Pattern Interrupt | Teaching Using a Derren Brown Technique

Your class are getting a little out of hand. You’ve tried being silent and waiting for their attention, but so far you’ve been unsuccessful. What’s a psychology proven way to break their bad behaviour and restore calm?

Clap. It’s really that simple. I remember sitting in a particularly rowdy rehearsal of 6-10 year olds when my co-teacher began clapping a familiar rhythm. The students all began to repeat the sequence, even when she silently clapped using just her pinky fingers.

This technique is based on the principle of Pattern Interrupt, a psychology technique used by everyone from sales people to Derren Brown.

What is Pattern Interrupt and How Does it Work?

Clap with your class - a Pattern Interrupt technique
Clapping is a valuable Pattern Interrupt technique.

Pattern Interrupt is just what is sounds like, an interruption to break a habit of undesirable behaviour. Pattern Interrupt in the classroom comes in many forms, but clapping is my favourite. When something unexpected happens in the classroom, the students become distracted and their attention switches to this new thing. A classic example is a record screeching to a halt and the dancers stopping to see what has happened.

When you break a pattern of thought you have space to step in with a compliant class. This compliance is what makes the technique so effective for hypnotists and sales people. Clapping in a pattern that they can repeat holds the attention of the students until they have settled down. After this, one can continue the class with fixed and focused attention.

Try different methods of Pattern Interrupt with your class and let us know which you find most effective.

Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.