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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

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
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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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Constance Richardson's picture

These are great tips! Patience and respect are the keys. Beginning the year running a tight ship has worked well for me; once we have established a climate of comfort and respect, I
can always ease up a bit. Students notice and appreciate that. Being consistent in your expectations gives students a sense of well-being.

Yorke4's picture

I agree completely with this blog and your post. Keeping students busy and engaged in their learning is key. Transition times are definitely a time where I sometimes lose my students and the volume of their voices gets out of control. I've found that sticking to a routine of a 5 minute warning, then 2 minutes, and then giving enough time for clean up. I then use strategies such as lining up by birthday or color shirt, since I teach 3rd grade! Anytime that we are rushing to get to the next activity or period, that's when I see trouble the most.

Arylee's picture

As a future bilingual teacher, I've found these tips very helpful. Poor classroom management affects both, teaching and learning. Establishing the rules since day one is also very helpful so things can run smoothly in the classroom. I also think the teacher's attitude is especially important; teachers should show firmness when directing students without raising their voice of course. I've tried it when covering PK classes and it works. Thanks for the tips. I will put them into practice when having my own class :)

Teacher Dan Deslaurier's picture
Teacher Dan Deslaurier
Lower School Art Teacher (PK-4)

Rebecca, thank you so much for this column, one I am sure to keep and share with my student teachers. I can share that, when modeling these and similar approaches with my classes for young practitioners, they marvel at how effectively these seem to work, as if by magic! I also work as a voiceover talent, and can attest to the importance of knowing and understanding the power of your voice--it is not how loud or how well you sound, rather, it is the art of how you use your voice to engage and influence others that can really make a difference both in and outside of the classroom!

Nancy Pival Jones's picture
Nancy Pival Jones
6th grade L.Arts inclusion

I use a bell. The students know that when we are working in groups and I ring the bell once that means they need to start whispering because the noise level has risen too much. If I ring the bell 3 times it means they have to freeze and listen for directions. This can get us moving on to the next activity too. The kids always ask, "What about 2 rings?" I always tell them there is no 2. I want no confusion between just one ring and the three rings. It works for me.

Denise's picture

These are great. I also explicitly teach my students the different cues that I use to get their attention. Tilden we practice. Although they are in middle school, I never assume they will just know what to do and when. It is totally worth the time it takes in the first days of the year.

Patricia B's picture

Great column and advice! Being a "veteran"myself and a teacher trainer, I've picked up a few tricks over the years too and one that works quite well, especially when your lessons are short and time is vital, is to greet the class, and write the instructions on the board together with the time you are giving students to get started and any possible consequences if they don't . As they are curious about what you are writing, there are always some students who start reading what you are writing aloud and the rest quiet down to listen so you manage to convey instructions and get the class to listen fairly quickly. I use this in secondary but I have used it occasionally in primary and it seems to work there too.

Amy Holderness's picture
Amy Holderness
PreK-5th grade music teacher from Coney Island, NY

The only suggestion would be to put number 5 at #1. I have found that an engaging lesson cuts out students misbehaving.

CD's picture

I just completed my first year teaching. I laughed a little as I read about losing your voice. After about a week of school this past year I lost my voice, with many veteran teachers joking that I had "new teacher voice". I was certainly talking too loud at the beginning of the year and learned that the students could hear me at a normal voice level. A suggestion for #3 would be to incorporate hand signals in other activities. My kindergarteners hold up 1 finger to use the bathroom and 2 fingers to get a drink. This helps with interruptions during lessons. I can easily shake my head yes or no, even while reading or speaking. This is also very helpful during guided reading while I am busy with a small group listening to them read without any interruption.


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