Non-Disruptive Signal

Context: You plan classes with Groups Work where Students Interact and Construct Understanding, which improves learning outcomes, especially as the learning objectives Climb Bloom’s Taxonomy.


Forces & Problem: You want students to work together and develop understanding, take more responsibility for their learning, and know that you have high expectations and respect for their work. At the same time, you must manage the pace of classroom activity and try to help all students succeed. When you need to speak to the entire classroom, it can be difficult to get students to stop talking and pay attention without disrupting them. (Ironically, it can also be difficult to get students to start talking and work together, depending on local culture). You could shout or ring a bell, but these must be heard above the level of conversation. Also, these approaches might disrupt a team in the middle of an important idea or discussion. You could set a timer that is displayed where students can see it; however this requires accurate time estimates for each task.


Solution & Consequences: Therefore, use a signal that gets student attention quickly without disrupting important discussions. The signal will be used frequently, so it should be relatively quick. However, the signal should not too disruptive, so that teams in the middle of a discussion can finish important thoughts before they stop to pay attention to the teacher.

Discussion: Non-Disruptive Signal can be used with many techniques, including Compare Answer, Considerate Lecturer, Groups Work, Debrief After Activities, Minimum Distance, and Think…Pair…Share (to name a few). Non-Disruptive Signal is often used frequently, whereas Clear Starting Signal is at the start of class. The signal should be simple for students to learn and remember, and it is often worth some effort to practice it early in the course. If students have learned the signal but do not respond normally in a specific situation, this might indicate that they are so focused on their work that you should allow more time.

Examples: Many signals are possible, including:

  • The teacher raises their hand, and when a student sees a raised hand they raise their own hand and stop talking with their team. After a few seconds, all hands are raised and the room is quiet. (This approach is widely used in the POGIL community and works in large classrooms.) This approach reverses the usual model of a student raising their hand when they have a question, which might be confusing if one student raises their hand after question and other students see that hand and raise their own hands.
  • The teacher says, “If you can hear me clap this pattern” in a quiet or normal tone of voice, and then claps a simple pattern. Nearby teams hear, clap the pattern, and stop talking. The teacher repeats the instruction and pattern a few more times until everyone has heard, clapped, and stopped talking.
  • The teacher rings a bell softly, waits a few seconds, rings it again a bit louder, waits again, and continues until everyone is quiet. The teacher could also use a phone app or device that rings, waits, and repeats automatically when activated.

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2017. Patterns in classroom facilitation for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Noridc Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Programs. 17. (Mar-Apr 2017)


Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 13:30:35 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 1)