We’ve all had them: classes that are full of nonstop talking. They are full of too many students who think that school is a social centre, not a place of learning. They talk over you, and they yell at friends across the room. What they do best of all is make you crazy.
This energy could be seen as a positive thing because classes that don’t speak aren’t that great either. The dream scenario is a class full of eager students who love to engage in debate and discussion, but will put their heads down and work quietly when it’s time to get things done.
We live in reality, however, and those perfect classes only come along once in a while, right? In the meantime, though, while you’re waiting, there are things you can do to control chatty class.
1. Have a Vision for Talk in Your Classroom
Before I look at strategies for dealing with too much talk, I need to think about the structure of my classes and my vision for what it looks like. And I’m going to be very honest here: I don’t think it’s realistic – or pedagogically sound – to want a class that is completely quiet at all times. Yes…there are many times that I want and need quiet in my classes. But, I firmly believe that kids need to talk to learn. They need to be active and engaged learners who collaborate with each other, sharing ideas and feedback. At the same time, I don’t want chaos.
What I want is balance.
So, I plan classes with a lot of variety. There are times when the kids are talking to each other. Sometimes they are up and moving around the class and things can be quite noisy. We also have a lot of heated class discussions. However, when it’s time to read, or when they are doing something that requires concentration, I expect absolute silence. And I’m quite firm on that.
The thing is, before I can teach my kids what I want, I need to be really clear in my own head what that looks like. So I spend time thinking about the different activities that will happen in a typical class – bell ringers, silent reading, lesson time, independent and group work. What do I want them to look and sound like? How will I communicate that to my students? What will I do when things aren’t working out as they should?
I know that it’s important to think about these things before I address them with my students, so I can be clear and consistent – and not dealing with issues in the heat of the moment. Instead, I can be confident in the way that I will handle the different scenarios that may pop up – because I’ve thought about them ahead of time.
2. Work together to Deal with Too Much Talk
It would be lovely if we could just tell the kids what we expect and then they would do it. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works most of the time. However, I have had great success working with the kids to create the climate in our room. Teens love to be heard and to be given some control and responsibility. So, at the beginning of the year – or at any point when things are not going well – I have a discussion about the noise level in the class. I let my kids know that I am there to help everyone, and that I want to work with all of them to create a place that allows everybody to learn.
We start with me asking the students why we need quiet time and why we sometimes need to talk. I make it clear that we require time for both in the class, but I let them come up with the reasons why. They write their reasons on sticky notes and then we use them to create an anchor chart. This does a couple of things – it lets the students feel like they are part of the process of dealing with too much talk, that it’s not a top-down situation where the teacher is in total control of what’s going to happen. It also requires them to actually stop and think about why and when we need quiet and talk – and how it will help them.
The next step is to create another anchor chart that states the expectations for quiet time, productive talk, and discussion/debate – or whichever situations you want your kids to look at. Believe it or not, sometimes kids really don’t know what some of these classroom scenarios should actually look like – or they need to be reminded after building up some bad habits over the years.
When we create these anchor charts, I’ll ask questions like: What will quiet time look and sound like? What about with group work or class discussions? What about when I’m teaching a lesson? Then, I ask them to come up with “We will statements” that describe the expectations for each scenario. The kids almost always come up with the answers you’d like to hear, and when you write them on a chart that you can refer to later on, it’s far more effective because they feel like they were part of creating the expectations for the class.
After our discussion, I always create a poster that can hang permanently in my room. There’s nothing wrong with just using the chart, but you know me – I like to pretty it up a bit!
This poster is one I can hang at the front of the room for easy reference while the kids are working. It’s different from the anchor chart with the “We will statements” in that it’s only a reference to the levels of noise for different activities.
So, if it’s independent work time, I’ll remind them about why we decided – together – that it was time for “sweet silence.” Or, I can remind them that “productive talk” is quiet and focused on the task at hand. The anchor chart with the “We will statements” starts out on the front board but migrates to a side wall once we become used to the routines.
* You may have seen the concept of “Starbucks Time” floating around your social media. It’s not my original idea, but it’s something you might like to introduce. Basically, kids can sit where they want, listen to music, and eat/drink – just like they would in Starbucks. The catch is that they have to be productive during that time. It’s basically just independent work with a fancy, cooler sounding name. But whatever works, right?
3. Class is Too Chatty? Model and Train
If you want to deal with a chatty class, you need to show them what it looks like. After your discussion about expectations about talk in the classroom, you need a training period. During quiet time, if chatter is starting, ask the kids if they are following the expectations on the chart. Redirect often. You may have to do it several times, but if you do, they will soon get the idea that you expect them to be quiet.
When it comes to small and large group discussions, I always model, at the beginning of the year, what these should look like. Again, kids don’t always know how to have a good discussion, so I show them. I carefully choose some volunteers to help me with this — a few keeners and a few quieter students. I put them in a circle in front of the room, and I lead them in a discussion. If students aren’t contributing, I’ll ask them what they think. When someone gives an incomplete answer, I’ll ask for elaboration. And, if I disagree with one of them, I will do so politely and tell them why.
After a few rounds of this, I’ll ask the class what they noticed: how did I act as an effective group member? They are always able to point out everything I tried to model.
You can read more about the strategies I use to train my kids on my expectations for group work here.
4. Have Consistent Consequences for Too Much Chat:
If you want kids to meet your expectations, you have to follow the old adage: say what you mean and mean what you say. If you don’t follow through with appropriate consequences for excessive talking, then they will keep talking. It takes time and effort, but it will usually pay off.
Know what the red line is and what will happen when a kid crosses it – will they need to stay in at break? Will you call home? Change their seat? Whatever the consequence is, it needs to happen clearly and consistently, so they know that you mean it. You really do want them to be quiet at this time, or you really don’t accept interruptions when you, or someone else is speaking.
When I don’t carry through, and let students do what I’ve just told them not to do, problems build until they get to the point where they are out of control – and it takes a lot longer to get things back on track. Often, all it takes is a quick comment or a look to redirect. If I need more than that, I squat down beside them so we can have a quiet conversation about behavior and expectations.
Sometimes the quick redirection doesn’t work. In those cases, it’s always best to speak to repeat offenders outside of the classroom. When you confront them in front of their peers, they are likely to perform for them. I find that when you speak one-on-one to a kids outside your classroom door, they are much more likely to be compliant – even repentant.
It’s also important to give them a choice – word your conversation so they feel like they have a little control: Katie, I really want you to be successful in the class — and I want the kids around you to be as well. How can we work together to make sure you can get your work done?
4. Be a Coach, Not a Crank
I say this with love, folks, not criticism. Believe me, I’ve been the crank many, many times, and while it may work in the short term, it’s got no long term teeth. When kids know that you want what’s best for them, that you are in their corner, they are far more likely to crawl in there with you. As hard as it may be, stay positive and work as a team player, there to guide and redirect, not punish.
Use your positive presence to reinforce your expectations. If you want to control a chatty class, work the room by moving around – not just when the kids are working – but when you are speaking. Stand beside or behind your most talkative students – they’ll be less likely to talk when you’re right there, and because you are close, you can redirect them without calling too much attention to them – or interrupting your lesson.
5. Give Them Time to Talk
As I said above, I think talking is a key component in the learning process. Kids need to talk things out sometimes. They get a lot out of collaborating with others and by sharing ideas. Not only that, it’s hard to sit still and not chat for a whole period – I know I can’t do it!
I build in lots of opportunity to chat in class. We do turn-and-talks. There are multiple small group and class discussions. When they are finished of their work, they know they can chat quietly with others who are finished. And, if it’s a class with a lot of concentration time for reading or writing, I will offer a chat/stretch break for a few minutes, halfway through class.
Usually, I will use these things as a way to focus students when it is quiet time. You will often hear me say things like:
Listen, guys, you get lots of opportunity to talk in this class. Right now, it’s quiet time. Let’s settle in and read — in about fifteen minutes you’ll be doing some group work.
OR: After we finish reading I’ll give you a chat break, so let’s focus right now, please.
The chat break is a great strategy. It gives the kids something to look forward to, it breaks up the class, an it can be used as leverage to get them to work quietly!
So that’s what I do in Room 213 to try to deal with nonstop talking in my classes. I sure hope I’ve given you something that can help you in yours. Don’t forget to grab your tips and strategies pdf – in it I give you a lesson plan for creating your own code of conduct. You can snag more classroom management strategies here. And, if you’d like to learn about my digital course on classroom management & engagement, you can check it out here.
If you have further questions or concerns, please drop them in the comments and I’ll get to them as quickly as I can!