Some school years we have classes that are chattier than average. Although notably more exhausting, I always find these years to be the most enjoyable because chatty students are more willing to share their ideas and display their curiosity.
An important role for teachers is to help these more social students understand the balance between appropriate times to chat socially, and times to chat academically so they can maximize their learning each day. Here are a few strategies that work well in my classroom to foster an appropriately conversational environment.
Using Chimes As Nonverbal Signals
One of the most powerful ways to reduce chatting or excess noise in your classroom is to use something other than your own voice to calm the noise. When you use your voice, you are modeling the opposite of what you’d like to have happen; you are adding to the noise produced by vocals. Instead, try using chimes.
Using a calm wind chime is a peaceful way to call students to attention when they are working on activities that require talking and collaboration. The room inevitably gets noisy during activities like these, and student conversations sometimes wander away from the academic topic. If you notice this noise level escalating, or sense students need redirection or instruction, ring the wind chime.
Suggested expectations for responding to wind chimes:
- Stop the activity you are working on.
- Make eye contact with the teacher.
- Show a quiet signal (peace sign, quiet coyote, twiddling thumbs, etc).
- Listen respectfully to instructions.
Hand chimes like these are another calm way to help students adjust their voice level in a nonverbal way. The vibrations that resonate between the two bars of the chime are an instant attention getter, and have a seemingly magical ability to calm the noise in an active room.
Suggested Expectations for responding to hand chime:
- Stop talking.
- Listen to the chime carefully until you hear its sound disappear.
- When you no longer hear the chime, resume talking, but adjust your voice to a gentler, calmer level.
Learning About Vocal Chords and Voice Levels
Many students, especially in younger grades need to be taught about different voice levels so they can learn to self-monitor. Often your loudest talkers have never been taught the difference between how it sounds and feels to use different voice volumes. A simple lesson can make a notable impact.
The four volumes I use in my classroom are:
- Teeny tiny voice
- Clam whisper voice
- Normal voice
- Proud presenting voice
I introduce these level through this simple lesson which can be easily revisited throughout the school year. To begin, I have my students gently place their open hand over their throat. As they hold their hand over their throat, I tell to use their normal voice to say “this is my normal voice”.
When asked what they notice, students will share how they feel their throat “moving” or “vibrating”. We learn these vibrations are created by their vocal cords. This energy travels through the tissue and skin to our fingertips so we can “feel” our voice.
We then repeat the exercise using a calm whisper voice. Students notice the vibrations are more gentle. Finally, I ask demonstrate a teeny tiny voice – one that creates no vocal cord vibrations.
This hands-on lesson helps students build an understanding of how it feels and sounds when each of these varying voice levels are used. As the year progresses, students inevitably need reminders, so we quickly repeat this activity as needed.
Getting A Little Tech Help From Too Noisy
If you notice your students are still having trouble monitoring their voice level after the lesson described above, give the app Too Noisy a try. This app uses the microphone on your phone or iPad to monitor the noise level in the area. As the volume in the room gets louder, the needle on the meter moves, giving students a visual reminder to calm their voices. The app awards stars for extended quiet work times and removes stars when the room gets too noisy.
Hosting A Silent Challenge On Exceptionally Noisy Days
There are some days when students need a little break from talking all together. This is when a silent challenge comes in handy. Rather than using silence as a punishment, you can frame it as a fun game and a reward for the mind. The premise of a silent challenge is simple. If students focus silently, they get to enjoy a reward activity.
Begin by introducing the silent challenge and how long it will last. Make sure it is a duration you know for certain your students will successfully be capable of staying silent. Once students achieve their first goal, they often want to try for longer, and are highly self-motivated.
Once you’ve set a time goal, introduce the fun reward students can engage in if they successfully meet this goal. Perhaps they will get to participate in an extra brain break, have some time to socialize after they tidy up at the end of the day, run an extra lap around the field, or add extra time to their favorite part of the schedule.
When your students know the goal and the reward, set the timer and let the challenge begin. If students reach their goal, ask if they want to try for longer. If students do not reach their goal, come together as a class to talk about what you all can do to reach the goal, then try again.
Typically, I use the silent challenge as a last resort because a silent classroom is one where learning is being limited, but there are certainly days and moments in any classroom where we need to reset.
Focus On Empathy
Having conversations about the different needs of learners is a powerful way to help students build empathy and truly understand the importance creating a calm, productive learning environment. Students love taking care of their peers, and are more willing to monitor their voice level when they know it will benefit other students in the room.
During morning meeting, you can talk through different scenarios like the one below to help students build empathy for their classmates in relation to using calm voices.
Share Your Tips for A Chatty Class
Do you have any additional ideas for calming a chatty class? Share your favorite tip in the comments below so we can all learn from one another. I look forward to reading your tips!