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!
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!
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.