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5 Quick Classroom-Management Tips for Novice Teachers

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

I made a good number of blunders my first year teaching that still make me cringe. I learned though. And it's fair to say, when it comes to managing a classroom, most of what we learn as new teachers is trial by fire. It's also smart to heed the advice of those who have walked -- and stumbled -- before you. If you are struggling with discipline, here are five tips that you can start using right away:

#1 Use a normal, natural voice

Are you teaching in your normal voice? Every teacher can remember this from the first year in the classroom: spending those first months talking at an above-normal range until one day, you lose your voice.

Raising our voice to get students' attention is not the best approach, and the stress it causes and the vibe it puts in the room just isn't worth it. The students will mirror your voice level, so avoid using that semi-shouting voice. If we want kids to talk at a normal, pleasant volume, we must do the same.

You want to also differentiate your tone. If you are asking students to put away their notebooks and get into their groups, be sure to use a declarative, matter-of-fact tone. If you are asking a question about a character in a short story, or about contributions made by the Roman Empire, use an inviting, conversational tone.

#2 Speak only when students are quiet and ready

This golden nugget was given to me by a 20-year veteran my first year. She told me that I should just wait and then wait some more until all students were quiet.

So I tried it; I fought the temptation to talk. Sometimes I'd wait much longer than I thought I could hold out for. Slowly but surely, the students would cue each other: "sshh, she's trying to tell us something," "come on, stop talking," and "hey guys, be quiet." (They did all the work for me!)

My patience paid off. Yours will too. And you'll get to keep your voice.

#3 Use hand signals and other non-verbal communication

Holding one hand in the air, and making eye contact with students is a great way to quiet the class and get their attention on you. It takes awhile for students to get used to this as a routine, but it works wonderfully. Have them raise their hand along with you until all are up. Then lower yours and talk.

Flicking the lights off and on once to get the attention is an oldie but goodie. It could also be something you do routinely to let them know they have three minutes to finish an assignment or clean up, etc.

With younger students, try clapping your hands three times and teaching the children to quickly clap back twice. This is a fun and active way to get their attention and all eyes on you.

#4 Address behavior issues quickly and wisely

Be sure to address an issue between you and a student or between two students as quickly as possible. Bad feelings -- on your part or the students -- can so quickly grow from molehills into mountains.

Now, for handling those conflicts wisely, you and the student should step away from the other students, just in the doorway of the classroom perhaps. Wait until after instruction if possible, avoiding interruption of the lesson. Ask naive questions such as, "How might I help you?" Don't accuse the child of anything. Act as if you do care, even if you have the opposite feeling at that moment. The student will usually become disarmed because she might be expecting you to be angry and confrontational.

And, if you must address bad behavior during your instruction, always take a positive approach. Say, "It looks like you have a question" rather than, "Why are you off task and talking?"

When students have conflicts with each other, arrange for the students to meet with you at lunch, after or before school. Use neutral language as you act as a mediator, helping them resolve the problem peacefully, or at least reach an agreeable truce.

#5 Always have a well-designed, engaging lesson

This tip is most important of all. Perhaps you've heard the saying, if you don't have a plan for them, they'll have one for you. Always overplan. It's better to run out of time than to run short on a lesson.

From my own first-hand experience and after many classrooms observations, something that I know for sure: Bored students equal trouble! If the lesson is poorly planned, there is often way too much talking and telling from the teacher and not enough hands-on learning and discovery by the students. We all know engaging lessons take both serious mind and time to plan. And they are certainly worth it -- for many reasons.

Share with us your classroom management experiences: What specific challenges are you having? What strategies have worked well for you and your students? Please share in the comment section below.

Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Luria Learning's picture
Luria Learning
3rd Grade Teacher and Founder of Luria Learning

What a great post. I have also found that speaking quietly can be more powerful than raising my voice. This took me a while to learn:)

Another thing that works for me is to get students physically engaged in lessons. I use a technique called "Mirror." I use this every single day, and it is my favorite technique. This can really help the more active students stay focused. I wrote a post about how I use Mirror in my classroom.


Rebecca Williams's picture
Rebecca Williams
Grade 3 teacher in Guatemala City, Guatemala

I find myself using a louder voice all the time! I'm trying to get into the habit of doing the opposite. I'm hoping that if I speak more quietly, the students will feel the need to pay more attention.

Luria, I like your Class - Yes idea. It sounds like fun! I'm going to give it a try w/my chatty classroom. :)

John Carr's picture
John Carr
Resource and professional development, program evaluation at WestEd

I suggest that if you find that students "game" your waiting for quiet to reduce instructional time, subtract the minutes you waited from their next break (recess, etc.). All of these strategies are simple, calming, and can be immediately used by all teachers.

I agree that when students are engaged in interesting, successful learning activities (#6), their talk and attention is all about academics. Planning successful lessons that meets the learning needs of all students in the classroom is a challenge but collaborating with other teachers and coaches can offer needed support.

This set of do's is what I'd like to give teachers in my workshops. Thanks, Rebecca.

Mike Anderson's picture
Mike Anderson
Educator, Consultant, Author

Thanks so much for the great post and the fantastic advice.

Another idea for new teachers to consider is to know some common developmental characteristics of the ages of their students and then work with those characteristics. For example, fifth graders need to socialize and talk a lot, so teachers can build partner chats and group projects into their teaching plans instead of forcing fifth graders to do solo seat-work. Fifth grade teachers can also teach their fifth graders how to walk and talk respectfully in the halls and how to chat as they transition instead of requiring that they move about the school without talking. A great series of books designed for new teachers (and teachers new to a grade level) has just come out that people might be interested in: http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-every-teacher-needs-to-know.

Kendra Grant's picture
Kendra Grant
Educator, Parent, Chief Education Officer

Thanks for the great post! Here are my suggestions.
I started my teaching career (wayyy back in 1984) in the Intermediate Behavior Contact Class (Who decides on these names anyway?) - basically middle school boys that no-one wanted in their class! Here's what I learned from them:
1. Create routines and systems. Have students help you design how the class will run. Have them help you create a signal that means "Quiet please." Ask yourself - Do the students know what to do when they enter my class? ...after they complete a task? ...when they don't understand? etc.
2. Be positive. This seems obvious but human nature (IMHO) is to see the negative. We are much more likely to notice a student off task than on, talking to a friend than listening attentively. Call out the positive behaviour. Note who is ready to listen. Thank them. With younger students point out what they are doing. "I appreciate that Kendra is facing me with her eyes on me. She's ready to listen. Wow, so is..." It seems a bit contrived at first but students appreciate it. If you have a particularly crazy day ask yourself - am I being positive or negative. It's easy to slip back into the negative.
3. Know yourself and know your students. Just because you could sit quietly doesn't mean every child can...and why would we want them to? Recognize when students have had enough. Mix up the day with lots of different ways to gain information other than listening to you. This will keep students engaged and less likely to exhibit disruptive behaviours. Any time you have students up, moving and working together just remember suggestion #1.

Rose Monterosso's picture
Rose Monterosso
Grade 4 Paradise Valley, AZ. Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher NEFC

Early in my career, I wish I had realized just how important it was to get to know my students personally. Now I make contact with students on a personal level daily, striking up conversations with them that have nothing to do with school. Building those connections are vital in helping students develop social/emotional competencies and ultimately build academic success.

Ms.Garcia's picture
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

I teach high school and what works in my second hour will not always be as great in my fifth hour. I have to be aware of other influences like the time of day, special assemblies during the week, big state tests coming up and be prepared to adapt my well-planned lesson for different class personalities. It is difficult to plan for this as a new teacher because our "bank of ideas" can be a little small to pull from when we notice that our afternoon class cannot work together in groups like 1st hour. In order to combat this, I started to watch other teachers in different departments and write down ideas, activities, strategies in a teaching journal. Whenever something doesn't go well, I tweak it and write down my observations for me to reflect on later. So far, I've noticed an easier time teaching when I am willing to be flexible and paying attention to what my students need.

James Dunn's picture
James Dunn
Private University Lecturer and Masters Degree Student

Nice post!

I would also like to point out that in addition to "Quickly and Wisely" you must also be fair. It's a long way back to earning their trust if you punish one student for one thing and then don't punish another for the same infraction. No matter how small, it puts a crack in the bridge that you have built (or are building) with your students.

Also some great ideas in the comments section. Thanks all!


Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

Hi Jim

Thank you for explicitly pointing out that fairness plays an important role in discipline. It was implied in the "wisely" part. And I'm with you-- the slightest act perceived by students to be unfair, will certainly cost trust with the students you teach.

Thanks again,

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

Hi Rose,

Getting to know our students, little things -- favorite foods, other likes, number of siblings, etc. -- can make all the difference in the world in how our classrooms run. Students truly appreciate when their teachers express genuine interests in their lives (academic and social).

Thanks for making this important point!

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