For me, the past month has been all about ENGAGEMENT. And no – I don’t mean romantic proposals! Firstly, my fab friend, Leah Kirkman, and I submitted the manuscript for our third book in the Best of the Best series. It’s coming out soon and it’s called Best of the Best: Engagement. It’s another of our cute little pocket books containing over 100 practical strategies and it’s hot on the heels of Progress and Feedback.
Secondly, I’ve been working with the brilliant British Cycling to build a module on Engagement – helping cycling coaches keep their riders motivated and committed. I feel incredibly lucky because both projects have involved working with some totally inspiring people.
When our learners are engaged, it makes life in the classroom so much easier. If only we could just press a magic button – like engaging a mechanism – and our whole class become attentive, curious and keen!
So, this Practical Tips Gift is all about how to settle a noisy class. It features 8 ways to get your class attentive, focused and ready to ENGAGE! You’ll find these strategies are useful to obtain quiet at the beginning of a lesson and also to transition between activities quickly.
8 ways to settle a noisy class… (Ready, steady…”ENGAGE!”)
- Musical Minutes
Tell your class that you have chosen a short piece of music that you will click to <Play> every time you want the class to stop what they are doing and listen attentively. It’s helpful if the music is something the pupils will recognise – eg the opening credits to The X Factor or the chorus of a well-known pop song. As soon as the class is quiet, press <Pause> on the music.
Each time you have to click <Play> again, the music should pick up from where it last left off. Explain that if there is still music remaining at the end of the lesson then the whole class will receive a “reward” (or they might just avoid the sanction for wasting time – through something as simple as “going out to break on time”!) Whatever the outcome, it should obviously be in line with your school’s Rewards and Sanctions Policy.
You’ll find that as soon as the music starts, it generates an urgency to become attentive in the shortest time possible – the pupils want to save the precious music!
- Quirky Questions
If you’re struggling to get the attention of rowdy teens when you first meet them, it can be useful to call out a question that links to the lesson and will immediately get their attention. Try something like, “So who saw that horrendous TV programme last night?!…” or “Has anyone in here ever met someone famous?”
- Silent Starts
Establish a routine whereby pupils know they have to immediately engage with a 5-minute silent activity whenever they enter your classroom. Greet them with a big smile and let them settle straight into an enticing problem to solve independently, a 5-minute gap-closing task tailored to their needs or simply a few minutes important reading. You might like to offer an element of choice so that each learner can choose the silent, independent task they feel will most benefit them. By establishing this practice as a classroom norm, you’ll be able to start every lesson from complete quiet. This means you’ll never start by shouting. The teacher’s voice sets the volume for the lesson, so the first words you utter can be quiet, calm and engaging!
- Pantomime Primers
If you’re working with primary age children, you can use a Stimulus-Response routine. This involves training the children to react immediately to a given signal. It’s a bit like when the pantomime hero gets the audience to reply “Hiya Buttons!” every time he says “Hiya Everyone!” You can have fun coming up with something that suits you and your class here. Maybe you will call out “Hocus Pocus…” and the children will be required to respond, “Everybody Focus!” Or you might say quietly “Clap your hands if you can hear me.” (The chidren who can hear clap once)…Then “Clap your hands if you can hear me.” (The children clap twice)… And finally, “Clap your hands if you can hear me.” (At this point you will have everyone’s attention and you should get 3 claps from the whole class without having ever needed to raise your voice!)
- Auditory and visual cues
Anyone who’s attended my CPD sessions will know I have my trusty little bell to signal when discussion time is over. I only have to “ding” it once and it brings people back together quickly without me needing to do very much at all! This technique also works a treat in the classroom. It doesn’t need to be a hospitality bell, you could try a klaxon, a hand bell a bicycle bell, a xylophone or an electronic sound.
Visual cues work well too. Tell your class that when you stand in a certain place and raise your hand it is a signal for them to stop what they are doing, raise their own hands and pay attention to you. Some pupils will see you immediately and raise their hands and this will help the remaining pupils to notice what is happening. And all the while you never had to even whisper! (Remember to smile encouragingly at the pupils who are doing the right thing while you all wait for the stragglers to notice what’s going on).
Alternatively, your visual cue might be an image that you project or even a switching off and on of the lights!
- TV Tranquility
There’s something instantaneous about the effect that moving image has on kids. They just seem to accept that anything on a screen commands passive recipience and complete attention! To my amusement, I once discovered that if I recorded myself teaching an exam topic to camera, a rambunctious GCSE group would enthusiastically settle to watch the film – silent and enthralled!
Try playing a short, relevant video clip to get the class’s attention. Just set it to play and let it do its magic. A group of students will settle and focus in seconds and you’ll be introducing key info in a visual way to launch the subsequent learning!
- Teacher Takeover
Pick a confident pupil (ideally one who is causing some of the noise or inattention!) and offer them the opportunity to take on the role of teacher for 1 minute. Tell them the topic and ask them to introduce it to the class in an engaging way. The pupil can share information that he/she might already know about the topic and he/she can ask questions and select volunteers to answer. Having another student as their teacher will immediately grab even the most unruly pupils’ attention and their thoughts will become cleverly focused on the topic in hand. Remember to give the “teacher” lots of praise for their endeavour and hopefully you will have more volunteers to takeover for one minute at the beginning of next lesson!
- App Assistance
Finally, have you tried the “Too Noisy” app on an ipad? It’s designed especially for teachers and it displays graphically the background noise level in the classroom. You can set the “tolerable noise level” and then allow the app to inform the learners (with an alarm) when their noise level has become too high. It tracks progress and the class can achieve “star awards”!
Now it’s over to you! How do you settle a class down and get them ready to engage in learning?
Please share your ideas in the comments below!