Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

One student monopolizes class.

Student is showing off for classmates.

Sometimes a student shows off (or ostentatiously downplays) her knowledge to impress classmates, or clowns around to get laughs. While the intent may not be to challenge the instructor’s authority or disrupt the class, it may have that effect.


Respond immediately.

Talk to the student outside of class.

Respond immediately.

If a student behaves inappropriately in class, other students can quickly become irritated and disengage, or else follow suit. Thus, it's important to address the behavior immediately before a pattern is established. Ideally, a response should be calm but firm. Depending on the attitude of the student, sometimes a good-humored yet pointed comment is enough to steer the conversation back on course and send a clear message (e.g., "Well that was an interesting digression, but let’s get back to the subject at hand.") Sometimes just asking the student for evidence, clarification, etc., can discourage frivolous contributions and convey an intellectually serious tone. And sometimes it’s appropriate to (politely) interrupt a grandstander and redirect the conversation: "I’m going to cut you off there, Alice; I really want to hear from other people."

Talk to the student outside of class.

If your in-class response doesn't work, pull the problematic student aside to speak privately. Give the student the benefit of the doubt, and don’t presume to know her intent, while also clearly describing the impact of her behavior and telling her specifically what you need her to do differently (e.g., "I know you probably didn't mean to be disruptive, but your jokes are creating a distraction and getting us off topic. I welcome humor in class, but I'd like you to think your comments through more carefully and link what you say directly to the rest of the discussion.") If you think of your role as mentoring a student who is still developing socially and emotionally, there’s no reason this kind of conversation can’t be friendly and supportive rather than uncomfortable. The Eberly Center would be happy to help you think through appropriate responses.

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