Sunday, 3 March 2013

How to Avoid Shouting and Shushing in the Classroom | Sarah Ager

Having a well planned lesson is wonderful (see previous post), but the best laid plans of mice and men fall to pieces when your students begin to shout, scream or squeak (the latter being surprisingly common). 

I try to avoid shouting at all costs, even though that's incredibly hard sometimes. It takes a lot of control to speak in a slow but firm manner. However, if you remain calm, the children (in theory) should  become calmer too. If you shout, the children usually feed off that energy and become more frenetic. Whereas keeping your tone of voice light and breezy can sometimes diffuse the atmosphere if children are starting to bicker with one another. Adopt a hands-up policy and stick to it. If you respond to the children who shout out, they'll continue to do so. Do be careful to keep an eye on children who've had their hand up in the air for a long time though, if their arms have become floppy then you should shuftie over to them and help them or they'll feel ignored.

Strategic Whispers

When my students are chattering away to each other during a lesson and they ignore or don't hear an instruction, I've taken up whispering softly as a way of getting their attention back. Usually the other children notice and instruct the chatty students to be quiet so that everyone can hear what I'm saying or the children who are nattering wonder why the room has suddenly gone suspiciously quiet. This is also effective because when someone whispers, it's almost an instinctive reflex to whisper back. I had a particularly noisy class this week and so I carried out a class reading activity completely through whispering until the children had calmed down enough to finish the lesson at a normal volume. 

If a child shouts or shrieks for no apparent reason, I usually shimmy up to the board and remove a point without saying a word, the other children notice and usually freeze in case I remove a point from their column. This way, the children tend to silence themselves rather than me having to tell them to be quiet.

Avoid the Shh of Snakes in the Classroom (source)

The Dreaded Shh Cycle! 

There's a possible drawback of children policing themselves as it can invite the dreaded shh! cycle. Sometimes 'shh' can be louder than the noise you're trying to remove. I've found that it's better to say 'silence please' in a low tone rather than a shrill shh because children copy what I say and so if I shush, they start shushing each other and eventually it sounds like I'm teaching them parseltongue! 

It can be difficult to get into these habits for both the children and yourself as a teacher. But it's worth the effort. For example, with several classes of mine, it's got to the stage where when I go to photocopy something, leave the door open and I don't hear a peep from the children because they know that if I return and there's silence, everyone gets points, praise (and I do a little victory dance to make them all laugh).

Stickers and Stars Work Like a Charm

Ah that reminds me, I also include a points system at the top of the whiteboard as an incentive for good behaviour (the children have learned the rules - an automatic three points for bringing homework for example). Most children respond well to a points system but avoid this strategy if there are children who have problems with over-competitiveness as it will only fuel the flames and could be more hassle than it's worth.

Getting The Right Consistency

It's important to be consistent in everything you do and to explain to the children why you do things the way you do. If you have consistency, the children know where they are and what is expected of them. If you explain why, there's a greater chance that the children will respond because the instructions are not simply arbitrary. It's a hard slog but it really does reap rewards. Even though teaching children can raise your blood pressure at times, my favourite lessons have been the ones where the children have responded to instructions and they may have been a hiccup but we were able to get back on track and restore the peace. 

I hope this was helpful for you and please let me know if you have any advice or tips for controlling volume levels in the classroom. My next post will be about the situations when things go wrong and you want to pull your hear out. Stay tuned!

Here's an article that I found particularly useful: Two Words Every Teacher Should Know


  1. I was a teacher before having my daughter and staying home. I could NOT agree with you more! The one place where I always struggled was when everyone started being loud and unruly at once. That's when I usually started yelling, which, as you pointed out, does not work. I always felt like I wanted to bring out the whistle when this happened.

    1. I think the main reason I had to come up with other ways of getting students to be quiet is that I look so silly when I shout or get angry. People always laugh and so I really didn't want students laughing at me. I'm going to play with the whispering strategy a bit more - I even tried mouthing words without any sound at all and oddly enough, that worked too.

      You're right, the worst is when everyone suddenly becomes unruly and you just want to scream. I usually leave the classroom for a second, breathe and then come back in saying, 'right guys, silence please' and continue as I mean to go on.

      Do you have any other tips?

  2. Assalamualaykum sister, come over and work in Malaysia.We are in dire need of creative English language teachers.

  3. I'd mention a couple of points. One of the most effective methods is to always speak slowly, quietly and not to repeat. In a short while your students will begin to understand that in order to hear you they need to keep quiet; and there's no chance you'll repeat your instructions over and over again so they'd better listen carefully the first time round!

    As to the idea of dealing only with students who have their hands up, can I recommend this article:

    This is about NOT allowing only the brightest and most forward students to use their hands in the classroom. No, by keeping hands down and the teacher choosing students at random it keeps ALL the students on their toes! Try it!

    1. Thank you so much! Not repeating instructions is a great idea - sometimes it feels like you're always saying the same thing. This would nip that in the bud straight away.

      Also, thank you for mentioning something that I failed to mention. You're right, sometimes having hands up can result in shy students being neglected or students vying for your attention. Asking questions to students at random works very well. I often make a note of words or phrases that certain students are struggling with so I can tailor my questions for them the next week and check progress.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your advice and the article. I really appreciate it.

  4. I've also found that having small "group" work sessions interspersed through times requiring more "quiet working" to be effective. Some students learn through the doing and in multilingual classrooms, allowing them to work together in groups (and allowing the noise level in the classroom to adjust appropriately) with clear signals of when to return to a quieter level and then promptly moving on to the next activity (i.e. the not repeating instructions suggestion above) allows some release for those kids who are chatterers. I've also found that those shy students who are timid about speaking up might are sometimes more likely to do so in a small group/task/game oriented activity where they feel a little safer and less on display.


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