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How to Quiet a Noisy Classroom

Jeff Horwitz
Jeff Horwitz
March 31, 2024

Tried-and-True Techniques to Create a Focused Learning Environment

Students are talking, working, or playing, and we need their attention. When I first started teaching, I would have used the power of my voice to get everyone’s attention. I would have simply overpowered their noise. That would have gotten many of them to stop and pay attention. Then, I would correct others until I had everyone’s attention. I noticed when I would do that, it was exhausting for me; it didn’t feel good or could be overwhelming for the students closest to me, and some students didn’t respond anyway. In addition, other students would try to help by shouting at their friends or loudly shushing people. I thought, “There’s got to be a better way!” Then, I had the opportunity to learn a technique from the late, great Harry Wong. He taught me to slowly, calmly, and silently raise my hand, signaling the room that I needed their attention, and then wait for everyone in the classroom to follow. And you know what, it worked! I was able to refocus my classroom and get back on track without any yelling!

We’ve all been there - especially this time of year - Spring Fever! We’re competing with warmer temperatures, seasonal activities, and the looming end of the school year, and our students may seem rowdier than ever. But believe it or not, there are effective ways to quiet a classroom without saying anything at all! The key is to introduce these tactics to your classroom when you have their full attention. How you roll them out and being proactive are key steps to effectively using these techniques to manage your classroom. So introduce a few of these techniques to your students and when the time comes, they’ll know what to do! Please note - these ideas work best with kids in early education and primary school.

The Technique: Give Me Five

By calmly holding your hand up, you are asking students to give you their attention, be quiet, be still, and listen. 

How to introduce it to your students: Introduce the "Give Me Five" concept to your students and walk them through each step of the process, 1. Eyes on speaker, 2. Quiet, 3. Be still 4. Hands free, 5. Listen. Show your class and have them do it along with you. This is something you can post up on the wall as a reminder in your classroom or try out with them a few times to help them remember. 

Initially, remind your students by saying "Give me Five!" as you raise your hand and wait for others to join in. Going forward, say nothing at all and watch what unfolds in front of you. Some schools use an open hand, others use two fingers, and some use some other school-specific sign like quiet coyote. No matter what you use, consistency is key. Practice with your students and then put it into action! See how quickly they can all get quiet with their eyes on the speaker ready for instructions.

Note: This technique works well in classrooms, but its true power is seen when practiced in a large-scale setting like an auditorium. No words are needed. Try it for yourself!

The Technique: Bouncy Balls

Think of sound meters as visual cues for noise levels. BouncyBalls.org is a free option that displays bouncing balls and triggers alerts when noise levels get too loud. You can customize it for fun—eyeballs for Halloween, anyone? You can see a short video of it in action here. 

How to introduce it to your students: Before introducing it to your class, try it on yourself. You can adjust the sensitivity level for the noise on your computer and set an alert when the threshold is met.

shot of bouncyballs.org

When you're ready to roll it out to your class, tell your students you discovered this new website you want to try. Give them opportunities to play around with it. They will want to be loud and make the balls or bubbles bounce. Give them that opportunity. Then, see what it needs to sound like in the room for the balls or bubbles to stay at the bottom of the screen. Let them practice and choose the visual for the session.

Plus! Two Not So Silent Options...

The Technique: Call and Response

How to introduce it to your students: This idea may be better suited for kids in middle school and under. You can introduce some fun phrases to your class and put them on a board or make a fun graphic online and then share it with your students. Acting out, when I call out Holy Moly, you respond with Guacamole. This is a fun way to refocus your students' attention and bring it back to you. examples of call and response

Call and response isn’t limited to words! There are nonverbal call and response options, too. Try a series of claps, snaps, or stomps with your class and they echo those back. Or you clap twice, and they respond with three claps. Be creative; make this your own. These options are nice because they have a physical component and can engage the class without you saying a word.

The Technique: Sound Cues

Similar to Bouncy Balls and Give Me Five, sound cues are something you can introduce to your classroom to signal when the class has become a bit unruly. However, instead of introducing these techniques to your students, you can co-create these ideas for how you will cue them if things are getting too out of hand. This is a great activity for your students to be in control.

How to Introduce it to Your Students: Introduce the goal and then task your class with coming up with cues for how to regulate the classroom when things get too loud. Students can split into groups, develop ideas on their own, and then share them with the class. If students are too loud, you will squeak a toy, etc. Music can make a wonderful cue for transitions. Play a one-minute song when you are in the final minute of a work session or pick a song that plays during clean-up or organization time. Students can learn that whenever they hear that song, it is time to clean up materials. This provides enough time for people to find a natural stopping point in their work, to move, and to peacefully transition.

Note: You can also introduce other cues to your classroom, like when students can take a break during the lesson to stretch, move around, etc. - co-create a signal for that too!

A few other considerations, 

  • You can help students channel their energy by introducing fidget toys, stress balls, movement activities or breaks
  • Consider your classroom setup - flexible seating options, quiet corners, moving around students to help with distractions

We all have our “off-days” - and these techniques are needed to help reel in your students, but if you are finding that it is an ongoing issue, then you may want to consider:

  • Are there particular times of day in which the struggle to quiet a classroom is harder than others?
  • Have you spent enough time teaching your expectations?
  • It is common to need to revisit expectations in the spring. Feel free to practice expectations again, have students model them, and give them opportunities to practice. 
  • Exercises to build relationships with your students. Hold a class meeting and discuss the issue you are seeing. Perhaps your students have insight into why the struggles are arising.

By incorporating these universally designed strategies, you can create a classroom environment that caters to the variability of your students while promoting a quieter and more focused learning environment for everyone. 

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