As a teacher, there's nothing more frustrating than students who hold side conversations during the lesson.
We spend more time, effort, and energy fighting this misbehavior than any other throughout the school year.
And if we don't nip it in the bud, it will spread throughout our classroom and infest even the best of students.
This seemingly innocuous behavior causes problems on many fronts: it distracts those trying to pay attention, it makes it difficult to hear what is being said, and generally, the students doing the talking are those that are most in need of paying attention.
Many of us teachers tend to ignore the side talk unless it's truly disruptive but that is a huge mistake. When students realize that the teacher isn't doing anything about this behavior, it spreads, and it becomes even harder to extinguish as time goes on.
And when we do try to correct this behavior, what we do most of the time, just doesn't work.
Asking them to be quiet over and over again is ineffective. When we say it and they don't do it, the word loses meaning and becomes repetitive background noise.
Many teachers use call-and-response, but that often gets old and becomes less and less effective. So much so, that teachers often have to change what the call-and-response is over the course of the year. It often works better with younger students, but as kids get older, they buy into this technique less and less.
Some of us, including myself at times, resort to yelling over them to be quiet. This NEVER works and it shows the students that you don't have control and that they can push your buttons. This is never a good look for a classroom teacher.
So what does work you ask?
The Highly-Effective Solution
The one thing that I've done over the years that has never failed to work NOT EVER is the silent treatment.
I've taught in all kinds of environments from the affluent to the middle-class, to the poor, from the high-achieving to the I-don't-give-a-care crowd, from high school to lower middle school (6th grade) and it has worked in all of these situations.
What do I mean by the silent treatment?
I mean you don't say anything. You don't ask students to be quiet. You don't beg or plead with them. You don't get frustrated or angry. You simply just wait quietly for them to get quiet.
At first, it may not seem to work. You'll wait for what seems like hours when in fact it's only minutes, but eventually, they WILL get quiet.
You may have to wait most of class that first time with some classes and other classes will get it right away.
The key is to not give in. The moment you do, you've lost. You have to out-wait them. They are going to try to push boundaries and you're going to have to expect and anticipate that. You're going to have some really stubborn classes who are seemingly not going to give in, but you still have to wait. Discipline comes before instruction— ALWAYS. There's no point trying to teach something if no one is listening and trying to teach over their voices doesn't make it any better. The toughest part of this technique is the waiting, but you have to wait them out, each and every time.
If you give in, even once, they've won and you may never get them back or if you do, it will take an extremely long time as they know they've already outlasted you once.
So no matter how long it takes, you wait quietly until they ALL get quiet.
And only when they ALL—not just the majority— get quiet, only then, will you return to teaching.
When you do return to teaching, start where you left off as if nothing ever happened. Don't lecture them, don't give them a look, don't do anything else but continue where you left off.
You need to do this each and every time they get noisy, not just when it's really bad or you're having a bad day and are frustrated.
Consistency is the key and not giving up is the charm. If you do both, I guarantee you success.
Aren't We Wasting Class Time?
I know what you're thinking...
Doesn't that waste a lot of class time?
It may seem like that, but it's far less class time than if you have to lecture, plead, and beg all year long. When I add up the minutes I've lost fighting with my students about classroom noise, it adds up to days if not weeks lost.
On top of that, the days I'm most exhausted from teaching are those days I had to beg, please, and argue with my students about classroom noise. It gets frustrating and it eats at you and you wonder why can't these kids just be quiet and listen?
So no, it's not a waste of class time, even if you have to wait a lot in the beginning. Classroom management isn't as much being a boss in your classroom as it is practicing effective procedures. If you dedicate the time to practice ALL of your classroom procedures just like we do emergency drills, the time you "wasted" practicing these procedures will pay in dividends the rest of the year and this includes the "waiting game."
If you wait each and every time consistently, they will learn and the waiting time will get shorter and shorter and you'll be surprised how much class time you actually end up saving! Plus all those afternoons where you won't be exhausted and frustrated from "managing" your class.
So remember, the next time your class gets noisy or a few students start side talk, just stop what you're doing and wait. No judgment. You'll be surprised at what happens.
Have you tried this technique? How has it worked for you? Any other foolproof techniques to maintain quiet during instruction? Please share in the comments!
Also, download the Quiet Cheatsheet as a simple reminder by clicking the button below.