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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.

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sh61052's picture

I loved reading this blog. I thought about my first year teaching and the insight that is post would have given me if I had read it back then. I typically never raise my voice but I learned the hard way to wait for the class to be silent. I would try snapping, clapping or attention cues my first year that worked for a brief time until my students had made up their mind that they didn't want to listen or I would get half the class to respond while the rest continued. I began the waiting game and after the first week it seemed to get better. The second week took a spiral downward like many of the other cues I had tried. I kept saying they are third graders, what could mean so much to them to use to get them to regroup. I tried for every minute they wasted regrouping, I tallied on the board to take away from their recess. The first week they owed me almost ten minutes each day. I would have them sit in with their heads down until I realized why not allow them to see the fun they could be having. Sounds cruel but it was a big wake up call to most of the students. Having the whole class walk the perimeter of the blacktop silent was a wake up call to most of the students as the other classes ran around playing and having fun. Soon the silent game worked as they disliked having their recess taken. I think teaching is a huge learning curve for new teachers. You have to find what works for your students and try numerous techniques.

scarder's picture

Reminders for teacher's who have been in the profession for an extended period of time is always helpful. We tend to forget some of the basics that can truly redefine our classrooms.
While #3 doesn't help as much in a secondary classroom, #1, 2, 4, & 5 were fabulous to read.
Thank you for sharing!

Miss J's picture

These are all such useful tips. I have found myself choosing between tip #2 and tip #3 depending on the class I have. One year I was teaching a class where the majority of the students were boys...and a rather rowdy bunch! My attempt to switch the lights off and on was met with shouts of surprise followed by "spooky noises" such as wailing like ghosts and "evil laughs". Once I had managed to stop laughing, I figured maybe this wasn't the best way to get their attention.
Even after several years of teaching, it is always helpful to be reminded of the basics!

noelycr's picture

I also agree with voice level. Voice levels are essential and specific according to a specific task and setting. If a student is in a hallway they must maintain at a voice level 0 . If they are in a collaborative group they can speak in a voice level 1 , which is to whisper.

Carla's picture

Thank you so much for these tips. I have seen almost all of them used in classes I have been in. I have seen teachers whisper to get students attention. That does work. I have seen the waiting until everyone is silent work for some teachers, but not for others. I think the students respond better to the teacher that is in control. I have seen hand signals work very well in classrooms. One teacher that had a bathroom inside his classroom would have the students give a thumbs up if they needed to use it. He would see it and nod or shake his head. This was so much less distracting than having a student raise his or hand and ask to go. The class kept right on flowing. At this same school they have a clap that has two parts. The teacher does the first part to get the students attention and the students have to do the second part of the clap to finish it. It really gets everyone's attention and the kids love clapping. I have seen it make a whole lunchroom go silent. I agree to get the bottom of things before they get to far along as number 4 suggests. I am still working on number 5. This is my second year of teaching and I teach online. I do see the kids on field trips, etc and I need to think of a way to include these.

Jalawn111's picture

I absolutely agree with statement number 5!! I have come to learn that as long as I have more activities than what I necessarily need planned, my students have so much to focus on doing that it cuts down on behavior problems. Another suggestion is to make sure transition between activities are smooth and quick. Any down time is opening a door for trouble. I try to have papers been handed out as they are working, versus having them sitting there waiting on papers to be passed out. Students work best when they are busy actively learning and engaged at all times.

Tiffany's picture

Thank you Rebecca for sharing those classroom management tips, I really enjoyed all of them. #3 works really well with the primary grades. I am doing my student teaching in a classroom with many disruptive, behavioral problem students and I am wondering what to do when I am in a small group and two students are both misbehaving at the same time, while I am trying to assess compliant students who are actively engaged in the reading? I am hoping that a lot of the students misbehavior is just because I am not their actual teacher, however I want to help these students learn and respect me. Any suggestions?

Bellatore's picture

Thank you for the tips. These are bits of wisdom I have read many times. I know this is true, but remembering at the right time is the challenge for me. Also, the last and most important one is difficult - coming up with lessons that are student-centered and engaging is really difficult.

Isabella's picture

Thank you for the great tips! I am a early childhood ed preservice teacher and am still learning much about classroom management. I couldn't agree more about creating engaging lesson plans! If the students are bored, successful learning cannot take place. One thing I find myself struggling with is how to gain attention after transitions. Should I wait it out, should I use the "if you can hear me touch your nose" strategy, or what? I think once you learn more about the group of students you are working with, you can determine what strategies might best grab their attention and use trial and error.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Some great advice here. My first supervising teacher (a while ago now) told me that he didn't mind what I did in my first 4 weeks as a teacher, as long as I got my behaviour strategy sorted out. Good advice. I also have a couple of tips that I pass on now:
1) Take up time - allow students time to become silent - not immediate silence.
2) Tactical ignore - sometimes, it causes less disruption to ignore one student doing the wrong thing than disrupting the whole lesson.

Unitarian School's picture

After going through some writing of the site, I would like to register myself with edutopia.org. Thankyou. Very helpful

Peripatetic's picture

I am career transition from life sciences. I wish I had known these things before I was thrown into classes of 7th and 8th graders to teach them "comprehensive sciences." I had "co-teachers" in the classroom a few times (Florida's constitution specifies multiple teachers in the classroom based on size, but that was routinely violated). Each co-teacher took a different tack: one was constantly yelling (raised voice) at students. Another advised me not to get worked up and stressed at losing pace with the district curriculum plan, and to find a lesson plan pleasing to the students, which meant not to challenge them. I was so confused about whether to go north, south, east, and west in the classroom. I tried convincing the students that slacking off was a shame (apparently my first mistake--trying to find a sense of shame in them). The principal fired me after 13 weeks of teaching because several parents had complained about me. He offered me to sit and observe the other teachers on classroom management (I had already spent time watching a few, but apparently I had not learned from them). The principal suggested to me that I was perhaps out of touch both by age and culture with the kids (I had lived outside the US for 20 years, from about age 30 to age 50). My coteachers thought high school would be better for me, since I had been teaching at universities. Call me disillusioned at this career transition now.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Educator-in-Residence at Design Cofounders

Rebecca these are great tips that every teacher can use. I teach college students and sometimes find that my voice is louder than my average voice, so I have to step back, be patient until I have their full attention. This takes some time for the teacher to become an expert in, but once mastered, a very helpful tool!


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