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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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5 Quick Classroom-Management Tips for Novice Teachers

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

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!
Rebecca

Justin Banitt's picture
Justin Banitt
High School Math Teacher from Minneapolis, MN

Great post! I wish I had known this my first year of teaching. It takes a while to figure some of these strategies out on your own. Our school makes use of portable mini-microphones that are amplified through four speakers in the ceiling of our rooms. What a difference it makes with my voice! I've found it to be very effective and haven't lost my voice in years. Students are able to distinguish between my conversations with other students (without the microphone) versus when I want to class' attention (with the microphone). It's also great for my D/HH kids. My voices comes to them from all corners of the room, not just where I am standing.

Lindsay's picture

Thank you for sharing your tips for classroom management. Even though I have several years of teaching behind me, I still feel like I can always improve. I recently moved back to my home state and am now subbing long term. I had one of the aides say to me "you talk really loud, I can hear you down the hall". I was'nt shocked because I knew I have always been loud, but I somewhat took insult to it. Even though I knew this, it caught me off guard. I am now watching my levels and trying to use hand signals to get the students attention. Thank you for your tips, I will definately consider them when I am in the classroom.

Amelia Noble's picture

This is great advice! I have always had teachers tell me to shout when I need students attention and I have noticed that does not go very far. I will use these tips in my classroom.

I would have never thought to use a nonthreatening way to confront my students when they are off task and the examples you stated will help me so much! Thinking back to my days as a student when a teacher would confront us I would get super defensive but when they asked a question such as "Seems like you have a question, can I help in some way?" really allowed me to open up to them if I did have a question, or stay quiet through out the rest of the class.

Thank you so much for the advice!

The Resourceful Teacher's picture
The Resourceful Teacher
Anonymous blogger with over 10 years experience teaching multiple grades.

Those are really great tips! My favorite is the waiting one. I've found that usually after about 3 seconds of waiting, other students begin shushing each other. Another tactic I like to use is if I'm talking and a I hear students' voices, I'll stop in mid sentence and wait for it to stop. Usually that gets them to keep quiet for the remainder of my instructions.

Jackie's picture
Jackie
Teacher from Detroit, MI

Rebecca, those are great tips. I definitely hope to use them when I start my full time teaching position next year. I completely agree with tip #5 on having engaging lessons. From prior experience I have watched how particular lessons were rather boring to my students and noticed how different their behavior was compared to when they were actually engaged. Hopefully by next year and in the future I will find time in finding more engaging lessons. You should know that as a new teacher I am starting from scratch and at most use the materials that are given to me to help in planning. I am gradually exploring more adventurous lessons but am still working on how to find time for everything. This is one area I know I am going to have difficulty in. Time is everything!

mattkoko101's picture

Although I find these are really good tips, I do have to say that some of them are situational and do not work for every class. For example, staying quiet and waiting for the students to quiet down on their own and letting the kids to the work for you. I find that works very well with some of my classes. With other classes, the students would never quiet down if i do that. In this case, I would suggest using attention getters like the echo clap or call and response techniques. You say "bumpita bump bump" and they respond with "bump bump." Also, If you hear my voice clap 3 times." And you can get creative with that one. Or you say "reeeeeeed robin" and they say, "yummmm." These are all ways you can get students attention. One call and respond the younger ones love is "Who lives in a pineapple under the sea" and they say, "sponge bob square pants!"

The only real tip I have a problem with is number 4. and it is not the tip in general. It is the example you gave. you said if they are talking, rather than saying, "why are you talking off task" say, "It looks like you have a question." That may work with kids that slip up every now and than by accident. However, if that is something you are saying to a "class clown" or a poorly behaved child in general, it may not work as planned. Instead of them making up an excuse for talking off task, you are making an excuse for that student. And that student may go along with it and start asking random questions that have nothing to do with the subject. This will waste a tone of time. I have seen it happen before so just wanted to throw that out there so you are not caught off guard if it backfires on you.

Note: I am not saying all this to knock on the post. It is a great post. But every teacher needs to keep in mind that different tactics will work for different classes. Keep an open mind and do not be afraid to try something else if one tactic does not work.

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

Hi mattkoko101,

You are right in that one tactic may work with one group and not with another. I also agree with you that as teachers, we have to keep trying and varying our approaches to classroom management until we find what works.

As an instructor of new teachers, the tips I chose are gleaned from many, many hours of observing student teachers or novice teachers and seeing what I believe are most effective (i.e. best practices) for new teachers when it comes to classroom management.

Lastly, thank you for taking the time to respond to the query at the end of my blog post and sharing what works best for you when it comes to classroom management.

Best,
Rebecca Alber

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

This is a great post with very helpful tips. I agree with mattkoko1 that it's important to realize these tactics won't work in every situation. I think, to Rebecca's point, it's always important to keep these things in mind. When I was in my first year teaching, I did my best to talk as quietly as possible, though it was hard to always fight the urge to talk above the students. After talking quietly became a habit, students learned that I would not talk over them and they would have to be quiet in order to hear me.

Setting up routines with hand signals and nonverbal cues is a great suggestion! My advice to new teachers is to practice these routines with purpose until they become habits. Don't expect that your students will pick them up by doing it once or twice a day. Take the first few weeks of school to practice being quiet as a class. Make it a game and see how quickly the class can be silent as they raise their hands one by one. It makes it fun when the students try to beat their own time, and it's great for collaboration and team building.

Lastly, I would suggest to not just over plan, though you definitely want to do this, but always have extra work that students can work on independently. For example, if they finish early they can write in their journal, read a book, or do an extra credit project. This way, you never have a student who raises their hand and says "I'm Done". There's always something that can be worked on.

Thanks for great suggestions, Rebecca! We should all add to this list through comments to help out our first year teacher friends.

Judith's picture

Student Teacher

I am in my second semester of Student Teaching (4th Grade), and I found this article extremely helpful! Within the first month of student teaching I lost my voice. The Master Teacher suggested I speak softly in order for everyone to decipher what I was saying. After getting their attention I would start speaking my normal speaking voice. What if a child is consistently being disrespectful, and distracting other students? What are some strategies that would help? Thank You! Great Blog!

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