Classroom Clinic – Strategies for Silence


“Dear classroom clinic,

I am struggling to achieve silence in my lessons. The students just won’t be quiet! What can I do?”

When the behaviour is poor, many teachers fall back on trying to teach a lesson from the front of the room and impart knowledge to students by talking at them in the hope that things will improve by themselves. Do not fall into this trap – it will not work! Students in English schools are used to doing the learning activities in their lessons. The vast majority of behaviour problems we see in schools can be helped (not necessarily solved but certainly made more manageable) by allowing the students to DO work independently, away from teacher direct instruction. With this in mind, think carefully about WHY you are trying to achieve silence.

If you need to model a method or concept, then make sure you have thought carefully about the example you are using and that you have planned this out. Use an example that demonstrates exactly how you want them to do the work they are about to attempt, and think about what the students are doing whilst you are talking. Remember to ‘double plan’ – what are the students doing whilst you’re are teaching? Might they be expected to sit and listen for an extended period of time – which could cause misbehaviour? How could you reduce the opportunities for this to happen? If this is because you need all the students’ attention so that you can deliver instructions, then make these instructions clear and concise. Back up the instructions with written direction on the whiteboard or PowerPoint.

There is no need to deliver any of your lesson from the front of the room if this is not the most effective way of facilitating the lesson. You shouldn’t feel (as the teacher), that you need to explicitly tell the students all of the information they need to know in one go – they need to learn the subject content through routines that are manageable for them. One way this might work is by explaining a key concept linked to a learning objective for around 10-15 minutes, while students have opportunities to input verbally or by recording ideas on mini-whiteboards. Follow this by giving them a worksheet with questions to go through which demonstrates their understanding of the learning. Another approach could involve the teacher reading a brief passage from a textbook, addressing misconceptions and then instructing students to answer comprehension questions based on the learning. It doesn’t have to be information given verbally by the teacher. Think of yourself as the facilitator of learning. What needs to happen to ensure the key learning has been understood by the students? Avoiding spending long stretches of time explaining a concept to a passive audience reduces opportunities for students to misbehave.

When it is necessary to have the class in silence, how do you achieve this? Routines are very important here. You should try and be consistent with the method you use to achieve silence. A common method employed by many secondary school teachers is to count down from 5. This is important even if they are working quietly as they will need to finish the sentence or question they are on. Schools may also have their own system, such as a teacher raising their hand for silence. Try to make some sort of visual signal as well as a verbal one, and make sure you are actively seeking silence:

  • “I need silence and everyone looking this way in 5…”
  • “4… Girls at the back that means you too, thank you…”
  • “3… Thank you so much this table for showing everyone how it’s done…”
  • “2… Just waiting for those last few people, I don’t want to start giving out warnings…”
  • “1… Stop talking thank you James, I need you listening now…”
  • “…annnnnnnnd….. ZERO! Great – so here’s what we are going to do next (and so on).”

Do not accept students talking over you when you are addressing the class. The countdown may take longer than 5 seconds, but it is essential that all students are listening so that you can impart instructions as efficiently as possible. The more you do this, the more the students will come to understand that by the time you say ‘zero’, they will be silent. There are a few important things to consider when using this:

  • Use the classroom space. Walk to groups that are particularly troublesome or loud and stand near them when giving the countdown.
  • Use non-verbal signals and eye contact: thumbs up for those doing the right thing, a stern glance to those doing the wrong thing, etc.
  • Your tone should change from the voice you use when usually addressing the class. You need to employ a ‘strong voice’ for occasions like this so students know just by your tone that you mean business.

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