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Shhh! How to Help Excessively Noisy Classes Without Yelling

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If you are ever going to have classes that are too noisy, you can bet that the time for this particular teacher nightmare is right now near end of the school term. Even those timid students who were too shy to speak above a whisper at the start of the year now appear to be completely comfortable shouting across the room. The classroom noise level this time of year isn't just stressful; it's a sure indicator of unproductive behavior.   

Although could be dozens of approaches to consider when your students talk excessively and loudly, using just a few effective strategies may help you begin to solve this problem for yourself and for your students. Examine the following approaches in view of your own experience and adapt the ones you find useful to make the remaining time you have with your students productive, peaceful, and quiet.

Be emphatic and explicit when you speak with your students about this problem. You should make it very clear when it is okay for them to talk and when you want them to work silently. If you are clear in communicating your expectations to your students, they will be less likely to repeatedly test your tolerance for noise.

Avoid the sound-wave effect of a loud class time followed by a quiet one followed by a loud one again. Be consistent in the way you enforce the rules in your class about excessive talking. Teachers who aren’t consistent spend their time getting a class quiet, allowing the noise level to build to an intolerable level, and then getting the class quiet again in an endless and ineffective cycle.

Sometimes you are the problem. When your students are working quietly and productively on an assignment, don’t keep talking to the class in general. When you repeatedly interrupt their work by distracting them with your own conversation, you make it harder for your students to work quietly.

Begin every class with an activity that will focus your students’ attention on the work they will be doing. This focusing activity will help them make a transition from the casual chatting they may have done on the way to your class to the purposeful work that you want them to begin. Teachers who aren’t consistent spend their time getting a class quiet, allowing the noise level to build to an intolerable level, and then getting the class quiet again in an endless and ineffective cycle.

Teach your students that they must be responsible for their talking if you do not want to spend all class period “shushing” them. Use positive peer pressure to help them monitor each other’s behavior so that your own monitoring efforts will be more effective.

Direct their conversation if you have a group that likes to talk. Get them talking productively about the lesson. If you are successful at doing this, their need to interact with each other and your need to have them master the material will both be satisfied.

Try to figure out why students are talking excessively so that you can turn this problem into an advantage. They may be talkative because they are excited, friendly, in need of more challenging work, unsure of the limits that you’ve set, or many other reasons.

If your students tend to talk when they have finished an assignment and are waiting for others to finish, sequence your instruction so that there is always an overlapping activity for your students to begin right away. Anchor activities make this even more easy to manage. 

Sometimes when students are very excited, allow them to spend a minute or two talking about it to clear the air so that they can focus on their work. Be clear in setting time limits when you do this. Two minutes of chatter is usually a reasonable amount of time in most cases. 

Stay on your feet when your class has a problem with talking. Eye contact, proximity, and other nonverbal cues will help. Persistent and careful monitoring will encourage students to stay focused on their work rather than on conversation.

During a movie or oral presentation when students may talk instead of listen, prevent this by giving them an activity to do. Students who are taking notes or filling out an intriguing activity sheet will not have time for chatter.

When the noise level is too loud, give students quieter activities that require they write or read independently. These assignments should be designed to interest them, not just keep the class busy or quiet.

Shifting gears from one activity to another is difficult for many students. Make transition times as efficient as possible in your class to avoid this problem. Be reasonable about the noise level during transition, but be quick to pull everyone back to a productive task.

If the entire class persists in having a problem with excessive talking, chart their behavior for them to see tangible evidence of it. Create a bar graph each day where you rank their success at managing their problem with talking on a scale of 1 to 10. Sometimes students are not aware of the severity of a problem until they can see it in a format such as this.

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Julia Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Tech and spent the next forty years teaching in Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia. Recently retired as a classroom teacher, Thompson works for the Bureau of Education and Research conducting seminars geared to help teachers support difficult and challenging students. She is also a contributor/blogger for the American Federation of Teacher's site, ShareMyLesson.com.


Author of several books for teachers, Thompson's most recent book, the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, was published on Teacher Appreciation Day, May 8, 2018, a fitting date for a teacher who spent a lifetime learning from her colleagues both near and far.


Thompson offers advice for teachers on Twitter (@TeacherAdvice), on her blog (www.juliagthompson.blogspot.com) and on her web site (www.juliagthompson.com).

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