We are so excited to have Tanya from The Butterfly Teacher guest blogging for us today! Tanya has written an excellent post about an important topic: getting your students to listen without yelling. Give her post a read, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
NOTE: As Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Let’s begin with a little visualization exercise: Imagine Teacher Tanya saying very calmly to her students, “Ok, boys and girls, take out your vocabulary workbooks quietly.”
Only three out of 26 students actually do it. The others turn and start talking to one another.
So Teacher Tanya says again, with a little more “oomph” in her voice, “Students, I said take out your vocabulary workbooks quietly.” Only two more students comply.
Now Teacher Tanya is frustrated because this scenario has happened four other times already TODAY.
So she yells, “TAKE OUT YOUR VOCABULARY BOOKS NOW, AND I SAID DO IT QUIETLY!!!” (Invisible flames are shooting out of her head!)
Unfortunately, this isn’t just an imaginary experiment but a real situation that has happened to me as a teacher. As embarrassed as I am to admit it openly, I’ve yelled at my kids to get their attention.
I began my teaching career 10 years ago as a young widow and a brand new single mother, which I talk openly about here. That first year of teaching was already rough due to my own personal issues, but I also worked in an inner-city school, and most of my precious kiddos had just as many emotional issues as I did.
Plus, I was a clueless first-year teacher! The perfect recipe for a “yelling teacher”!
So, I’ve developed some very easy to implement strategies to get my students to listen to me without yelling.
1. Train Students to Listen for a Certain Sound Other Than Your Voice
One way to get your students to pay attention without yelling at them is to teach them to listen for a sound other than your voice throughout the day.
Activities like centers, games, and group/partner work naturally produce noise. When these activities need to end, it is tempting to yell out over the noise for students to stop what they’re doing to listen to you. This habit is dangerous. You and your students learn to accept this type of yelling as the norm–which carries over into all other activities and situations in your class. Now you’re raising your voice all the time in order to get students to listen.
Instead, train your students to listen for a sound that signals transition time. I use a small bell. Nothing fancy or expensive, but its pleasant “ding” is just enough for my kiddos to hear it. The key is to train them for this–it won’t just happen by osmosis!
Other examples of sounds that students respond well to are:
- An instrument like a guitar or toy xylophone (no, you don’t have to be a musical genius to use these!)
- A small cowbell (Have you ever heard of the “No Yell Bell?!”)
- A light drum
Determine the best sound to use based on the needs of your class and your own creativity. Be mindful of any students that have sensory issues in your class; certain sounds may have the opposite effect on their ability to pay attention to you. Choosing another sound to train your kiddos to be alert when they hear it prevents you from having to yell at them when you want them to listen.
2. “Harry Wong-It” All Year Long
Ah, my sweet friend Harry Wong, oh how I love thee! Harry Wong has a book called The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (Book & DVD), which outlines ways teachers can build consistent routines and classroom management through the practice of procedures. No, I am not being paid to advertise this book! My own Type-A teaching personality just naturally gravitates toward this method of how to smoothly run a classroom–except I don’t just use this during the first days of school, I practice this all year long.
What in the world does this have to do with yelling?
If you are anything like “Teacher Tanya” in that earlier situation, then you resort to yelling when you have to constantly repeat yourself to students. Does “sounding like a broken record” ring a bell here?
Having easy-to-follow routines decreases the amount of repeating you have to do as a teacher, which keeps you from resorting to yelling out of frustration.
For example, all year long I use the same pencil management system. Students know exactly what to do in my class when their pencils break. This predictable, routinized system keeps me from yelling at them if they are just sitting there not completing work because their pencil breaks or if they try to sharpen pencils while I am teaching.
You don’t have to use Harry Wong’s book (although I highly recommend it); you can use any system that practices routines all year long to keep your students following directions in your class.
3. Allow Chances to Earn Whole-Class Rewards
Another way to get your students to listen without yelling at them is to establish whole-class reward systems when they display first-time obedience. Rewards can be controversial. Many educators are against the carrot-on-a-stick method for motivation. The details of the reward and how you present it depends on your teaching style, your school policies, and your students.
Yet, working to earn a reward as a whole class can be highly motivating for many kids. It also challenges the outliers when so many of their friends want to earn the reward being offered.
This keeps you from yelling at them because they are conscious of following your directions in order to meet the goal. This is especially motivating during the end of the year when the days can be a little crazy! This post features detailed ideas for whole class rewards during the last days of school.
4. Give Students More Voice
If the only voice in the room that students hear every day is your teacher voice, then they will learn to tune you out quickly! Trust me! You will begin to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to them… “Wha-wha-wha.”
Nothing prompts your inner yell more than feeling ignored.
So, another way to get students’ attention without yelling is to give them more chances to use their own voices during class.
Here are some ideas:
- Allow a student to “be the teacher” and call out the answers if you’re going over something together.
- If your kiddos are able, then have one of them read the next read-aloud book. Set up a system to take turns. (In case you’re wondering, I still do read-alouds with my upper elementary students, and they love it!)
- Whisper your instructions in a student’s ear and have them go to the front of the class to say them to their classmates.
- Build in opportunities for students to present and lead instruction.
All of these–and more–give students more voice. When you talk less, students quickly learn that when you DO speak, they really NEED to listen. I know, I know…we feel like they need to listen to us ALL the time. However, that’s just not true. Yeah, ouch!
5. Turn Up the Engagement and Fun Factor
Another way to get students to listen quickly so that you don’t have to yell at them is to make sure your class is fun and engaging.
Wait, what?! Won’t this cause the students to NOT listen?! Actually, it won’t. There is a huge myth that students sitting completely quiet in their desks all day completing worksheets is a sign that they will always listen to the teacher. HUGE myth!
Fun doesn’t equal chaos. Learning should be fun! Maybe you are practicing habits of being a boring teacher, unknowingly and your students are turned off by that.
Here’s one example of amping up the fun factor: Give non-fiction reading comprehension with a twist. I use so many reading activities for centers that students may become bored with them. When I pull them out and begin to explain what to do, they tune me out because they may be tired of the same old type of reading activities!
So, I give them reading practice that involves coloring to grab their attention! The break from traditional pencil writing steps out of the routine, which grabs their attention and keeps them engaged.
Fun and engagement in the classroom equal energy that’s positive and cheerful. This energy in your classroom makes you cool and exciting to listen to so you won’t have to yell at your kids to keep their attention. They want to hear what fun thing you have next for them!
It is never too late for you try something new! Yelling at your students doesn’t have to be the norm! Trust me, I’m a living witness. Which one of these ideas have you tried or will begin trying? Comment below and let’s transform learning together!
* Minds in Bloom, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties including, but not limited to, amazon.com, endless.com, myhabit.com, smallparts.com, or amazonwireless.com.
Tanya G. Marshall is a busy mama to a bouncy and bright little boy named Caleb. She is also a teacher and blogger for The Butterfly Teacher. When she isn’t building her blog or her Teachers Pay Teachers store, she is somewhere eating good food, reading a good book, or having a good time with family and friends! Her favorite phrase comes from Pete the Cat: “It’s all good!” Be sure to connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Barbara Paciotti says
Love the bell idea. When you’re a middle school librarian, as I was, your voice just doesn’t carry when you have more than 60 students milling around doing various activities. (No, I wasn’t a “quiet library” gal!) One day I tried using the bell and it worked! Apparently middle schoolers have an affinity for higher sounds than adults, so the bell was very attention-grabbing for them. I used it for more than 10 years with great success.
Tanya G. Marshall says
How cool Barbara! 10 years of bell ringing sounds like success to me…when you find a system that works, stick with it.
Thanks for sharing your comment! 🙂
gmail account login says
Love the ideas! Thank you for sharing the post. When I was a kid, my teacher had a big ruler that she used to draw the line (of course :p) and gain student’s attention. The bell is a better idea.
Tanya G. Marshall says
Yes! I don’t think we could get away with using a big ruler these days…LOL! I’m glad you enjoyed the ideas featured here. Thanks 🙂
Nikki Prado says
Love these ideas! Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment that we forget the simplest ideas. Last year my class really challenged me and I’m looking forward to going back this year with some refreshing new classroom management strategies. I plan on implementing the non verbal attention getter.
Tanya G. Marshall says
I couldn’t agree more Nikki! I realized this same thing; once I implemented using the bell in my classroom, I was shocked at how effectively it worked.
I hope it does the same for you! Thanks 🙂
Hello! This is a very helpful article, thank you for your insight from your experience! Obviously I wound up reading this because I’m in a very similar boat that you were in when you started…I would love to take your advice on all of this because I feel like I have lost all hope with these students, and I refuse to just accept that this is just the way it’s going to be. I just have a question and would love and appreciate your feedback: Is it too late to start “training” the students to react to different noises rather than my own voice this late in the semester? We do a lot of group and stations activity (high school special ed), do you recommend any ideas to start implementing these different sounds and strategies? I ask because I’m worried if I jump right in on these strategies that they’ll just be confused and just ignore any cues to move on and get back on task if I’m constantly changing expectations in the class in order to find what sticks. They can already tell I’m a new-ish teacher and they definitely try to take advantage of that (I’m a 2nd year teacher so yeah I’m still trying to figure out what works!!). I truly appreciate any insight or recommendations! Thanks again
I’m not the author of this article, but I am a long-time teacher (29 years in middle school, now teaching 3rd grade).
It is never too late in the year to make changes. Change is good. Implement one new idea at a time: start with an attention-getter, like the bell. I use classroomscreen in my room for many things including to show what voice level should be used, and often use the timer so students know exactly how long they have to work on a certain assignment. There is a simple bell that rings at the end of that time.
My students struggle with transitioning, so I have introduced challenge times for them to have all materials and be ready to work – we actually had to start with 5 minutes, but are now down to 1-2 minutes depending on what they need to gather. Be sure to specify (and demonstrate many times) how you want them to move about the classroom. This may need to be repeated every week, or every month. We spent 2 full weeks on procedures in my room. And still practice as needed.
I also have numerous alarms set on my phone and the kids know that when the alarm goes off, they need to transition. They don’t always know where we’re going, but they know it means we’re leaving the room–PE, music, wash for lunch, etc. I had to set alarms for myself because I was so used to operating on a bell schedule in middle school. These kids picked up on them very quickly.
I also sometimes use quiet study music during work time. My students know that if they can’t hear the music, they are too loud. Classical music works best, as far as I’m concerned.
Good luck with your kiddos. Don’t give up. Read Harry Wong and Jim Fay.
Tanya G. Marshall says
This is Tanya, the author of this post and I completely understand how you feel! Just as Kate says, it is NEVER too late to start training your students with something different. In fact, as we finish our semester and get ready to come back in January, I ALWAYS RETEACH my procedures as if it’s the beginning of the school year!
That way students get a chance to practice the procedures (like listening for a certain sound other than my voice).
And consistency is the key to get your students trained well.
Another thing I do when starting a new procedure or freshening up on something we’ve gotten slack with is I introduce it to my students like a game or with a read-aloud. Some type of “hook” to grab their attention–the same way you would if you were teaching them new academic content.
The “hook” you use to introduce the new procedure would depend on the grade level you teach. But that helps to keep it from feeling like you’re just randomly starting some new thing in the middle of the year.
I hope these tips help you, Wagner. Thanks so much for your feedback and I’d love to help you more if I can. Feel free to contact me for any more specifics: [email protected]
I loved ur article
I am a high school teacher still learning to hold the ropes
I liked ur idea of bell.
I tried my method of banging the desk with a duster, it worked for few times but later they became used to it
Not following the rule
So I started by just being silent for few minutes
They began to feel something amiss and started to behave.