George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

30 Techniques to Quiet a Noisy Class

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One day, in front 36 riotous sophomores, I clutched my chest and dropped to my knees like Sergeant Elias at the end of Platoon. Instantly, dead silence and open mouths replaced classroom Armageddon. Standing up like nothing had happened, I said, "Thanks for your attention -- let's talk about love poems."

I never used that stunt again. After all, should a real emergency occur, it would be better if students call 911 rather than post my motionless body on YouTube. I've thought this through.

Most teachers use silencing methods, such as flicking the lights, ringing a call bell (see Teacher Tipster's charming video on the subject), raising two fingers, saying "Attention, class," or using Harry Wong's Give Me 5 -- a command for students to:

  1.     Focus their eyes on the speaker
  2.     Be quiet
  3.     Be still
  4.     Empty their hands
  5.     Listen.

There is also the "three fingers" version, which stands for stop, look, and listen. Fortunately, none of these involve medical hoaxes.

Lesser known techniques are described below and categorized by grade bands:

How to Quiet Kindergarten and Early Elementary School Children

Novelty successfully captures young students' attention, such as the sound of a wind chime or rain stick. Beth O., in Cornerstone for Teachers, tells her students, "Pop a marshmallow in." Next she puffs up her cheeks, and the kids follow suit. It's hard to speak with an imaginary marshmallow filling your mouth.

An equally imaginative approach involves filling an empty Windex bottle with lavender mineral oil, then relabeling the bottle "Quiet Spray." Or you can blow magic "hush-bubbles" for a similar impact.

If you want to go electronic, check out Traffic Light by ICT Magic, which is simply a stoplight for talkers. Other digital methods include the Super Sound Box, Class Dojo, or the Too Noisy App -- an Apple and Android tool that determines noise level and produces an auditory signal when voices become too loud.

Late Elementary and Middle Grade Attention Getters

Back when I taught middle school students, I would announce, "Silent 20," as a way to conclude an activity. If students returned to their seats and were completely quiet in 20 seconds, I advanced them one space on a giant facsimile of Game of Life. When they reached the last square (which took approximately one month), we held a popcorn party.

One of the best ways to maintain a quiet classroom is to catch students at the door before they enter. During these encounters, behavior management expert Rob Plevin recommends using "non-confrontational statements" and "informal chit-chat" to socialize kids into productive behaviors, as modeled in Plevin's video.

Two approaches for securing "100 percent attention" are modeled in a short video narrated by Teach Like a Champion author Doug Lemov -- a minimally invasive hand gesture and countdown technique ("I need two people. You know who you are. I need one person . . . ").

Another idea is to use a content "word of the week" to signal that it's time for silence. Examples: integer, renaissance, or circuit.

Quieting High School Students

Sometimes, rambunctious high school classrooms need a little longer to comply. In An ELT Notebook article, Rob Johnson recommends that teachers write the following instructions in bold letters on the chalkboard:

If you wish to continue talking during my lesson, I will have to take time off you at break. By the time I've written the title on the board you need to be sitting in silence. Anyone who is still talking after that will be kept behind for five minutes.

The strategy always, always works, says Johnson, because it gives students adequate warning.

Another technique, playing classical music (Bach, not Mahler) on low volume when learners enter the room, sets a professional tone. I played music with positive subliminal messages to ninth graders until they complained that it gave them headaches.

Call and Response

Below is a collection of catchy sayings that work as cues to be quiet, the first ones appropriate for early and middle grade students, and the later ones field tested to work with high school kids.

  • The teacher says... Holy. The students respond with... Macaroni.
  • The teacher says... 1, 2, 3, eyes on me. The students respond with... 1, 2, eyes on you.
  • The teacher says... I'm incredible. The students respond with... like the Hulk. Grrrrrr. (Kids flex during the last sound.)
  • The teacher says... Ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. The students respond with... macarena.
  • The teacher says... I get knocked down. The students respond with... but I get up again, you're never going to keep me down.
  • The teacher says... Oh Mickey, you're so fine. The students respond with... you're so fine, you blow my mind -- hey Mickey.
  • The teacher says... The only easy day. The students respond with... was yesterday. (A Navy Seals slogan)

Implementation Suggestions

For maximum effect, teach your quiet signal and procedure, as demonstrated in this elementary level classroom video. Next, have kids rehearse being noisy until you give the signal for silence. Don't accept anything less than 100 percent compliance. Then describe appropriate levels of noise for different contexts, such as when you're talking (zero noise) or during a writing workshop (quiet voices), etc.

If a rough class intimidates you (we've all been there), privately practice stating the following in an authoritative voice: "My words are important. Students will listen to me." Say it until you believe it. Finally, take comfort in the knowledge that, out of three million U.S. educators who taught today, two or three might have struggled to silence a rowdy class.

How do you get your students' attention?

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laprimeradama's picture

I don't think you should wait a month. I would start off daily, then go to weekly. They have short attention spans, they need to see results quickly to see the connection between behavior and rewards.

Guest's picture

While teaching if anyone is not listening to the class, I will just stop my class for a moment and will continue again.... making sure he/she has my attention again. Still if he/she continues the same i will have a personal talk , find the reason and make a solution....

NewPathLearning's picture
NewPathLearning
Teaching Resources for Math, Reading, Science and Social Studies for Gr. 1-10

But what about when you add phones to the mix? For example; Kids showing their friends a YouTube video, social media post, or a text message. What do you think would be the best method to use on kids that are on their phones?

Kami Huynh's picture

The title for the article caught my attention and was a good read. Everyone has their own techniques and ways that they use to try to get their classroom quiet. Some may work and others may not. Its always good to share suggestions with one another about what works in your class room so others may try it too. I'm use to hearing and saying "Attention class" or "Boys and girls", flicking the lights off and even ringing a bell. I like the teacher says "holy" and the kids respond "macaroni". That is a fun way to get their attention.

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Kelly Tisdale's picture

I have found that call responses are great but they must be catchy to be effective. I will typically do a call response 3 or 4 times, each time getting quieter. I will use silly voices, too, to capture their attention, which also keeps it fun. I am also realistic. Children and teenagers are small humans, which are social by nature, and they are in a small room surrounded by friends so quiet is relative. Ever been to a faculty meeting? Enough said. I've tried points but they can be difficult to keep up with (at least for me). Instead, my students, as a class, spell COMPLIMENT. As they receive compliments from other teachers for quiet, appropriate behavior in the hallway or in resources like PE, they earn a letter. Whenever they spell COMPLIMENT, the whole class receives a special reward like lunch in the classroom with me. It only takes 10 compliments to earn the reward and they can't lose a letter for inappropriate behavior (because it's a not a discipline system). Most importantly, I have learned consistent expectations and fairness will be more effective than any system you put in place.

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Jennifer's picture

My daughter is in 2nd grade. Most recently I found out that the teacher has one of the students monitor the other students for talking during class. This student's role is to tell the teacher who is talking while the students are working on classroom work. The teacher is either still in the classroom working on a task or they might step out of the classroom for a period of time. It seems that this classroom job is creating friction among the students. Is this a common practice?

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Jennifer, I would recommend you follow up with the teacher as there may be more to the situation. This is not common practice and really should not be done in my opinion for many reasons. When children are in a classroom, a school employee (teacher, aide, or other) should be supervising. The exception could be a medical emergency, major behavioral incident, or to ask for assistance in an adjoining or next door classroom. In all those situations supervision returns ASAP. As far as the "classroom job" goes, it is not good practice to do it that way and definitely can cause friction among the students. I have on occasion had a student job of hallway monitor. However, this job is one of reflection where the chosen student is usually one who has struggled with hallway choices. The job is only to reflect using star cards (1 to 5) on how well the class transitioned to a special while walking in the hallway. We never name names, is only for reflection, and done in a very positive way. I also work hard to help the students understand our expectations and not be picky about every little thing- which of course 1st and 2nd graders can do so well. ;) While it isn't a job in the classroom, I also do similar reflections at circle throughout the day where we don't name names, but instead just reflect about choices by naming what went well and what we might change to improve as a whole. So please follow up with the classroom teacher to find out more. Good Luck and let us know how it goes.

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