Do you struggle to get your students’ attention at the start or during lessons? If so, here are a few ideas to try with that noisy classroom.
Remember you will need to familiarise your students with any routines and signals or instructions so that students get into a habit of becoming quiet whenever you ask them to be.
Explain the routine
- “Whenever I [Insert your signal/instruction of choice], I want you to stop what you’re doing, look at me and be prepared to listen.”
Model the routine
- Show how this will work in different scenarios.
Practice the routine
- Get your students to start talking and then present your signal/instruction for them to be quiet. Do this a few times until they do it instantly. Practice when they aren’t expecting it – wait until they are engaged in an activity and then give your signal/instruction.
Give them a score for practicing
- Giving them a score adds a touch of fun to the routine and also appeals to students’ natural urge to compete. Having the class work towards a common goal or reward also builds community.
Repeat if necessary
- If they don’t manage to quiet down quickly enough away repeat the routine. Make them go back to talking with each other and then give your signal/instruction again. Repeat this until they get it right – especially in the early stages.
Praise them for getting it right
- During the initial early stages of teaching any new routine make sure you acknowledge the fact that they are doing as you have asked. Give them plenty of verbal praise and perhaps a class reward– they need to know that their efforts are appreciated.
- Inevitably the students will tire of any routine so be sure to change it once the effectiveness starts to wear off. Remember if you’re calm, relaxed and respectful you will help create a calm, relaxed and respectful atmosphere in your room. Try and be succinct in your instructions so no one likes to listen for too long!
The Music Box
Buy an inexpensive music box. Each morning, wind the music box up completely. Tell the students that whenever they are noisy or off task, you will open the music box and let the music play until they quiet down and get back to work. If, at the end of the day, there is any music left, the students receive some type of reward. Maybe they can earn tickets for a weekly drawing or a few minutes towards end-of-the-week of free time. Be creative and find the perfect no-cost reward that your students will really want. After a while they should start to quiet down as soon as you reach towards the music box!
Countdown and praise
- OK please stop and look this way. Excellent, very quick on that table
- Pens should be down now, books and mouths should be closed, very good you two, you’re listening to me
- Still too much noise over here, that side of the room you are all perfect
- Just waiting for the last few people now, all conversations should be stopped, hands on the desk in front of you. Well done, you’ve got it.
- Thank you! OK, this is what I need you to do next…
Another nonverbal way to quiet your class is to simply raise your hand. When your students see that your hand is raised, they too will raise their hands. Hands up mean stop talking and pay attention to the teacher. As each child notices the cue and quiets down, a wave of hand-raising will envelop the room and you will soon have the whole class' attention. A twist on this is to raise your hand and count one finger at a time. By the time you get to five, the class needs to be quietly paying attention to you and your directions. You may want to quietly count to five along with the visual cue of your fingers. Your students will soon get used to this routine and it should be pretty quick and easy to quiet them down.
“If you hear me, clap your hands.” (Those that don’t hear will stop to see why other students are clapping).
But if the noise continues, add other actions:
“If you hear me snap your fingers “.... etc etc
At the first sign of talking or murmuring, pause and say, ‘Stand up please’. Have them stand behind their chairs while you continue with the lesson. If anyone carries on talking while standing, write their names on the board or tell them to move to the front desk.
Reward quiet students
Praise quiet students throughout the lesson. Make a list of these students and let them leave the class first at the end of the lesson. Don’t make a fuss, just let them go while those who were talking are kept back for a minute or two. A sanction doesn’t have to be particularly harsh in order for it to be effective. In this case, a few minutes stood behind a desk while their peers trot off will be enough for some students to get the message
I only ask twice/Zero tolerance
Give class a clear instruction: “Everyone stop talking and look this way please.” Acknowledge and thank those who comply. For the rest, write on the board the date and current time followed by: ‘Asked class to be quiet’. Some more will settle; thank them. For those that don’t, write the time followed by: ‘Asked class to be quiet for second time’. Then announce: ‘I only ask twice’.
Then write down the names of any students who are still talking under the heading ‘Still Talking’.
Tell them it’s a new system – explain that it is understandable for people still to be talking after the first request (Some people might not hear you) which is why you ask twice. Carrying on after that however is unacceptable and anyone who has their name on the ‘Still Talking’ list will receive a consequence of your choice as per your school policy
If they continue talking or start arguing with you, calmly say, “(Name), you have chosen to carry on talking/arguing with me. You have therefore chosen to (Insert consequence) ".
Follow up with them at the end of the lesson. Explain that you want them to succeed and that if they are to get the best from the lesson they will have to do as they are asked, otherwise it is not respectful, impedes their education and is not fair on other students. Don’t shout or display anger. Instead try to give the impression that you want to help them but also that you won’t tolerate them talking over you. They will see you as fair if you approach them in this manner. Tell them that next time it happens they will have to choose between full detention with a phone call home or a consequence appropriate to school policy
Start the clock
Remind the students at the beginning of the less ‘This lesson is 60 minutes long and you won't leave this room until you’ve had the pleasure of 60 minutes of my awesome teaching. I’ll start the clock whenever you hold up the lesson and add that time to the end of the lesson.’
Use a stopwatch - start the clock when they are quiet. When they interrupt stop the clock again.
When the classroom noise level is getting out of control, whisper something along the lines of: ‘If you can hear my voice raise your hand, and you’ll get ( Insert reward of your choice in line with school policy ) at the end of the day’.
Remember, it is better to focus on the behaviour you want to see rather than that you don’t.
Tell the students at the beginning of class that every time they are listening attentively, staying on task etc. they will get one letter of the word BRILLIANT written on the board. If they get all of the letters by the end of the day, they get a reward.
Tell the class at the start of the lesson that you are going to secretly pick one student at random to be the Secret Agent. Pick a folded name at random from a hat and place in an envelope in clear sight BUT none of the students or the teaching staff in the room must know the identity of the Secret Agent. Tell the class that as long as this student’s name is not used in a negative context ( IE Talking when asked not to, not working etc ) the whole class will receive a reward in line with school policy
Get a regular playing card for each student in your class and write each child's name on a different card. Shuffle them up and get ready to assign a “nasty task” to the unlucky soul whose card you pick at random from your deck whenever you want attention but don’t get it
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you give them a painful or embarrassing forfeit, just a challenging / fun one to focus attention and grab their attention. All you need to do whenever you want silence is to reach for the pack of cards.
An abstract picture sketched on the board with the words ‘Can you guess what this is?’ will catch students’ attention as they walk in the room. Don’t say anything but as soon as someone guesses what it is, give them a card with a keyword related to the subject topic and get them to come up and draw a sketch to represent the word on the card. The person who guesses what it is swaps places with them and is given a new keyword. You can formalise this game by creating teams, giving time limits etc. or you may prefer it as a quick impromptu starter.
Draw a circle on the board marked in to regular segments. Fill part of it in each time they keep on talking after you've signalled quiet. When it is filled, there is a consequence, inline with school policy
Anchors can be locations, pieces of music, body positions, props, actions etc. i.e. Stick a piece of tape on the floor to mark a location in the room. Tell students that whenever you stand on this mark, you will tell them something and require their immediate attention and quiet. Rehearse using the anchor by walking slowly and deliberately to the mark several times over the next few minutes so that students get into the habit of quietening down when they see you approaching it.
Before the end of the session, use the anchor to get student attention but continue to give them a very important announcement which includes information which is of benefit to them e.g. “Important announcement everyone; because you’ve all worked so well I’m going to let you all have a merit point ( Or reward of your choice in line with school policy )
Do this two or three times with similar messages throughout the lesson and your anchor will be sufficiently embedded.
From this point on, you should only need to walk towards the mark on the floor and the students will suspend talking to hear what you have to say. Protect the efficacy of the anchor by giving occasional treats to students as you did when embedding the anchor.
You can keep your hat on
As above but get yourself a crazy hat rather than a spot on the floor.
The beauty of this routine is that students get to make as much noise as they want. It’s a bit of fun.
Teacher calls out a line from a popular song, i.e. “Day-Oh, Daaaaaaaaaayyy-Oh!”
Students respond with follow up line, i.e. "Daylight comes and I wanna go home!"
This only really works in dark rooms or in winter. Switch the lights on and off once or twice to signal silence.
Put your students into table group teams. Get them to come up with a team name and perhaps a logo, graffiti tag or coat of arms to get them working together. Put a score sheet on the wall and keep a tally whenever you ask for silence or need their attention. Team spirit, peer pressure and the element of competition can make this work quite well
Above all get to know your students
This is easily the most important strategy of all. What will work best with a challenging group of students is to get to know your students by building positive, trusting relationships with them. Once this essential piece of the teaching puzzle is in place your ability to manage tough, noisy students will improve beyond belief.