20+ Teacher-Tested Tips for Managing Cell Phones in Class

Using or banning cell phones in class is one of the most controversial topics these days. Some teachers embrace them as part of instruction and learning. Others consider a complete ban the only way to go. Many schools and districts have created their own cell phone policies, but others leave things up to individual teachers. So we asked WeAreTeachers readers to share their thoughts on our Facebook page, and here are their top tips and ideas for managing cell phones in your classroom.

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Cell Phone Policy vs. Cell Phone Ban

Source: Bonne Idee

Rather than automatically banning cell phones in class, many teachers try to create a thoughtful policy with student buy-in instead. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • “Phone separation causes anxiety. Think about how you feel when you forget or lose your phone. Same (or worse) for kids. Teach them to use their personal electronics appropriately. It’s the era we live in.” —Dorthy S.
  • “Generally, I don’t worry about it. I casually call out kids who are on theirs while I’m teaching, but I often use them as an in-class tool and I really don’t feel the need to make a big deal of them. It doesn’t seem to help.” —Max C.
  • “I integrate cell phone usage into my lesson plan. They can collaborate on Google Docs, take pictures of tableaus that they created based on various scenes in literature, and look up vocabulary words. Tech is not the enemy. They need to learn how to use their phones for good too.” —Julie J.
  • “I have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in my room. If I don’t see it or hear it, it doesn’t exist.” —John L.
  • “Not while I’m teaching. They can use them for music as they work. I also give specific cell phone time in the last few minutes of class.” —Erin L.
  • “I tell my seniors, be respectful! Don’t be on your phone while I’m giving instruction. When you’re doing group work, make sure you participate equally. If you need to answer a text (not 25) while doing independent work, please do so. If you are waiting on a call (from a doctor or potential college), let me know ahead of time so I don’t flip out when you walk outside my door!” —Leslie H.

But these policies definitely don’t work for everyone. If you need a more concrete way to manage cell phones during class, try some of these ideas.

1. Stoplight cues

A large illustration of a stoplight with a cellphone image placed on the red light (Cell Phones in Class)

This idea from @mrsvbiology is so smart. “I teach 9th graders and this is my stoplight. I use this as a classroom management tool to show when it is appropriate for students to use/charge their phones. They can easily look at the board and see the color without having to ask my permission. Red = all phones put away. Yellow = have them out on their desk and use only when prompted. Green = use as you need to complete the educational activity. This has worked so well the last three years. I’ve used it. I’ve found that even high schoolers can benefit from visual reminders!”

2. Numbered pocket chart

Large numbered pocket chart with power strip and chargers to help manage cell phones in class

“If students have a phone on them when they enter my classroom, they are to put it in the numbered pocket that matches their workstation number. I include chargers as an incentive.” —Carolyn F.

Buy it: Loghot Numbered Classroom Pocket Chart for Cell Phones on Amazon

3. Cell phone swap

Numbered pocket chart with fidget cubes in the pockets (Cell Phones in Class)

Cassie P. says, “Instead of negative consequences, like cell phone jail, they can swap out their phone for a fidget cube. I teach special education and a lot of my kids still need something in their hands and I would rather have a cube than a spinner. At least the cube can stay out of sight and I don’t have their phones in their faces either. Win-win!”

Buy it: Fidget Toys Set, 36 Pieces on Amazon

4. Personal zip-pouch cell phone holder

Bright green zippered pouch attached to student desk with zip ties

Source: Pinterest

Have each student be responsible for their own phone. They can tuck their phones away safely without worrying about them disappearing. Just attach these pouches to student desks with zip ties.

Buy it: Binder Pencil Pouch, 10-Pack on Amazon

5. Cell phone hotel

Cell Phone Hotel built of wood with slots for cell phones and a locking door (Cell Phones in Class)

Joe H. built this Cell Phone Hotel himself, and it’s been a real success. “Students’ cell phones get ‘checked in’ for the day, unless I allow them for a specific purpose. I’ve NEVER had a student complain!”

6. Cell phone locker

Cell Phone Locker with clear locking compartments to help manage cell phones in class

This solution for cell phones in class is pricey, but consider it in an investment in sanity! Each lock has its own key on a spring bracelet, so students know that no one else can take their phone.

Buy it: Cell Phone Locker on Amazon

7. Placement is key

A wood cell phone holder with multiple slots placed at the front of a classroom (Cell Phones in Class)

These wood grid holders are popular choices for dealing with cell phones in the classroom. If you’re worried about theft or security, place it up front where everyone can keep an eye on their phones throughout class.

Buy it: Ozzptuu 36-Grid Wooden Cell Phone Holder on Amazon

8. Whiteboard parking lot

Cell phone parking lot drawn on a whiteboard, with student names in the spaces

All you need for this idea from Rachel L. is a whiteboard. “When students enter, I have them put their phones in the cell phone parking lot. Some have claimed a spot as their own, while others put theirs in an empty spot.”

Buy it: Mead Dry-Erase Board, 24″ x 18″ on Amazon

9. Offer incentives

Phone charging station made from a vintage Coke crate (Cell Phones in Class)

Crystal T. decided to reward good choices in her classroom. “Students earn a bonus point for every day they put their phone in the charging station at the beginning of class and keep it there until the end of class.”

10. Hanging charging station

Yellow pocket chart for cell phones with several power strips for managing cell phones in class

Halo R. set up this charging station. “I use my cell phone pocket chart as an incentive to get to class on time. There are only 12 pockets, so the first ones to put their phones in the pocket get the charging cords.” Other rules state that you must silence your phone entirely, and once your phone is in the pocket, it must stay there until the end of class.

Buy it: 12-Pocket Cell Phone Holder on Amazon

11. Oversize power strip

Large power strip with multiple cords plugged into it

Many teachers note that offering a place to charge phones serves as a terrific incentive for kids to park their phones during class. This enormous charging strip accommodates 22 plug-in chargers and 6 USB cords, which should be enough for everyone in your class.

Buy it: SUPERDANNY Surge Protector Power Strip on Amazon

12. DIY cell jail

Metal paint can turned into a Cell Jail

Cell phone jails are popular in classrooms, but we love Crystal R.’s take on it: “If I see students with their phones, they get one warning, then it goes into the jail. They must do something kind for someone else to get the phone back.”

Buy it: 2-Pack Empty Paint Cans on Amazon

13. Locking cell phone jail

Small locking cell phone jail on a desk with plants

This little novelty jail has a lock to remind students that they’ve lost access to their phones until you give them back. It’s not meant to stand up to heavy wear-and-tear, but it’s a fun way to make your point.

Buy it: Mobile Phone Jail Cell on Amazon

14. Envelope jail

Manilla envelope labeled Phone Jail with instructions for using it

Having your phone taken away can feel stressful. So we love this idea from Danni H. that lets students keep their phone in their control but unable to be accessed. “I use these envelopes, and I use adhesive Velcro for the flaps. That way I hear if/when a student opens it up before the end of class. If I see a student’s phone, I set the envelope on their desk, they put the phone in. They can keep the envelope wherever they want, and they get the phone back at the end of the period with no hassle if they followed all the rules. It has alleviated a lot of stress and struggle, and I have not had to write any referrals for cell phone use since using these envelopes.”

Buy it: Mead 6×9 Envelopes and Strenco 2×4 Inch Hook and Loop Strips on Amazon

15. Chum bucket

Blue bucket labeled Chum Bucket with sign reading Phones that are out during Choir will be sent to the Chum Bucket.

“Any phone seen out during class goes in the Chum Bucket for the rest of class. And we all know they don’t have Krabby Patties in the Chum Bucket!” —Annie H.

16. Timed lock box

Clear plastic box with white lid with time lock and cell phone inside

Take away the temptation with a lock box that simply can’t be opened until the time is up. (Yes, the plastic box can be broken open, so don’t count on it for complete security.)

Buy it: Kitchen Safe Time Locking Container on Amazon

17. Phone jail bulletin board

Phone Jail bulletin board with slots for managing cell phones in class

How fun is this bulletin board? Use it when kids just can’t stick to your rules.

Source: @mrslovelit

18. Distractions box

Blue bin with hot pink label reading Distractions that interrupt learning (Cell Phones in Class)

Cell phones in class certainly aren’t the only distractions teachers face. Rather than focusing on phones, concentrate on any physical distraction that keeps kids from learning. When you see a distracted student, have them put the offending item in the box until class is over. (Tip: Have kids label their phones with their name using a sticky note so they don’t get mixed up.)

Learn more: Mathwecanuse

19. “Pocket” holder

Pockets cut from jeans to make a cell phone pocket holder

Feeling crafty? Hit up the thrift store for old jeans, then cut out the pockets and turn them into an adorable and unique cell phone holder for your classroom.

Learn more: The Efficient Classroom

20. Cell phone Azkaban

Wire bin holding cell phones labeled Azkaban

Give Harry Potter fans a smile with this clever twist, suggested by Kristine R.

Do you have an original way to deal with cell phones in class? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out 10 Best Tech Tools To Grab Your Students’ Attention.

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