Getting Control of a Talkative Class

Getting Control of a Talkative Class
 

What can you do to help children learn to listen to a lesson without interrupting?  How can you give a lesson without allowing children to continually blurt out comments and chat with each other?  This is a question that is asked of me from time to time, and a scenario that my former student teachers and university field work students have often struggled with.  Today I will give you suggestions and ideas to help you train your students to listen quietly through a lesson, which should to allow you to teach with a minimum amount of interruptions!  Sometimes, getting your class to this point can be a lot of work, but it is certainly worth the effort.

 

Here is a recent question regarding classroom interruptions, etc., and the answer that I wrote for her.
I hope you will find it helpful!

“We’ve been loving using your materials since last school year. Maika is officially in Kindergarten this year and I still homeschool him.  We are in a co-op once a week and I often have a hard time making the children (kindergarteners) focus in the classroom.  Normally, a child is talking to another child when I am asking a specific question. Or a child thinks they know the material, but they have not necessary mastered the material, so he/she interrupts by saying “I already know that!” Or, “This is boring!” etc….   Any tips?”

 

This is my response:

1.  Don’t Begin Your Lesson Until You Have Their Attention and They Are QUIET

Getting children to focus during a lesson is one thing, and getting them to stop talking is another.  I usually will not begin a lesson unless I have everyone’s eyes on me, or nearly everyone’s eyes focused on me.  Once I have their attention, THEN I begin my lesson.  Don’t begin your lesson until you are confident that you are at least beginning with them focused on you.  If you are asking for them to look at you and they are not, then start praising those that ARE ready and are focused by saying, “I like the way that Brian is sitting and looking right here,” etc.  The more children that you name that are ready, the more likely it is that the others will snap to attention.  If they don’t, then call their names and tell them that they need to sit down nicely and pay attention so that everyone can get started.  That is what works for me.

I like the way Brian is raising his hand and waiting to be called on!
 

2.  Consistency is Your Best Friend

Now interrupting during a lesson is a separate issue and can be a very difficult thing to deal with for many teachers, especially new ones.  Usually, I tell my student teachers  that they must make an issue over the first and second interruptions, even if they are very small!  If you let a even just a few of them go, then you will have many children shouting things out and talking during lessons.  Once a few children had the satisfaction of telling you a “side story” in the middle of your lesson, and you have reinforced it by saying, “Wow!” or “That’s great,” then everyone else will want the same thing, and your lesson is effectively over.

Children will not respect you if accept disrespect from them without doing anything about it.
 

3.  Disrespectfulness is Unacceptable

Make sure that you nip any disrespectfulness in the bud as much as you can. If children are telling you that your lesson is boring, then they are being very disrespectful, and this is not acceptable!  I would tell them that speaking to adults disrespectfully is not allowed, and then you must follow through with some kind of disciplinary action that you are comfortable with.  That may be a time out, or a “thinking chair,” or whatever system you have in place.  If you have no discipline plan in place, then that is your problem right there, I expect!

If the child said that he is bored and he was rude about it, then have that child move away from the group and write you a letter of apology or draw a picture of what they will do differently next time. If the child does not know how, then he or she will have to wait until the rest of the children are playing so that you will have time to help him or her with that assignment.  If they don’t like this, then they will have to be more respectful and not tell you that they are bored in such a way next time.  The child can be taught to raise his or her hand and tell you respectfully in a different way that they learned this once before.  You can explain that though they may think that they have this mastered, they actually do NOT, and probably will benefit from the review.

 

4.  Back Up and Try It Again

Here is another technique I use a LOT, especially at the beginning of the year.  When the children start interrupting, I tell them that I am going to try that again, and they are going to be really quiet while I do that, or say that, or read that page again, or whatever it was we were doing.  And THIS time, they are going to be quiet.  If that doesn’t work, we back up and I try it AGAIN.  I keep doing it again and again until the children are so annoyed with the ones that won’t stop talking that they start pressuring each other to be quiet.  They don’t want to hear me re-read that page over and over again!  And that’s what is going to happen if someone continually interrupts me!

5.  Try the Interrupting Song

Another thing that helped me quite a bit last year, (though I haven’t started it yet this year,) is the “Interrupting Song” on the Classroom Management CD and DVD.   Each time a child began to blurt something out, I just started quietly singing the words to the song:

Interrupting is very disrupting;
Don’t start squawking when someone else is talking!”

(And yes, those are all the words to the whole song!  It just repeats itself a few times!)  The rest of the class would begin to chant it along with me, and that pretty much took care of it!  It was enough of a deterrent to make most of them stop, especially since the rest of the class joined in with me in it.  It was like a joint effort to get everyone to quit interrupting!  Here’s what the song looks like in the classroom, although when we did it “spontaneously,” we mostly did it without standing up, and without turning on any CD or DVD.  Check out the video below:

 

Now I would say that my class last year had a pretty “thick skin,” in that I could be do things like this and nobody would start to cry, etc.  I’m not positive that I would use the song in that way this year, because my students seem a bit sensitive this year.  So I will just teach them the song, and may not begin chanting it with the kids when someone starts interrupting.  It probably depends on the child, the situation, and the frequency of the interruptions, etc.

 

6.  Remind the Children of the Rules Before You Start Your Lesson- (Especially the ones they have trouble with as a group.)

One thing that is very important to remember is that BEFORE you start any lesson, you must set your standards for behavior.  Tell them before you start that the rules are that they must listen quietly while the teacher is talking, and that everyone else must listen quietly while their friends are talking.  If your kids are already in the habit of breaking this rule, then you may have a difficult time breaking them of this bad habit and establishing a new routine.

Consistency is the key, so you must remember to stick to the same rule every single day, or you will never break them of the habit!  So you will have to set your mind to the fact that this may be the case, and make your goal for the day (or for the next couple of days) simply be that the children listen to you nicely and quietly, without interrupting and without side conversations.  You will probably need to have some kind of reinforcement system in place as well, such as a marble jar.  Add a marble when you see that everyone is sitting nicely without rude comments, and praise the group for their good behavior.  Perhaps the promise of a bit extra playtime or recess time would be a good incentive for them to work for?

 

7.  Find Some Small Consequences that You Can Implement without Sending the Class into a Negative Downward Spiral

It is easier to be consistent with discipline when you are training your class to stop interrupting if you are not doing something like taking away a child’s ENTIRE recess, etc.  So let the punishment fit “the crime!”  Constant interrupting and chatting are small problems, not huge ones; so think about having the kids do things like help clean up the room for one minute during recess, and then two minutes, and then three, etc.  The good thing is that little kids don’t really understand time very well, so they will still see it as a consequence when it’s happening.  And then later they will still get the breaks that they need.

Retraining your class to stop chatting with each other and stop interrupting means that your students will need to readjust to “the new you.”  So resign yourself to the fact that you may just have to discipline several of them at first, because children do often test the boundaries of their caregivers.  In fact, some children need to find out each and every day where the limits have been set!  So even though you KNOW you have told them dozens of times, get into the habit of always starting with the reminders of “… and we know of course that we are not going interrupt!” or something like that.

There have been many times when I have had to retrain my class, (like after they had a sub for several days,) so I told them that I was just going to have to be “Mrs. Meanie” for a few days until they remembered the rules a little bit better.  And once everyone got back to their good little selves, they would get their nice teacher back.  Other than that, Mrs. Meanie wasn’t going to give anyone any chances at ALL as far as interrupting or talking to friends during a lesson is concerned.

I think that this gave them fair warning!  So when they started in being naughty, I just told them that I already explained that there were no chances for the next few days at all, and that I was really very sorry, but that they would just have to learn the hard way.  After all, the easy way didn’t work; we tried it already, right?

 

8.  Tell Them, “It’s My Job to Teach You to Listen without Interrupting.”

I often tell my class that it is my job to teach them to follow the rules in school, and if I don’t do a good job, the first grade teachers will be mad at me.  So when they get to first grade and keep blurting things out without raising their hands, the first grade teachers will be upset with me and ask me why I didn’t do my job???  This helps me take the pressure off of myself when I have to discipline them; I just blame it on “those first grade teachers who will get mad at me,” or even the principal, who gave me the job of teaching them to listen quietly.  I say that the principal will be mad at me if I don’t do my job.

This book, Interrupting Chicken, is a great way to teach a class about interrupting.
 

9.  Teach Your Students What Interrupting Is
You may also want to consider giving your students a lesson on what interrupting is, and why it is considered rude.  Remember, some parents accept this type of behavior from their children (and teachers, too!) so children are not always aware that it is considered unacceptable by many.  I really like the book Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein for this purpose.

 

Another book that includes a section on interrupting is my own book, Wiggles Learns the Rules at School.  I always teach the children all of the rules at school with this book using a little dog puppet to help me act out the story.  It really captures their attention, and they LOVE it, every time!  As a friend once said, “You know you are doing something right when the kids BEG you to review the rules!”

 

10.  Give Children that Need It Some Interrupting “Tokens” for the Day

I don’t remember where I heard this suggestion, but it could work for a very impulsive child that is having a hard time controlling “blurting” out and interrupting.  Give the child a certain amount (let’s say three or four) chips or tokens for the day to keep in a small container, such as an Altoids tin, etc.  Or, perhaps the child could keep them on a necklace of some variety, and they could double as “fidgets.”

Each token represents one “chance” that the child may have for when he or she forgets to raise a hand and blurts something out.  Have the child give you one of the tokens each time he forgets.  When they are all gone, THEN you can implement your discipline plan.  For some children, just giving up the token will be a bad consequence.  If the child has all of the tokens at the end of the day, perhaps he could have a little extra time on an iPad, etc.  The tokens serve as a visual and tactile reminder of how many (or how few) chances are left for the child.

I hope that these suggestions help you, and I hope that if your class is full of talkative little ones, that you are able to help them overcome it and move on from there!

———-
I hope that these tips are helpful to you!  If you have any questions that I might be able to help you with, just send them to [email protected], or leave a comment below.

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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been a teacher for many years but this year's class of 24 firsties takes the cake on talking and interrupting. This is also the first time in at least 15 years I've had more than 20 students.I like your reminders to the teacher that we really do need to look at ourselves and at what we are accepting.

  2. THANK YOU & THANK YOU! I only have maximum of 7 children in our co-op, so I have such a high respect for teachers in a regular school setting. Teachers work so hard with the hope of their students ENJOY learning. Classroom manegement must be set before this goal is achieved. I hope this topic is helpful to other techers out there as much as it is to me.

  3. Great ideas! I also like this one when I am just waiting on a few to pay attention. I say, "I'm waiting on 2 people," but never say their names. Take it down to "I'm waiting on one person," and pretty soon the whole room is attending. I guess everyone thinks you are talking about them and starts to listen. 🙂

  4. Great ideas! I also use this one when just a few are not paying attention. I say, "I'm waiting on 2 people," without saying anyone's name specifically. Take it down to "I'm waiting on 1 person," and pretty soon everyone is attending. I guess they all think you are talking about them and they listen up!

  5. To Grasshopper:
    You're welcome!
    And here's another point that I heard from an experienced teacher once at a Student Study Team meeting with a parent regarding problems with a difficult student. The parent said that her son just found school boring, and she really thought that he was not being challenged. The teacher said that she felt that it took some maturity to become interested in "acadamia" and school concepts, and that it doesn't always come naturally, especially to many little boys. It's not so much that it is not challenging as that they don't find it relevant or useful to their lives. Teachers and parents would need to work together to show the children that the concepts being presented would eventually become useful to the children, and maturity would eventually develop. We already knew that he did not have all of the concepts mastered, so true boredom from "knowing it all" couldn't be the problem.
    I've always liked that answer, and I tell parents that I always try to help children see that the information will be useful to them.
    Heidi

  6. Heidi…this is excellent. I've taught for 30 years, & we all need tohear these simple basics once in awhile. Thank you for your (as usual) quality post.
    BeadBoard

  7. Great ideas!! I have a student teacher this year and this explains perfectly how to get control during a lesson! On another note we did the "Pete the cat" guided drawing on Friday and my kids went nuts for it!!!!

  8. Thank you for the reassurance. I do just about the same things you mentioned, even telling the kiddos that they are stopping me from doing my job and the principal will be upset. This year has quite a few challenging kiddos; one has a tantrum when he has to change his green card to yellow after he yells out, calls the teacher a name, lies, hits,etc.

  9. Thank you so much for these wonderful advices. I am a student teacher with a first grade, some of them like to act up and constantly talk. Since I am still in the process of finding myself, your article really inspired me and I am going to try it asap.
    Thank you

  10. Hello, love your suggestions.
    How do you deal with classroom visitors. I work for the public library and we go to classrooms to do presentations. While sometimes the teacher is out, the sub does not have control of the students and then we come in. What ideas to you have to help us, the visitors?

    • Hi, Nuvia!
      Thanks for your question. When I have visited classes, I find that the most effective thing to do is to tell the children what YOUR expectations for your visit will be while you’re there before you start. For example, I tell the children, “I don’t talk while you’re talking, because no one will be able to hear me.” So if the children begin to talk during my presentation, I immediately stop talking. If they don’t notice that I’ve stopped, I say, “Excuse me, I can’t talk while you’re talking.” If they keep going, I ask the sub to separate the children because it seems that they need a little help remembering to stop talking, and ask her to write down their names right away so she doesn’t forget to let their teacher know who was not being polite to the guest speaker. Then wait for the sub to do that. Make sure that the children all watch her write down the names. Then ask the children what the teacher will probably do tomorrow when she sees the note? Once they answer, this will probably be a good reminder of what the rules really are, and that there WILL be a consequence when the teacher gets back- eventually.
      You can always ask the sub to walk a very disruptive child to the office or to a class next door until your presentation is done; that works, too. But don’t forget to praise those that are behaving nicely, while you are at it! And let them stand up now and then and move a bit. Remember how long kids usually sit in school, and how hard it is to sit for long periods of time. If you give them permission and a reason to stand up and “shake their sillies out” a little bit during your presentation, you’ll likely have much better behavior anyway!
      Heidi

  11. I use “Zip It cards.” Any time one of my students blurts out of turn, I hand them a yellow card with a smiley face with zipped lips on it. Then they owe me a reward ticket for each one they receive. They also have a tangible reminder while they sit through the rest of the lesson.

  12. After being in the classroom for 30 years, I am now a substitute teacher. Not many problems at all until I took a long term position for a kdg. teacher. Many of what I would consider necessary rules were not in place, and the consequences were too large to fit “the crime”. THANK YOU!! Your ideas are so helpful. I am certain they will improve this adorable, albeit unruly, class.

    • Hi, Paula!
      I’m so glad that this post was helpful to you! If you have anything to add that you think others would also benefit from, please let me know!
      Thank you, and good luck with your class!
      Heidi

  13. Thank you so much! Just found this on Pinterest and plan to begin to using your wonderful tips ASAP. I am currently subbing for a classroom that has abruptly lost its teacher and I find the children can be, at times, non-receptive to any new rules or changes, as they miss their teacher. While I have allowed some leeway on this issue due to the circumstances, it is time to get them back on track! I am going to practice this over and over! Thank you again.

  14. Hello, thank you for the awesome tips. What advice could you give me for a very talkative group. They didn’t become this way until after Christmas break. I feel like I’ve tried everything possible and the situation still persists.

  15. I am a pre-K teacher with 16 children in my class I have a child that talks constantly . Sometimes he’s just making a low sound. Sometimes he will be signing. I have removed he from the class at times, that’s not the way I want to handle him.

    • That sounds like a good question for a school psychologist or early childhood specialist of some kind. I had a child once that I often found singing to himself when I was teaching, and he didn’t even realize it! He would continue to sing the song we just sang in class as it ran through his head! He had no idea that he was making that noise out loud! Perhaps your little guy doesn’t know he is making noises that bother others. Have you thought of recording him with your cell phone so that he can hear for himself that it’s a problem?

      It also kind of sounds like the child is trying to calm or soothe himself by making noises. But let’s post the question on my Facebook page and see if we can get some ideas from the group there on what to do. There must be a way to replace that habit with some other way to self stimulate or self soothe. Keep in mind here that I’m not a psychologist or anything like that, but what you’re describing sounds almost likea sensory processing need. I will post the question anonymously on my page on Sunday (tomorrow) at 4:00 PM Pacific time, and hopefully we’ll get some help. Meanwhile, I would search online for self-soothing behaviors in early childhood. Here’s a little bit I found in one quick search. It’s in relationship to toddlers, but it’s probably the same idea.

      “Why Do Some Toddlers Engage in Weird Self-Soothing Behaviors?
      There are several answers to this question, honestly. Some toddlers engage in these kinds of behaviors because they aren’t getting enough one-on-one contact with parents or caregivers — so they make up for that lack of cuddling and affection by trying to create it themselves.

      For a small percentage of children, these kinds of behaviors indicate deeper, underlying issues, like learning disabilities, ADD-ADHD, or autism. They can also be a sign of Sensory Processing Disorder. We’ll address these more serious problems later on in the article.

      However, for many toddlers, these behaviors aren’t an indicator of a serious problem — they’re simply the child’s (odd, weird, strange) way of calming and soothing himself. Why do toddlers find these rather bizarre behavior soothing? Well, as this flyer from the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburg points out, repetitive behaviors are thought to help toddlers release tension and extra energy, and act as a calming influence. Toddlers often do these behaviors when they are still full of energy but need to wind down and fall asleep (i.e. before naps and at bedtime). They may also engage in these behaviors during a developmental transition (like potty training) or during a season of transition or stress (like during a move, or during the birth of a new sibling).”

      Heidi

  16. Love these tips and use your interrupting song all the time- the kids actually love to sing along with it as a reminder!

  17. Recently started teaching general music in a Title I a public school and kids are very disrespectful and overly talkative at every grade level. I have always had the philosophy to “wait” until all, yes, ALL talking stopped before starting my lesson. However, I find sometimes I have to wait quite awhile. My classes are large…some 36 kids for 50 minutes. Yep. I feel I am wasting valuable instruction time – as it is already January and I am still having to wait – sometimes 2 or even 3 minutes (which seems like much more) and so forth for them to be quiet. When is “too long” and what to do when I have to do this at least 2-3 times during the class. Thanks

    • Hi,
      You’re right- that’s way too long, I think! But then, I have never walked a mile in the shoes that you’re wearing right now. Can you provide them with an incentive to settle down more quickly? Make some kind of game out of it? Maybe if you make it a competition between one class and another, they might respond to that? See which class can settle down and be quiet in just one minute. Or start with two minutes, and then work your way down.
      At my school, the class that is the best behaved at assemblies earns a banner that they get to put in their room that says “Best Behaved Class.” The banner stays there until the next assembly.
      Well, I would certainly concentrate on some kind of reward or incentive, rather than a punishment of any kind. I would also ask the teachers of these classes for advice. They may know exactly what to do, given that they work with these kids all day!
      Heidi

  18. Thanks Heidi, I have 6th graders that have had substitute teachers for a while and cannot stop talking, they’re different from kindergarten kids. I hope and pray this techniques work for them.

    • I hope so too! But I think it’s important to change your mindset. They CAN stop talking. They have developed bad, disrespectful habits, yes. But they can indeed stop talking. Insist that they stop before you begin your lesson. Stop talking when they are talking. Don’t get mad; just insist that they give you the respect that you deserve! Stick with it- you can do this!
      Heidi

  19. I’m having lots of trouble with a class. For 2 days a week I have to take a cultural class in my school. The kids will not stop talking at all. They are year 4 and 5. I don’t now their names and no one has been able to give me a roll. I have no idea what to do. They are very disrespectful and I have no idea how to control them. I can’t even settle them to start the lesson. The other teachers just say that there is always trouble with this group. The above techniques haven’t worked.

    What can I do? How do I just stop them from talking when they sit down? If I say that I wont start until they are all quiet, they just say that they don’t want to start the lesson and keep talking.

    • Hi, Fiona,
      That sounds like a very difficult situation! But it seems odd to me that you do not have a class list of names. Let your administrator know that it is not safe for you to not know who is in your class. You need to know exactly who is in there, and what their names are. Make name tags for them and meet them at the door. Have them put the name tags on as they enter. They should tell you their names before coming in and take their name tag. Then I would make a seating chart. Have them sit in designated places that you have assigned ahead of time. Write their names down on a chart ahead of time so that even if you do not know their names, you know who is sitting where, so that you can call on them by name. Tell them that you are going to write down the names of the children that will not be quiet and listen respectfully and let their teachers know who they are. Tell their teachers that you really NEED their help getting control of this class, and that you need them to follow up with consequences that MATTER to these children. Something has to happen that matters to the children. For example, the kids that DO listen to you should be rewarded in some way so that the others will be motivated to comply next time.
      The other thing that you need to do is get your administrator’s help. Your principal needs to come in and help you get control of this class so that they can get started listening to you. Otherwise, all of that time that they are with you is completely WASTED. You need a class list, name tags, a seating chart, and help getting this class turned around. If you don’t do something to get them under control, you probably will not get rehired at this school, nor will you get a good enough evaluation to get another job elsewhere, so stick to your guns!

      As for the other strategies listed above not working, I think that they will work if you implement them with consistency. The problem is that you need to first get to the point where you can at least get their attention! Once you get their attention, I would plan a fun activity (that they can learn from!) and make sure that the children who will not follow your directions do not get to participate.

      I know that it can be very uncomfortable to ask for help from someone that is there to evaluate you, because it is the equivalent of admitting that you cannot do this job. But a good principal should know that a strong teacher knows when to ask for help. A weak teacher will not admit that he or she needs assistance and just hides it, hoping to keep it a secret for as long as possible. Trust me, it is much worse to have your administrator find out about this on his or her own than to have you point it out! If he doesn’t know yet, he will soon. So let him know what you need to be successful!
      After that, get your rules and consequences in place, and start off as if it were the very beginning of the year. You can do this! Keep trying until you get it!
      Good luck,
      Heidi

  20. Awesome article .🙂
    As a sub, I have experienced very rough days in some middle schools . What has worked for me is that try to memorize students’ names quickly, never lose your cool, and make sure you talk to the regular teachers around you to get some ideas. Of course, take care of yourself to be better prepared for the next day.

  21. For what it’s worth, I avoid saying that “I like” how a student is doing something. Instead I say that “I notice” the student doing the desired behavior. Somehow it feels less manipulative and it has the same effect. I want my students to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because I will like it. I won’t always be there to like how they do something.

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