Most kids are naturally chatty. Humans, after all, are social beings. But when you’re doing your best to engage a class and hear the unmistakable sound of kids talking when they’re supposed to be listening – or when the kids are supposed to be working on a project but are talking about everything but the project – it can be more than a little frustrating.
I wondered if there were student-centric strategies for dealing with a chatty class, so I asked Julia Thompson and Kristen Vincent to join me on a Responsive Classroom-sponsored episode of Studentcentricity to answer that question. They did so admirably. You can listen to the conversation by clicking here.
Below are some additional thoughts from them. Julia offers these tips for turning this challenge into a positive class attribute:
Be very clear with your students when you discuss this issue. They should know when it is acceptable for them to talk and when they should be working silently or listening carefully. Setting clear limits and communicating those limits reduce your students’ tendencies to test the boundaries of your tolerance.
Be aware that sometimes you may be the cause of the problem. Once your students are settled and working, be careful not to keep talking to the whole class. Work with individuals at that point instead of distracting the entire group.
Teach students that they must be responsible for their own talking. Use positive peer pressure to your advantage. Chart their successful attempts at managing their excessive talking with a large bar or pie graph and then provide a small tangible reward for those students who are successful. Once students see that they can be successful at managing their own noise levels, they will be likely to continue in a positive trend.
Many students chat with classmates and have side conversations because they are trying to meet a need. Maintaining self-control takes lots of energy. When children are hungry, tired or have been sitting for a while, it’s hard for them stay focused on their work or listen to someone else. If a lesson doesn’t engage children or seems irrelevant to their lives, they’ll look for other ways to entertain themselves, often turning to a classmate for a quick chat.
Other students are turning to talk with classmates because they lack the skills needed to listen and focus their attention. Skills such as being able to refocus when attention wanders, focusing on a speaker’s words, tone and body language, and responding to signals for quiet attention need to be modeled and explicitly taught to students, and students then need time to practice these skills before they become expectations in the classroom.
There are several proactive and reactive strategies teachers can use to work with chatty class.
Keep direct instruction to 10 minutes or less.
Build in time for productive student talk during lessons.
Incorporate movement into lessons.
Explicitly teach the skills needed for listening to others and focusing on work amidst distraction.
Be a model for focused listening and quiet attention.
Respond quickly, when students are just about to strike up a conversation or drift off-task.
Respond consistently to every chatty moment; don’t let some side conversations go on or engage with students who are off track.
Respond to whomever is being chatty; don’t single out some students but not others.
Redirect students who are engaged in a side conversation. “Sarah and Emilio, eyes up here.”
Use logical consequences that are respectful, related and realistic. “Sarah, come sit beside me.” or “Sarah, Emilio, go to our take-a-break spots.”
For more ideas to help teachers work with a chatty class and other common classroom behaviors, read Teasing, Tattling, Defiance and More, which is full of practical strategies and teaching practices from Responsive Classroom.