Deaf/HH students are conversing among themselves during your lecture. They're using sign language, so they're not making noise. However, they are creating a visual distraction and  not paying attention.

Or perhaps a single Deaf/HH student is simply not paying attention.

These situations bother you; and you wonder what to do. Some instructors tell us they feel awkward intervening in a signed conversation. While this is normal, it is nonetheless important to act.

(NOTE: If these problems are persistent, you may need to intervene with more serious actions. We encourage you to take actions as you would with any student if a Deaf/HH student is not performing up to expectations)


NOTE: The handout at the left provides you with a note you can give to students who are talking in class.

Deaf/HH students hold side conversations for the same reasons as hearing students, and you should respond to them in the same ways. Many faculty members say they ask the hearing students if they have a question, to pay attention, or to hold social conversations until after class. These responses are equally appropriate for Deaf/HH students.

Now, how do you get their attention?

  • Flip the lights on and off a few times. This alerts the Deaf/HH students that you want their attention. 

  • In a small room, you can tap on the desk or take some other visual action to attract attention.

  • In a large lecture hall, it may not be possible or appropriate to turn lights off and on. Instead, you could ask another student to tap the inattentive student on the shoulder, motioning for them to look at you. Or, if you stop talking, the pause will usually result in students looking at you. Then you can proceed.

  • Sometimes simply approaching the students is enough to get their attention. Other situations may require more direct intervention. For these cases, consider preparing copies of a written note before the class with wording like the following and give it to students.

    "Are you talking about something related to the lecture? If so, please share that with the entire class. Or see me later so we can address your question. If you are not talking about course material, please wait until after class to talk with your friends."

  • If these techniques fail, ask these students to remain after class. Then explain your concerns and ask that they pay attention in class and ask you questions directly.

Related Video: 
What would you like teachers to do when they need to get your attention in class? - Jonathan
Related Video: 
Carol Marchetti, RIT faculty member