Picture this: My reading group is attentive and prepared for a discussion
of a favorite novel, "What if Darry had called the police?" I ask.
Jenny initiates a thoughtful reply but Eric interrupts: "That's crazy!
Darry would never do that!" My first thought is that Eric, a recalcitrant
student, is finally excited. But Jenny is silenced. Eric's outburst has
squelched the discussion.
Several days later, I fill in for a teacher who has unexpectedly resigned. I
anticipate a confused class, but during the morning meeting, the disruptions are
constant. "Stop! You're bothering me," Kim blurts out. David complains
loudly, "I can't see!" Julia cries, "Hi, Sheila" I call on
Jerome, but Michael interjects, "Hey, I said that first." Brian pokes
him and giggles, saying, "But that's not the right answer!" In both
situations, I cover only a fraction of the material I've planned and the
cooperative class spirit I'd hoped for is stifled. Yet I know I can't assume
that children know how to participate productively. That's why I teach social
and communication skills as an integral part of my curriculum.
To cure the blurt-outs in my classroom, I
developed the following strategies.
Give children a sense of your vision for the tone of the classroom.
The strategy in action: In the case of the morning meeting, I began
the next day by saying: "I know this is a hard time for you, but I want us
to have meetings that are interesting and fun. To do that, we need what I call
important participation. Can anyone tell me what they think I mean?" (With
older children I might use the term honest discussions.)
For Eric, I scheduled a private conference. I acknowledged his input in the
discussion and expressed my pride in his academic growth. Then I explained the
importance of hearing other points of view and outlined my goals for the reading
group. I also shared my own struggle to be more patient and not blurt out my
ideas. I asked him to work on waiting, raising his hand, and listening to
2) Name and
define the behaviors you want children to learn.
Then make sure you reinforce them!
The strategy in action: I ask students to help me define the terms important
participation and honest discussions. I tell them the goal is to
listen and speak so that we can learn from one another. Together we generate
simple rules of respect for meetings: raising hands, not interrupting, not
appropriate and alternative behavior.
This is critical, so develop an arsenal of strategies.
The strategy in action: I ask, "If you have a good idea, how can
you share it?" I have kids demonstrate how and when to raise one's hand
without distracting others.
4) Set up
routines — such as wait times — showing that self-control is important.
Provide as many alternatives to blurting out as possible and clue kids in to
signals that help them know when, for example, to raise a hand.
The strategy in action: Sometimes I use signals. I'll say, "If you
think you know the answer, show a "thumbs-up" or "Raise your hand
if you also got that answer."
I often give older children a few minutes to write ideas down before
responding out loud. This helps to reassure them that ideas won't be lost.
After students give a report, then ask: "Are there any questions or
comments?" This reinforces involvement, not just for the presenter, but
also for the audience.
5) Settle on
predictable consequences for blurting out.
Display these prominently, so students can't claim to forget the rules.
The strategy in action: A simple reminder or redirection works well.
When 6-year-old Jesse interrupted Mark's story about a new puppy, I pointed to
the rules and said, "Show me, Jesse, how you are going to do your job as an
audience for Mark's story." I also might ask if anyone can show Jesse how
to sit still, listen, ask a question, or make a comment.
When a discussion gets heated, I interject, "Meeting rules,
please!" I then follow up with something like, "If you wish to
continue this discussion, you will have to show me that you can follow our
Time-out can be an appropriate consequence when students ignore the rules.
Martin, age 9, has trouble following the quick patter of his peers, so he often
repeats what someone has just said. On such an occasion, Carla blurted out,
"Gosh, Martin, she just said that." I replied, "Time-out, Carla.
Come back when you can follow meeting rules."
communication breaks down, have children start over.
This will help children feel invested in the solution they devise.
The strategy in action: When I asked groups of sixth graders to plan
dioramas of a Colonial village, members of one group were all talking at once.
After several minutes -and a few reminders and interventions from me- I said,
"I am going to send you all back to your seats. When you each have a plan
for how you will be able to work productively, you may continue."
7) Pose a
class challenge to be disruption free.
This strategy is particularly helpful when a class is very excitable.
The strategy in action: I challenge kids to get through a 30-minute
lesson with no more than one disruption. To avoid backlashes against disruptive
children ("You made us lose!"), I make sure students understand that
this is a group endeavor. To help them meet and exceed the challenge, we record
and graph types of interruptions beforehand. Kids are usually surprised at the
number and variation of interruptions and at the realization that everyone
|Why Children Blurt Out Impulsively
Children learn to blurt out what's on their minds. Sometimes they learn to do so
because we teach it, and sometimes they learn it because we fail to teach them
how not to. If you know why it happens, you can better decide how to respond.
The action will vary depending upon the root of the problem. Here are some
causes for this behavior.
- An individual history of impulsive behavior. Eric, who stifled Jenny's
comments, had a history. He had worked with his teachers for many years to learn
self-control, but it's still hard for him to hold his thoughts in his head.
- Mixed responses from adults. For example, when the content of a child's
answers are appropriate, do you overlook the fact that he called out? Do you
reinforce blurting when the information is academically correct?
- A symptom of stress. In these cases, it's important to uncover the root of
the stress and address it.
- Competition for attention. Sometimes children look for attention from us or
their peers based on being the one with the fastest, funniest, or most correct
- Strong emotion. Frequently, children blurt out when they are angry, upset,
or contentious. While it's important to validate these feelings, it's also
imperative to make clear that certain behaviors are not acceptable.