How to Ban Cellphones: Kill the Dead Time

From: or not students should have cellphones in the classroom is a big debate these days. And I feel schizophrenic about the debate-I love tech toys, I think telling my 25 year old student to put away his or her cellphone is condescending, and I know that students sometimes use them for a quick translation or comprehension check rather than interrupt the whole class to ask what, “schizophrenic” means. On the other hand, my classroom is often full of students staring at tiny little screens and when I call on them I get a bleary-eyed, “What?” But recently I had a great epiphany. Students start pulling out their cellphones in class for the same reason I pull mine out at lunch with friends or in the middle of a webinar–BOREDOM. How do I know? Because my classroom is also full of students staring out the window, napping, chatting, doodling, doing homework for another class, checking the time every five minutes, trying to distract me from the lesson so we can just talk and kill time. It’s not just the cellphones. The problem isn’t that kids today are addicted to evil technology. The problem is that I am a boring teacher!

That’s a tough thing to admit, but I’d be surprised if a lot of cellphone use didn’t come down to students being bored. And look, I don’t think we need to entertain our students 24/7 with games and jokes and juggling tricks. I don’t think they want that. They want to learn and they know learning is sometimes not fun. Listening to a lecture on the present perfect can be interesting, if not exactly fun. Filling out a relatively rote worksheet about a new grammar point can be satisfying, if boring. Reading an IELTS passage on the Titanic can be insanely boring but students understand that it is necessary. So it’s not that I am a boring teacherĀ per se. It’s that my class is boring sometimes. And when is my class the most boring?

Class is most boring when nothing is happening. So to keep students off their cellphones (and looking at you, not the clock) I need to identify the dead time or downtime in my class. Usually it’s when:

I don’t know if you would add anything to the list. I’ve been slowly trying to work on these moments so that students always have something to do and it’s been working well. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing ways that I kill dead time in my classroom that have worked for me. I’d also love to hear from you about what you guys have done to keep students active and talking and off those cellphones.

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