4 Easy Guidelines To Calling On Students While Eliminating Rudeness, Disruptions, And Calling Out

blooming daisyThe way you call on your students when they raise their hand can have a strong impact on learning and behavior.

But the truth is, many teachers get it wrong.

They call on students in whatever way feels natural and end up causing resentment and a nagging perception of unfairness. They discourage rather than encourage participation and frustrate both those who raise their hand properly and those who impatiently wriggle and writhe for attention.

They bring stress and tension to an area that can and should be a source of healthy and polite give-and-take interaction.

Although teaching students how to raise their hand is important, and should be included in the classroom management-related lessons you cover the first week of school, it is your behavior in response to hand-raising that most determines its effectiveness and ease of use.

What follows are four easy guidelines that will eliminate disruptive, call-on-me-first behavior while ensuring that every student feels safe, valued, and encouraged to participate.

1. Wait first.

Your first step upon noticing hands in the air is to wait. Pause and allow every student an opportunity to think through the current topic. Many students need a moment to formulate their responses or rehearse how best to pose their questions and ideas.

Waiting also lowers the stress in the room. It does away with the notion that your students must compete to be heard. They have the luxury of time to think before raising their hand, removing the need to jump in and blurt out whatever comes to mind.

Furthermore, it breaks the habit many students develop of asking a question or sharing an answer the moment you look in their direction. “But I did raise my hand!” Finally, it gives you time to choose the right students to participate given the situation, the context, and your goals for the lesson.

2. Make eye contact.

Before deciding who to call on—which may or may not be a student with their hand up—take a moment to make the briefest eye contact with those who are raising their hand and volunteering to participate. If it’s the entire class, scanning will suffice.

They need to know that you see them and that you’re not making your decision based on who is closest, most aggressive, or within your immediate field of vision.

Even the youngest students readily accept not being selected first—or at all—as long as they know that you see them and know that they have an answer or response. A pleasant smile and a thank you of acknowledgement when needed also helps in this regard.

3. Select only those following the routine.

One of the keys to creating an environment where all students feel safe to participate is to only call on students who are demonstrating proper hand-raising etiquette. So unless they’re quiet and sitting down in their seats with their hand straight up in the air, you will not call upon them—ever, ever, ever.

Again, it’s important that they notice you looking at them and then turning to choose only those students who are following the hand-raising routine you modeled in the beginning of the school year.

By following this simple guideline you’ll do away with aggressive hand-waving, groaning, and straining behavior.

4. Enforce disruptions.

If a student rises up in their seat and waves their arms about, there is no reason to enforce a consequence. Following the steps above will eliminate such behavior. If, however, they call out or pound their hand on their desk to get your attention, then it becomes a rule-breaking disruption.

It’s best, though, not to enforce a consequence right away. Call on someone else. Wait until you’re ready to move on with a new question or topic before leaning in and saying, “You have a warning because you broke rule number two.”

Waiting until the moment passes before enforcing a consequence protects the flow of discussion and enables you to handle the situation gracefully and without confrontation.

Calming, Settling, Freeing

If you’re a regular reader and subscriber of Smart Classroom Management then you know that effective classroom management is about action.

What you do is infinitely more important that what you say. If your students are blurting out answers and interrupting your class, if they’re lunging out of their seats to get noticed and crowding out quieter students, then instead of reminding, threatening, or testily asking them to stop, take a step back.

Breathe. Follow the simple guidelines above.

It is the way you call on your students, after all, that is the key to encouraging polite participation. It is the key to grooving the habit of patient listening, well-thought-out responses and opinions, and a pleasant stream of dialogue between you and your students.

It is the key that draws all students into your ring of safety—calming, settling, activating the hum and thrum of engaged minds.

Freeing every student to bloom and discover their unique voice.

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13 Responses to 4 Easy Guidelines To Calling On Students While Eliminating Rudeness, Disruptions, And Calling Out

  1. LJ March 1, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Thank you very much for your articles – I enjoy reading them every week!

    I just wondered what you think of the ‘no hands up’ strategy (children are given ‘thinking time’ after a question but do not raise their hands because everyone is expected to think of an answer and the teacher just picks someone). It is mentioned a lot in relation to formative assessment.

    Do you think it’s beneficial for children to raise their hands in response to a question or is it good to have ‘no hands up’ so that anyone can be asked (obviously it needs to be ok for them to ask for more thinking time!)? I am undecided!

    • Michael Linsin March 1, 2014 at 11:54 am #

      Hi LJ,

      I like the no-hands-up strategy a lot and will be writing about it in a future article. I think a combination of both, depending on the lesson/situation, is a good way to go.


  2. Chuck March 1, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Great article!

    I have a question that you might be able to address in a future blog if you want to. This year I had a lot of PD meetings I had to attend and I had to get subs frequently. When I returned I saw some of my classes did not get the best reports. A couple mentioned that the sub did not treat them with respect and told them to ‘shut up’. This put me in a difficult position of wanting to hold them accountable for their behavior but acknowledging their concerns and agreeing that such behavior is not acceptable for a sub either. It was especially difficult when the sub didn’t provide specific names of students who were responsible forcing me to enforce a whole class consequence. How do you deal with the complications in classroom management that come from sub days?

    • Michael Linsin March 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

      Great question, Chuck! Thank you. I will definitely put it on the list of future topics.


  3. Jessica March 1, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    Thanks for the article! I like the no-hands strategy and have been using it in my classroom, but am sometimes wanting to see more students with their hands up. Do you have a suggestion on how to encourage more students to raise their hand?

    • Michael Linsin March 1, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      Hi Jessica,

      It’s a matter of students feeling both safe and comfortable enough to participate and successful whenever they do. I wrote about this extensively in Chapter 10 of Dream Class, but will be sure and cover it here on the blog in future articles.


  4. Jeanette March 3, 2014 at 3:33 am #

    In addition to LJ’s “no-hands” suggestion, I’d like to suggest a technique that I think is very useful:
    using mini-whiteboards to get students to answer.
    By asking students to first think on their own about an answer (think), then discuss the answer with their neighbour (pair) and write their answer on a mini-whiteboard (which they then hold up), the teacher has the luxury of choosing the most interesting answers without anybody losing face. An easy and cheap way of getting mini-whiteboards is putting a simple piece of white paper in a plastic sheet. Write on it with a whitboard marker (or even a highlighter) and erase with a piece of felt or an old (but clean ;)) sock. Good luck!

  5. sue September 17, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    I read your classroom management book and was very pleased with the fact that your information was easily absorbed in small chapters. It gave me the opportunity to rethink about the methods I was already using and adapt them to your style. Although during the day I question myself as to whether or not I’m using both our methods to the best of my ability to achieve success days. It’s that drive home at the end of the day knowing you made a difference that means so much.

    Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin September 17, 2016 at 11:07 am #

      So glad to hear, Sue. Thanks for your comments.


  6. Judy Smith September 17, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    I had a class of 6th graders that were calling out and not allowing a substitute to teach recently. How would you handle a class where the substitute reports that most of the class was off track. My classes are usually a dream thanks to your writings. Thanks again for your assistance.

    • Michael Linsin September 17, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      Hi Judy,

      I wrote an article on this topic not too long ago, but will cover it again in the future.