How to Limit Interruptions by Using Hand Signals in Your Classroom

How using hand signals in your 3rd grade or 4th grade classroom can minimize interruptions and help save your patience.

I HATE interruptions in the classroom.

Most teachers hate being interrupted, I’ll admit. But I really, REALLY hate it. So when my 3rd grade students would interrupt a lesson to ask an off topic question related to bodily functions, it would make my blood boil a little.

I always felt bad about being angry. I mean, if I had snot dripping down my nose, I would want a tissue too. And who am I to deny a student the right to use the bathroom when they needed to? I definitely didn’t want accidents happening in my classroom.

Some teachers have procedures that allow students to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, throw away trash, or get a tissue as needed – without having to ask permission. This helps minimize interruptions, as students don’t have to ask.

I tried this, but it didn’t work for me – I was just too distracted by kids getting out of their seats without knowing why. I’m probably just too nosy, because I always wondered what my students were doing and my lesson would be interrupted anyway while I watched students take a trip to the trash can. Plus, you always have those few boundary testers that try to take advantage of any freedoms you allow them.

How to Use Hand Signals in Your Upper Elementary Classroom

The first time I saw one of my teammates using hand signals in their classroom, I had a “Why didn’t I think of that” moment.

It’s pretty simple, really. Whenever a student needed to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, throw away trash, or get a tissue, they would show me the appropriate hand signal.

After I saw the hand signal, I would either shake my head yes or no, giving students permission or denying it. My students knew that if I shook my head no, it meant I was discussing something important that I didn’t want them to miss and they should try asking me again 5 minutes later.

So simple, yet so life changing for me. No more of my well-planned lessons ruined by a poorly timed question about the bathroom.

Many teachers have their students use sign language for their classroom hand signals, which I think is pretty cool. But I know very little sign language, so I had my students make up their own hand signals at the beginning of every year. They enjoyed coming up with the signals and took ownership of the idea.

If you’re a flexible teacher with unending patience, using hand signals in your upper elementary classroom might not make a lick of difference to you. But if you’re anything like me, this is an easy change that could keep you from getting so frustrated with the constant interruptions in the classroom.

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