How to Deal with a Student Who Talks in Class, Part 1

We’ve all had moments when a student talks in class and disrupts everyone. Not unlike a regular school teacher, it annoys us while leading the class because we lose our flow and concentration. We also know it annoys their fellow students and makes it hard for them to follow our cues and stay focused. But what can we do about it? In part 1, Bill Roach discusses several steps you can take to keep students in line. Jennifer Sage has some additional advice in part 2.


When faced with students who disrupt the class by talking, I feel it is important to address the situation rather than pretend it is not happening. It is my firm belief that we have a responsibility to provide a good environment for all of our students. I am not an authoritarian instructor but I am firm on this point.

I recently had this experience in a crowded class. One participant was carrying on a rather loud conversation with his companion on the next bike. They were located in about the center row of the class. Since I could hear their conversation, I was fairly certain that it was distracting to those around them.

It is important that we deal with these situations from a posture of concern for the rest of the class and not from any bruised ego we might have about being disrespected by a student. Make an assessment to determine if intervention is needed. In addition to my own observation, I usually watch to see if the other students around the talker seem distracted by the conversation.

There is no one answer for these situations. Sometimes the talkers are genuinely unaware of the distraction they create. Other times, they almost seem to be daring you to do something.

When I observe talking, I try to judge the situation and then decide at what level to intervene. First, I attempt to use lower-level interventions and then escalate as necessary. My goal is to avoid letting the situation become an incident, but I will not abandon the overall welfare of the class to the whim of one member.

What do you do when faced with a student that talks in class? Do you have other tips that you’ve used? What is the most unusual situation you’ve faced?


Bill Roach is a Star 3 Spinning instructor, personal trainer (NASM-CPT, CEX, WLS), and lead indoor cycling instructor for the Des Moines Metro YMCAs. He also has a background as a long-distance competitive cyclist. He is retired from a career in communications (PRSA/APR) in the Iowa attorney general’s office.

 

12 Responses to “How to Deal with a Student Who Talks in Class, Part 1”

  1. Melanie Massie says:

    Thank you I wish I had read this article last Tuesday night. Great tips for handling an often “dicey” situation.

    • Bill Roach says:

      Hi Melanie. I’m sorry too that you didn’t have it sooner. But we learn from every time we go out there. Thanks for saying the article will help you in the future. Good wishes for your teaching.

  2. Jessica Giesinger says:

    Great article! I had this issue just this past weekend with some more elite cyclists in the class that wanted to do their own ride and socialize. It can be frustrating. I’m going to keep this and Part 2 in my teaching toolkit to refer to often.

    • Bill Roach says:

      Thanks, Jessica. I am glad the article helped you in a practical way. It’s a challenge because every situation is truly unique. Therefore, the more tools the better.
      Bill

  3. AlanFletcher says:

    I think that the best approach is to send a direct message to the offender(s). And by direct, I don’t mean disrespectful.
    The level of the message needs to be proportional to the amount of disruption experienced. A friendly chatty student may need a quick, off mike, visit. On the other hand, a yelling student may need a direct on mike reminder that he/she is not alone in the world.
    I find that being subtle leads to a lot of frustration. Usually, the talker does not realise how disruptive he/she is being to the rest of the class. By being direct and respectful I obtain immediate results.

    • Bill Roach says:

      Hi Alan. I agree that subtle doesn’t always work but I prefer to start there and escalate as needed. My principle is to use the minimum amount of “force” necessary so as not to embarrass anyone. But that doesn’t mean I always start with the “smallest tool” in my toolbox. As usual, It all depends. If someone were yelling inappropriately in my class, my initial approach would be more direct than if someone were whispering.

      I am a bit unclear what you mean by a yelling student. I am glad to have an occasional yell of enthusiasm in class. It’s hard for me to imagine someone having a “yelling conversation” in class. I am guessing you mean a student that yells out enthusiastically but too frequently. This situation, though loud, is really pretty complex because he is arguably expressing positive energy – a good thing. Depending on all the factors at play, I might talk with him saying something along the line that I appreciate his energy but that it can go over the top and distract other students. I’d love to hear more what you intended in this scenario.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • AlanFletcher says:

        Hi Bill,

        Here is what I meant by yelling. A couple of times I had a student having a “yelling conversation” from the back of the class to his buddy that was walking outside the spin room. Highly disruptive and totally inadequate behavior.
        These two met with my strongest response so far in a class setting. It was over the mike and very to the point. He later apologized.

        • Bill Roach says:

          Hi Alan, in many years of teaching, I had never had a yelling incident — until this week. I was so surprised it was over before I could react much. But it made me think of your comment. Had it not been so brief, I would have reacted along the lines you did.

  4. Robert Brien says:

    Usually the only time I have trouble with talking in my classes is with two ladies who sit at the back of the class and use the warm up to catch up on the week’s events. Fortunately, I know both of them. One has been a regular for a number of years. The other is my wife!
    I have had to use the first four techniques #4 works particularly well. They will get a sheepish look and then concentrate on the class.
    Works every time!

  5. Sevana says:

    This is truly one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching. I love when the energy is high before class starts and people are engaged and chatting but when that one person doesn’t know the “movie has started” it can be so difficult to stay focused as an instructor! Thanks for the tips!

    • Bill Roach says:

      Sevana, I agree this is a big frustration. I hope some of these ideas help you. Feel free to share any experiences you’ve had. No two situations are identical but I think it helps to talk about them here.

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