Monday, March 17, 2014

Are Your Students Too Busy Talking to Learn?

One of the most frustrating feelings that any teacher can experience is the hopelessness that comes when our students are so busy talking that they don't listen to us or work productively. Unfortunately, having a class that is excessively talkative is one of the most frequent complaints that many teachers--experienced and novice alike-- share. It is disheartening at best to plan a wonderful lesson that no student is interested in.

The problem of the talkative class is also one that is amazingly uniform across all grade levels and subjects. Large classes, small classes, very young students and sophisticated seniors can all be so talkative that little learning can occur. After all, they outnumber us by thirty or so noisy people to one teacher!

Luckily, there are a few easy approaches that can help your students take charge of their own talking patterns and learn to work well with each other and with you. Try some of these to help control the talking in your classroom.


You have a class that talks and talks and talks. They talk indiscriminately to you and to each other. While you certainly don’t want a class that is silent and dull, the excessive talking in this class prevents students from accomplishing everything you have planned for the day’s lesson. You are not just tired of trying to cope with the noise, but even more tired of trying to teach over their constant din.

Your Goals

• To raise student awareness about the harmful effects of excessive talking

• To encourage appropriate talking and discourage inappropriate talking

• To empower students so that they can cope with this issue themselves instead of being nagged by a teacher

Approaches to Take

Spend time observing your students to find the cause of the problem. Are they excited because of the time of day? Bored and restless? Unaware of the effect of their talking? Unsure of how to do their work well? Once you have determined some of the causes for their talking, work to figure out how to turn this into an advantage instead of a class failing.

Be very clear with your students when you discuss this issue. They should know when it is acceptable for them to talk and when they should be working silently or listening carefully. Setting clear limits and communicating those limits reduce your students’ tendencies to test the boundaries of your tolerance.

Be aware that sometimes you may be the cause of the problem. Once your students are settled and working, be careful not to keep talking to the whole class. Work with individuals at that point instead of distracting the entire group.

Take care to pace instruction so that once students finish an assignment they have plenty of other work to do with a minimum of transition time. Students without enough to do will find time to chatter.

Establish signals with your class so that they know when to stop talking. Many teachers find it helpful to enlist students in this process because it promotes student ownership.

If students are excited about an upcoming event, allow them to spend a timed minute or two talking before settling down to work. Clearing the air this way shows students that you are willing to be fair.

Teach students that they must be responsible for their own talking. Use positive peer pressure to your advantage. Chart their successful attempts at managing their excessive talking with a large bar or pie graph and then provide a small tangible reward for those students who are successful. Once students see that they can be successful at managing their own noise levels, they will be likely to continue in a positive trend.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid the sound-wave cycle of a loud class time followed by a quiet time followed by a loud time again by being very consistent in how you enforce the rules you establish about when it is acceptable for students to talk. Set clear limits and stick to them instead of appearing the least bit fuzzy on this issue.

Don’t allow students to have a great deal of down time where they don’t have anything to do but chitchat loudly with their classmates.

Don’t forget that it is important to help students focus on an assignment at the start of a lesson and then periodically throughout the class period. Reasonable timed wiggle breaks make it easier for students to not only stay on task but to talk appropriately with their classmates.

Don’t expect students to be quiet all class long. Build in a variety of activities so that their interactions can be positive ones.

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