wasdThis post was originally posted on the #teachICHK site at ICHK.

As in any school, our students do sometimes get distracted in class. However, rather than traditional distractions of days gone by (passing notes, firing spit balls), we see that distraction often takes the form of off-task laptop use (chatting online, checking social media, gaming). In particular, gaming is a temptation that certain students find it hard to resist.

In the past we had a system of being able to monitor student screens remotely (at least in the Secondary school), but this proved incompatible with building trust and forming adult-adult interactions, and was fairly useless at any rate (those kids who wanted to game worked out how to disable it).

A much more effective way to spotting students gaming in class is to look out for the following tells that students produce subconsciously. These often apply to non-gaming off-task activities as well, although they are more obvious during gaming. Try to keep an eye out for these, and approach students who you suspect of gaming, so you can discuss the issue.

  • Keyboard & Mouse Use – different activities produce different patterns of keyboard and mouse use. For example, during a typing activity, we would expect students to use the full range of keys. If they are focusing on one part of the keyboard particularly (see image below for common gaming keys), or predominantly on the trackpad/mouse, they are most likely not typing.


  • Body Language – students busy gaming often becoming really immersed in their game world, and seemingly forgetting where they are IRL. You might see students leaning in close to their screen, getting physically worked up, or suppressing the urge to call out.
  • Screen Hiding – often students will try and sit in a position where their screens are out of sight, perhaps against a wall or under a desk. Sometimes this is innocent (just students getting comfortable), other times it is not.
  • Three Finger Swipe – by keeping a game on a separate virtual desktop on their Mac, students can quickly swipe back to work. This three-finger swipe is a good sign that something is being hidden.

3 Finger Swipe

  • The Guilty Look – a three finger swipe is often preceded by a quick look up, if a student suspects you are heading their way.

With any luck you can put these tells to use to signal to your students know that you are aware of what they are doing, making them less likely to try it on. At the same time, consider why your students are distracted, and find ways to get them more engaged through curriculum appeal, active group work, non-laptop based learning, etc.

Image credit: Keyboard layout image by Rumudiez on Wikimedia Commons shared under CC BY-SA. 3 Finger Swipe image by Ross Parker shared under CC BY-SA.