stamp out the issue, you can make fidget toys work for you, no matter which subject you teach. You can use them to teach physics, focusing on rotational energy. You can create graphs and charts based on the length of time different spinners can spin for. If you're an English teacher, you can assign your students a persuasive essay about whether or not there's a place for fidget spinners in the classroom. The idea here is that you encourage your students' natural curiosity about a fun new toy and use it to promote learning. This will apply no matter the fad, whether it's Silly Bandz, slime, or beanie babies.

2. Mobile Devices

Okay, let's address the elephant in the room. There is no more persistent distraction in today's classroom than mobile phones. They're ubiquitous and, frankly, infuriating. It seems like half of a teacher's job these days is fighting with students over their cell phones. But we all know that these devices aren't going anywhere, so… what do we do? Our philosophy? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Just make it educational. There are many conveniently available online learning technologies these days that allow students to use their devices toward their education. Some great options include:

  • The app, which offers a content library of over 70,000 lessons and quizzes for all grade levels
  • Poll Everywhere, which allows you to use phones as a student response system
  • Kahoot, where students can take quizzes collaboratively

Students using mobile devices in the classroom

3. Chit-Chat

Other than cell phones, you probably notice students becoming distracted most often by one thing: each other. Unfortunately, this is one issue that can't be fixed by confiscating. After all, you can't get rid of your own students. Instead of fighting your students' social instincts, harness their natural desire to interact with other by assigning lots of group work and projects. Let them fill out worksheets in pairs. Hold lively classroom discussions about relevant topics. After all, learning social skills is just an important part of school as academic information. Why not teach both at once?

Students distracted by chit chat in the classroom

4. Chewing Gum

Some schools ban chewing gum, but those who don't experience an epidemic of gum trading and chewing noises in the classroom. Have you noticed gum can be like currency among kids and teens? So why not go along with that impulse? Teach a lesson on economics and trade using gum as the valuable resource. Illustrate how trade has happened throughout history by having your students recreate bartering with what they already hold dear to themselves. Just remind everyone to throw their used gum out in the trash can. The custodians will be grateful.

5. Noise Outdoors

One final classroom distraction? The entire outside world. Okay, so that might sound a little overwhelming. But noise from outdoors inevitably filters into the classroom and distracts your students. Sounds like construction, street traffic, animals, and weather can bring your students' attention away from your lessons and straight toward the window. One idea for how to handle this is to teach a lesson on meditation in the classroom. Your students will be thrilled, thinking you're just letting them sleep while, in reality, you're teaching them the valuable skill of filtering out distractions to focus and practice mindfulness. Once your students have become comfortable with the skill of meditating, you can ask them to apply it every time a truck goes honking by. Check out this blog post for more information on how a meditation practice can transform your classroom.

Which of these tips do you plan to implement in your classroom? Let us know on Twitter @studydotcom.

For ideas for classroom activities, lesson plans, and games, check out's Teacher Edition.

By Daisy Rogozinsky
December 2018
teachers student engagement

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