In the 21st century classroom, collaboration and communication are absolute requirements.
Students who are engaged in learning are often working with partners and seldom sitting in silence. There are still times, however, when a teacher needs to give important instructions or deliver a message to a noisy class.
Trying to regain the attention of a group of students caught up in problem solving or creating may be difficult unless the teacher has developed a system for this ahead of time. Even with structured routines in place, the strength of these systems diminish as the novelty wears off – so it’s always helpful for teachers to have a little variety in their “bag of tricks.” Here are some suggestions you can conjure up that many enchanting educators have used successfully.
01. Numerus Descendit – The Countdown
This concept is not groundbreaking, but can still be very effective if it isn’t used too often. Stand in the middle of the classroom and just start counting backwards from 10. Students will magically start scrambling to clean up, return to their seats, and look at you attentively. Even more incredible, you don’t even have to announce a potential consequence if you reach number 1 before they’ve finished. It never happens (at least it has never happened to me in twenty-five years of teaching). If you prefer to use a digital version on your screen, Richard Byrne shares his 3 favorite countdown timers here.
02. Call Respondeo – Call Response
This has become a pretty popular method of getting your class’s attention. It ranges from clapping your hands in a pattern that they must repeat to shouting out the first part of a phrase that they must complete. For example, loudly declare, “Peanut Butter!” to your students, and they will stop what they are doing and shout, “and Jelly!” I’m not very creative in coming up with these myself, so I like to consult these lists from innovative teachers like Angela Watson and The Wise Guys. Playworks has a video demonstrating the use of several popular techniques in this video:
03. Sententiae Inepta – Silly Phrase
I started using this method one day when I felt a little bored of our standard call and response and needed a bit of silliness to bring in some novelty. I recalled an exercise we did in one of my writing classes where we would try to make up sentences that have never been written.
“Okay, everyone needs to stop and listen for directions when I say, ‘The pickle likes to float on clouds above the ocean,” I said. I got giggles and bemused looks, but it worked. Now it has become a standard technique in my class that I’ll throw in about once a month. Sometimes I’ll even tease the students a bit and say the beginning of the phrase but end it differently – meaning they can still keep working. It keeps them on their toes – and it keeps me on my toes as I try to remember what ridiculous statement I made up 20 minutes earlier.
If you find that you have a difficult time coming up with your own sentences, you can try the PBS Tall Tales Crazy Sentence Generator for some unusual sentences that are appropriate for school.
04. Accentus Insanis – Crazy Accent
If you don’t feel inclined to make up something ridiculous to say, you can settle for sounding ridiculous instead. “I need everyone to be quiet so you can hear my instructions,” might make more of an impact if you say it in a different accent than your students are used to hearing.
The good news is that the worse you are at this, the more attention you will receive. You aren’t auditioning to be the next James Bond – but you could pretend that you are. One of my favorite examples of this is from an episode of “Friends” when Ross decides to adopt a British accent in an attempt to get more respect from his peers and students. It doesn’t quite go the way he has planned…
05. Music Principium – Music Cues
Ever since the invention of the “Clean Up” song, teachers have been using music to signal transition times in the classroom. Students older than Kindergarten age would probably roll their eyes at that particular composition blaring on your classroom speakers, but they seem to be mesmerized by silly songs like, “The Hamster Dance,” and, “Scooby-Doo Theme Song.” Sudden eruptions of “Mission Impossible” and “Star Wars” also work pretty well. Mr. Vasicek has a great playlist here to get you started. Mr. Vaudrey also has some great recommendations for using music cues. One of my favorite sources was TelevisionTunes.com, but that site is now blocked in my district.
06. Pila Repente – Bouncy Balls Website
This website has had mixed success in my classroom – mostly because we are all more fascinated with making the virtual balls bounce around on the screen than we are with silently observing them in a pile on the bottom. The idea is that the students can self-monitor the noise level in the classroom by avoiding a ball frenzy on the computer. Noise is picked up through the computer’s microphone and the site reacts accordingly. You can make it even more exciting by choosing bubbles, emojis, or eyeballs for your springing spheres. I have a feeling this would work better for my students if they could incite action with their silence instead of their noise…
07. Tumultuantem – Too Noisy App
Similar to the way Bouncy Balls works, the Too Noisy app, which is available on Android and iOS devices, also monitors the classroom sound levels. The Pro version ($3.99) allows you to customize it in ways that you cannot with the free Bouncy Balls site, such as set an alarm to go off when the noise level stays too high for more than three seconds, and awarding stars for going certain lengths of time without exceeding the level. There is also a free “Lite” version available online. Silent Light ($2.99) is another app that some classroom teachers like to use.
08. Summa Locus – Stand Next to Them
Most teachers learn this technique in Education 101, but we sometimes forget its effectiveness for quieting small groups and even solitary students who have difficulty keeping noises and humming in check. Positioning ourselves near students often has the magical effect of making students aware that the expectations for the acceptable noise level have changed and you need silence at the moment.
09. Manere in Perpetuum – I’ll Wait
The caveat for using this particular method with older kids is that the students need to have motivation for wanting to move on to the next activity; otherwise telling them that you will wait until they are quiet is laughable and a wonderful opportunity for them to turn the tables on you. “The longer I need to wait until you are quiet makes less time for you to do this exciting science experiment,” has a lot more strength than, “The longer I need to wait until you are quiet, the less time I will have to give you a boring lecture about something that is completely irrelevant to you.” In the latter case, you might want to start singing loudly and operatically with a horrible voice instead of patiently standing still in front of the noisy class.
10. Musicum Magicum Box – The Magical Music Box
A contributor to an article from Really Good Stuff described the way she uses a music box for classroom management. This would work really well for self-contained classes. Wind up the music box at the beginning of the week, and open it whenever the class needs to quiet down. If there is still music left that hasn’t been played by the end of the week, the class earns a reward.
11. Tractus Inepta – Powtoon Video
Powtoon is a fun tool to create short videos that capture students’ attention with clever animation and audio tracks. If your students are readers, try using Powtoon to give routine instructions like this teacher did:
Another advantage of using video or any kind of visual instructions on a screen is that students can refer back to it if they missed something, and the instructor does not have to repeat herself.
12. Silentium Dicere – Speak Quietly
One day I walked into a teacher’s classroom and was enveloped in a serene atmosphere that seemed unusual. I looked at the teacher questioningly and she whispered to me that she had lost her voice. Even though she hadn’t made a request to talk quietly, the students had followed her lead and spent the rest of the day communicating in whispers themselves. Later that year, the teacher admitted to me that, after that day, she would pretend to lose her voice every once in awhile just so she could revisit that magically calm day.
13. Voce Dicere – Say it out Loud (Using your Computer)
Another teacher friend of mine who had lost her voice decided to take advantage of the Google Translate tool that she always had available for a student who spoke another language. The teacher merely typed her instructions into Google Translate and clicked on the speaker icon to have the sentences read out loud for the students. Whether it was empathy for the teacher or respect for the disembodied voice, the students instantly followed the instructions that played through their classroom speakers. Although she had a class of Kindergarteners, I could see this working with older students if you added a little humor to the directions.
As you can see from the list above, it doesn’t take a ghost or a witch’s book of spells to quiet a noisy class – and you certainly don’t need to scream. A teacher’s magic powers come from connecting with your students, developing regular routines that are sometimes interspersed with novelty and, frequently, having a sense of humor. “Charm” your students by earning their respect, and you will find it relatively simple to ask for and to receive their attention. Remember, the best way to get people to listen to what you have to say is to tell them something that they want to hear! And, the more passionate and excited you are about what you are teaching, the more eager your students will be to listen and follow your instructions.
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