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Getting a Handle on Student Talking

One of the biggest complaints we hear from new teachers is the issue of student talking. "They won't be quiet." "I constantly have to ask them to be quiet." "They don't listen to my lesson."

What are some things you can do to get a handle on the student talking in your classroom? Here are some tips to help.

Appropriate Talking Times

The first thing you need to ask yourself is when are they talking? Are they talking during your instruction or when you are giving directions, OR are they talking during a project, or work time? It is okay to let students talk while they are working. Although they may not always be talking about their work, for the most part, they will be on task. Human beings are social creatures by nature and we tend to do a better job when we talk to others. Students get ideas from one another, they judge how well they are doing, they offer help to others, and they help each other do a good job on their work. Sometimes they are just chit-chatting, but even this helps build bonds between your students.

Introduce the idea of My Time/ Your Time

"My Time" refers to the teacher's time. "Your Time" refers to the students' time. You might say something like this:

"Whenever I am giving a lesson, directions, am speaking to the class, or am standing in front of the class as a whole, that is My Time. During My Time I expect for students to be silent, looking at me, and listening. You may be taking notes, but you are expected to pay attention to what I am saying. If you are talking to your neighbor are you paying attention to me? (No) If you are rummaging around in your backpack for supplies are you paying attention to me? (No). Exactly. Now, let's practice what paying attention looks like."

At this point you want to have the class practice what you expect them to do during "My Time" (teacher's time).

Next you might say:

"Now, if I have given you a class or group assignment and have given you time in class to work, that is "Your Time". You may get supplies, sharpen your pencil, ..."

These are just examples - you want to be specific in telling them exactly what they are allowed to do. I let mine get a drink of water or use the restroom if they really need to because thirsty kids and kids who need to go to the bathroom aren't working. The only thing they are thinking about is water and the bathroom. I'd rather they be thinking.

"When I put up the quiet signal (my hand in the air), or ring the bell (a small dinner bell that stays in my pocket), that is the signal that it is "My Time" again and I want full attention on me."

Then practice with them.

Work Time vs. Play Time

You also want to take time during the first week of school to explain the difference between "work time" and "play time" with your students. We want to be able to have some fun in our classrooms, but it can be hard when students take it a little too far or don't know how to stop. Don't just talk about the difference between "work time" and "play time", but practice these types of transitions with students as well. They may not understand your verbal and non-verbal clues until you do some training exercises. Once you've given your talk about the difference between "work time" and "play time", give students some examples of how you might transition. Then practice.


Don't worry that you have a chatty class. Almost everyone does. What child likes to sit still and silent all day long? None that I know of! What you have to decide is when is it okay for them to talk and when is it not okay. Then tell them exactly what you expect of them and follow it up with consequences - be consistent so that students can trust that if they talk during a lesson you WILL give them a time out. If they talk again when they aren't supposed to, they will lose time out of recess. They should know this so well in a couple of weeks that if a child talks during a lesson you should be able to say, "John, I expect everyone to be quiet and listening while I am talking. You know what you need to do." The child should immediately apologize (this should always be part of your expectations) and should go to the time-out seat and set the timer for 3-4 minutes (your choice). When the timer rings, the child can rejoin the class. You shouldn't have to say the consequence because after a couple of weeks of them testing you, they'll probably all know it - as long as you do the same thing every time. Even if it seems inconsequential, you still need to follow your procedure.


1st time - warning

2nd time - 4 min. in time-out

3rd time - 5 minutes loss of recess

4th time - 10 minutes loss of recess

5th time - phone call home (student calls and tells parents what they did and why)

I personally like a chatty class, so I let them talk quietly during their work time. If the principal walks in and sees everyone talking, the class looks lively and engaged. More likely than not the students are so nervous that the principal is listening to them that they will immediately have deep conversations regarding their work. This also happens with visitors. Just be sure that you are walking around monitoring their work and listening in on their conversations while they are working on assignments. This type of listening in also gives you an excellent way to assess which students need help and how well your students understood your directions, the information, and the activity. Keep a clipboard with you, with either index cards or a spreadsheet of student names so that you can take notes on what is happening, who is on task, who is not, problems, etc.

Monitoring and Redirect

When you do allow students to talk, be sure you are walking around monitoring their conversations. Although it is okay to get off the assigned topic for a little while, too much off task talking is not appropriate. While you monitor, you are more in a position to redirect student talking quietly rather than yelling out, "Quiet down now!" which is completely ineffective. Instead, walk up behind the student who is talking and quietly (just to them) say something like, "So, tell me what you have done so far. I'm taking progress checks." That student is immediately on task and you haven't singled them out in front of the class.

Stop Talking Yourself

No, I'm not reprimanding you. I'm offering another tool. If your class is talking, or even if one or two students are talking during your lesson, stop what you are doing and look them directly in the eye. Look every single student directly in the eye. You might want to use your quiet signal. Then in a quiet but firm voice say, "I'm waiting." If that doesn't do the trick, put a single mark on the board to represent every minute you will hold them in from recess or after class. That will definitely get their attention. Then say again, "I'm waiting." Once you have everyone's attention, it is time to do a reminder of your expectations regarding talking. "It is rude to talk when someone else is speaking. It is my turn to talk right now. When I am finished I will give you a chance to talk. However, if you take up my time with talking, not only will you end up with extra homework because we didn't have time in class, but you will also lose your class privileges."

Never ever continue teaching while students are talking. They will learn that no matter what they do you won't stop and there won't be any serious consequences. You expect students to be silent therefore you won't talk unless they ARE silent. This must be an attitude as much as a philosophy.

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Check out Survival Kit for New Teachers.

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