The Token Rule
At the elementary level, many student ask off-topic questions or make statements that have nothing to do with the lesson. Although it is awesome to address these times (possible teachable moments!), it can interrupt a really great lesson/break another student’s concentration. A great way to cut down on getting off-topic is the token rule!
Give each student a set number of cheap plastic poker chips (100 for $5 at Walmart), which I call tokens. I chose to give everyone 3, but you can do more or less based on your own observations. Have each student place the 3 tokens on the corner of their desk. Explain to the class that during instruction time it is ok to say or ask things that are off-topic, but you only have 3 times to do so each day. Whenever a student does ask/tell a story, walk over and take a token without saying anything. Explain to all of the students that when thinking of a story be sure to think if it is worth one of their three tokens for the day.
Be sure to NOT discourage conversation with the students. I love talking and spending time with my students. I always make it very clear that the token rule only applies to instructional time. Any other time (recess, free time, lunch, etc.) they are welcome to come and ask or tell me anything!
I am very aware that this system will not work in every classroom, and I have come up with some alternatives I used in the past. I will post these later in the week.