By Justin Ashley, author of The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy
Whether you are a rookie or veteran teacher, you know that getting your students’ attention (and keeping it) can be the difference between a good day in the classroom and a bad one. Here are 10 ways you can positively channel your kids’ energy so you can get your message out and students can stay focused when working together.
1. Create a class chant.
If students are working collaboratively and you need to get their attention, try a call and response. My students like these about soft drinks:
I say “Coca,” they say “Cola.”
I say “Mountain,” they say “Dew.”
I say “Mellow,” they say “Yellow.”
You can find 50 other really good call-and-response ideas at the Cornerstone for Teachers.
2. Do one clap, two claps.
Simply say, “If you hear my voice, clap once.” After students clap, say, “If you can hear my voice, clap twice.”
3. Switch the seats.
If several students are talking when they are supposed to be listening or chatting when they are supposed to be working, try using a more strategic seating chart. If you’ve got too many extroverts sitting together, it’s natural that they are going to talk about the new Taylor Swift album or the Golden State Warriors instead of the curriculum.
The old-school seating chart strategy says to sit students boy-girl, boy-girl. Instead, try introvert-extrovert. This can be a win-win. It keeps the extroverts from getting into an in-depth, off-task conversation, and it can also bring the introverts out a little more in class discussions and partnered assignments.
4. Give students time to talk.
Humans are, by nature, social animals. Students crave time to connect with others, and thinking out loud is part of the human process. Kids need time to communicate. Most kids are going to talk in class, so make it structured time—talking with a purpose—during which they can truly process and share their thinking through student-centered assignments and project-based learning.
Set aside a little time every day for a brain break or group project. You can hold students accountable with a rubric. If they have a chunk of time to work with others in the beginning of class, they are more likely to work well (independently and quietly) later.
5. Focus on student relationships.
One of my favorite TV shows is The Andy Griffith Show. I can’t help but think how different Barney and Andy were in their policing and behavior management philosophies.
Barney often focused on using force to get his message across to the people of Mayberry, but Andy focused on building relationships. He didn’t have to yell, scream, or flash his gun. When he spoke, people listened. That’s because he had a good relationship with everyone.
Focus on connecting with kids each day, getting to know them and telling them stories about your life so they get to know you, too. Eat lunch in the cafeteria with them. Play with them at recess. Ask them about their hobbies and what they are doing over the weekend. They are more likely to listen when you speak in class if they feel connected to you, and they’ll even sometimes stand up for you, asking other kids to be quiet when you are talking so they can hear what you have to say.
6. Use an app.
There are a few apps you can use to get students’ attention, reward them for listening, or manage the noise level in the room.
Check out these apps and see if any would work for you:
7. Use a timer.
Set up a digital timer and display it on the whiteboard or projector so students can see it. When the timer goes off at the end of a group or partnered activity, do a quick countdown from 10 or 20 for students to get settled and to focus on you.
8. Use the classic Give Me 5.
Try the famous Give Me 5 strategy (from the book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong) where you, along with your students, count to the number five and do the task associated with each number:
- Eyes on teacher
- Lips closed
- Be still
- Hands free (put things down)
I suggest putting these five steps on a poster in the front of the room and referencing it as you count.
9. Point out the positives.
Don’t get frustrated if there are a few students who initially don’t quiet down. Look near them for the students who are focused and call them out by name: “I see Cole seated and quiet. I see Savannah seated and quiet.” This sends a message to the chatterboxes without specifically calling them out publicly and embarrassing them.
10. Write student thank-you cards.
I remember my first year teaching eighth grade. There was this one student who would frequently try to talk with the students around him during independent work or class discussions. I was really frustrated by it because it kept happening, even after silent lunch, constant redirections, and a parent contact. I got so flustered that one day I just sent him out of the classroom.
As I walked toward my door to check on him, I turned back to my class and noticed the other 31 kids all working hard and doing what I had asked them to do. That’s when it hit me: I was focusing so much of my energy on that one kid that I had forgotten about the other 31.
I went back to my desk and found a few thank-you cards. I wrote notes to several students who had maintained their focus in class, raised their hands, and participated in the discussion. The letters not only made their day, they made mine, too. My negative mood had flipped to a positive one.
What I’ve learned is that the biggest distraction noisy kids make is not the distraction they cause to other students. It’s the distraction they cause to you.
Justin Ashley is an award-winning teacher, motivational speaker, author, and public education advocate from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he began teaching in 2007. He is also a highly sought-after speaker for professional development. He has been an inspirational keynote presenter for thousands of current and future teachers, creating an atmosphere that bounces back and forth between rapt silence and raucous laughter. In 2013, he became the only teacher ever to win both North Carolina History Teacher of the Year and North Carolina Social Studies Teacher of the Year in the same year.
Justin Ashley is the author of The Balanced Teacher Path: How to Teach, Live, and Be Happy.
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