Simple reminders are better than threats. I try to say things like, “Is there something I can help you with? What should you be now? Do you need help getting started?” I like these because they are nonthreatening to the student and it preserves the good relationship I have built with that student.
After a few reminders with no results, however, I used to (and still do at times) make ultimatums and threats. I catch myself saying, “Work or go to the principal’s office,” or, “I am going to call home if you continue this.” Saying this damages the relationship. I am being coercive. I also know that making threats does not deal with the issue at hand (nor do rewards but that is another post). As hard as it is to admit, the student is not interested in the task. Indeed, the student thinks the learning activity is not worthwhile.
Changing the learning activity or task is the best way to get students interested, not making threats. You can better meet the learning goals if you change it up. The best part is that you are not in this alone. All you have to do is ask for help. Help is in your class. Ask for student input about how they can meet the learning goals.The help IS your students.