5 Tips For Managing Talkative Classes

5 Tips For Managing Talkative Classes

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Getting the working noise level right in class can be tricky. Research tells us that students benefit from the chance to collaborate and discuss learning with their peers, but we all know that too much noise leads to off task behaviours and wasted time. So how can you get the balance of silence and chatter spot on?

In this week's School Behaviour secrets episode, we reveal our top 5 tips to managing talkative classes. Meaning an increase in productivity in your classroom.

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Actually, all we need to do a lot of the time is thank the children, just let them know that we have noticed them getting it right, because it's a learning curve, they won't do it immediately. everybody's not going to suddenly crystal clear understand the noise level that you're asking for and be able to work at that level straightaway. But as soon as they are in the right zone, lots of recognition saying thank you for working at the expected level or whatever you're calling that. So that children see that they are getting it right.

Simon Currigan  0:31  

Hi there. Welcome to school behaviour secrets. My name is Simon Currigan. And I'm currently funding a campaign to rename fingers as hands sausages. I'm joined today as ever by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma. 

Emma Shackleton  1:23  

Hi, Simon. 

Simon Currigan  1:24  

Emma, I'd like to start the show by asking you a question 

Emma Shackleton  1:27  

Go on, then what would you like to know?

Simon Currigan  1:29  

Is there a time in your life when you didn't feel heard? And what was it like? 

Emma Shackleton  1:34  

Oh ok, I actually find this quite tricky. I am quite a loud person. I mean, it's hard for me to think of a time when I have not been heard. But thinking back there are situations in past jobs where maybe I've put ideas forward or solutions and they've been dismissed. Not necessarily because they were bad ideas, but maybe because of bigger picture politics that's going on behind the scenes stuff that I don't know about it may be. In those instances, I've felt confused, I guess that my ideas weren't being listened to or considered and frustrated that the problems were just being allowed to go on when I felt like I could see a solution. Is that the sort of thing that you mean? 

Simon Currigan  2:17  

Yeah, absolutely. 

Emma Shackleton  2:18  

Okay, how am I past life experiences relevant to today's episode? 

Simon Currigan  2:22  

Well today, we're going to share five top tips for managing talkative classes. And I know this is something that comes up a lot in our Facebook group, which if you haven't seen it, by the way, is called Classroom Management and Student Behaviour. If you search for that on Facebook it will come up and it's free to join. And when I speak to teachers, generally this is an issue that they like to talk about. They find it really frustrating that when the class is overly talkative, they don't feel like all of the children can be heard or they can't be heard. They find it difficult to share the information the class needs to do a task. They feel bad for quieter children whose voices get drowned out. So if you're working with an overly talkative class, today's episode is full of ideas about making your classroom environment more productive, and ensuring that everyone's voice gets heard

Emma Shackleton  3:07  

Hang on a sec, though, before we dive into the interview, how about doing a friend or colleague a favour by sharing with them the link to School Behaviour Secrets and letting them in on all the good stuff too. It's easy to do just open up your podcast app and click the Share button. And by the magic of technology, they too will be able to listen in to the show. It really is a 10 second job that could help a friend out and mean that they and the children in their care benefit to thank you for sharing our podcast.

Simon Currigan  3:38  

So without further ado, let's wait until midnight smear a tin of old dog food on our back lawn and then wait patiently to welcome the majesty of that dirty hedgehog we call behaviour. 

Emma Shackleton  3:51  

Alright, this is an interesting topic because it really does affect so many people. So let's start with the first point around talkative classes, which is to accept that silence and productivity aren't the same thing. And what we mean there is it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if the class is silent, they are productive and hard working. But that simply isn't true. We need to look at what the class actually are producing. So look at the quality of work, the quantity of work and how much time is spent on tasks. These are the factors that influence whether or not a lesson is successful and whether or not the kids are meeting their potential. Remember, this is not about whether the noise level is high or low in your classroom. It's about whether the noise level is appropriate for the task and whether the work is getting done. And obviously whether or not people can concentrate. Some tasks do require quiet and others actually require collaboration for learning to happen. So we've got to adjust our expectations accordingly. In some schools, the idea persists that unless the children are working in silence, they aren't working. But we know don't we that this isn't how things work in the real world.

Simon Currigan  5:17  

Yeah, it's not a new point to make. But certainly when you think about the qualities we look for when we employ adults in the real world, they're things like collaborative skills, and social skills, and the ability to talk and listen effectively. And often, that's something we're trying to hammer out of children when they're working in the classroom, there's an excellent book called The ideal team player by Patrick Lencioni, who wrote the dysfunctions of a team. And in the ideal team player, he explores what qualities we should actually look for when we hire an adult as an employee, and bring them onto our team. And the qualities that he identified are being humble, being able to, you know, take criticism constructively, and not being boastful about your achievements, being hungry in terms of being ambitious, and not having to be spoon fed by a manager who tells them every step of the way, what they need to do next. And someone who is socially smart, someone who can get on with other people, someone who can listen to other opinions and share their own. Now you don't learn those qualities, especially the first one and the last one. By continually working in silence. The truth is, you need to practice social skills, and you need to practice teamwork in order to acquire them, you build them over time, by practising them through different tasks and activities. So you know, we really do need to think about if we are going to prepare children for the bigger world, then they aren't going to be sat in cubicles, by themselves working in silence, they are going to be part of a team to work effectively to have the skills that employers value. Mind you, that isn't to say, if you've got a literal riot going on in your classroom, and you can't get a word in edgeways at whole class time that there isn't a problem that you need to deal with. And there clearly is in that situation. But the starting point is to set our expectations for the noise level for the task, by the kind of work that we want children to do. And that brings me to the next point, which is treat the day like a roller coaster. Now bear with me, this does make sense. All right, for some more kind of exuberant, noisy social classes, it can be a good idea to treat the day like a roller coaster. So what I want you to do in your mind is imagine that classic view of a roller coaster track, so we've got to see was almost like a wave form, you've got to going up a hill reaches the top of the hill comes down as a dip goes up, another hill comes down, and there's a dip. So always have that image in your mind, this is the way I plan the day for my noisier, more sociable classes, right? So I want you to imagine that the top of those hills are busy, noisy times, okay, that's where we're setting tasks where the children can talk to each other. If they've got, you know, social energy that they need to get out of them, and they crave those interactions, then we plan in times the day where they are allowed to be slightly noisier, slightly more talkative. And what we do when we introduce those tasks is we're going to say, Okay, we're gonna have a social task, you're going to have to work with the people around you. And then I put a timer on the board and saying, you know, let them know that this activity is going to last about 15 minutes, so they can see how long the activity is going to last. And I'm also clear about the expectation for the noise level. So I might say something like this is about talking to each other in a reasonable classroom voice. This doesn't include shouting, this doesn't include us raising our voices. So we have a period of high social interaction. And then I follow that by having quieter times where the class have to be more focused. Now for some children in busy social classes, they're going to have to hold in this desire to talk and interact with their classmates. But again, I use a timer. So they know that this task isn't going to last forever, and they only have to hold in their thoughts and their words for so long. So we have a noisier points in the day like a roller coaster track where the volume is high. I follow this with a more focused task afterwards, where we have a quiet period. Why is this a good approach to working with talkative classes? Because what we need to do is harness their energy and work with it in a productive way rather than relentlessly fighting against it after they're had to hold in their energy to hold in their need for social interaction. We have a period of decompression where they are allowed to talk for a while and engage in social interaction with their friends on a team task or a group task. 

Emma Shackleton  9:42  

I guess the flip side of these two, Simon, is if you've got pupils who are quite quiet or quite shy, who don't really enjoy that high level of engagement and interaction, if there's a timer, it's the same for them they recognise and understand. Okay, this is going to be a busy bit This is going to be an interactive bit, this is going to be a talky talky bit. But soon I know that we're using that roller coaster model, and soon the teacher is going to rein it back in. And we are going to be working in quiet again. So I guess that benefits everybody knowing what the plan is, and having that in place ahead of time.

Simon Currigan  10:17  

Absolutely. You know, the world needs all kinds of people, it needs introverts, and it needs extroverts. We're quite different aren't we? where you're more extroverted, I'm more introverted, and that doesn't mean one is more valuable than the other. And I think sometimes there is a temptation to think that it's good for introverts to be dragged out into the light and forced to be extroverted, because in some way, that's more valuable. Actually, there are different kinds of working, and they both have value.

Emma Shackleton  10:41  

Yeah, and he's meeting everybody's needs in the class, isn't it? I guess, following on from what you're saying there about being quite prescriptive about the expectation around the noise level, that's going to require some training. And the way to achieve that model is to relentlessly and consistently recognise positive behaviour. And what I mean by that is really, really tuning in to the times where the children are working at the levels of noise that you've set. And reinforce that by making sure that you are recognising and praising so that children understand, here's the noise level expectation, here's what it sounds like in this class. And when they're hitting that Mark, you're going to notice that and give them lots of recognition, there is a difference as well isn't there between rewards and recognition, some people think they've got to go overboard, giving out stickers, giving out points, giving out tangible things. Actually, all we need to do a lot of the time is thank the children, just let them know that we have noticed them getting it right, because it's a learning curve, they won't do it immediately, everybody's not going to suddenly crystal clear, understand the noise level that you're asking for and be able to work at that level straight away. But as soon as they are in the right zone, lots of recognition, saying thank you for working at the expected level, or whatever you're calling that. So that children see that they are getting it right. The other thing is to be really, really clear about the voice levels expected. Because what one person might perceive to be quiet working might sound and look very differently to what another person perceives to be quiet working. It's quite ambiguous, really. So you can train the children into different noise levels and show them what you mean roleplay it so show them the difference between absolute silence and whispering. Show them the difference between whispering and quiet talking, or maybe talking so only the person next to you can hear or talking so that all of the people on your table can hear. Teach them, model that to them, highlight it to them, and then catch them being good recognise when they are getting it right. A really great way to do this is to add in a visual prompt or a visual reminder, you see these knocking around on the internet, there's lots you can make your own or you can print one off, but they sometimes called a noise ometer. And they're a visual little scale, like a dial I guess. So you might have maybe a zero is absolute silence. And when you've got your visual, the arrow will be pointing to the absolute silence. And you will have taught the children what that means. And again, you're going to be realistic in your expectation. How long really, is it productive and healthy, to ask children to work in absolute silence? And what is the task that you're asking them to do? Are they able to do it in absolute silence? If they don't know what they're doing, they know they won't be able to. But if it's silence, then maybe you'll have the arrow pointing to the zero on the dial. If you want whispering, maybe you'll have the arrow pointing to the one if you want talking so that only the person shoulder partner or next door to you can hear you, maybe that will be level two. If you want people all around your table to be able to hear you. Maybe that will be level three, if you're talking about standing up and presenting something so that the whole class can hear you. Maybe that will be a level four, and then maybe shouting screaming in the playground will be a level five. So by using a visual indicator, you can really help to train the class into exactly what you mean so that they really understand it. If they've got the clarity and the training followed up by the recognition then they'll quickly be able to work out exactly what you want and why is long as they understand why that makes a big difference. Quick little tip here as well. One thing that a few teachers that I know we've tried is using that noise ometer and then actually employing probably the noisiest member of the class to be the monitor for the class. Because if they are allowed to come out and move the dial to wherever it needs to be, that really helps to cement for them what the expectations are as well. So that's quite a nice little tip, they can be the monitor of the noise ometer. So what we're looking for is clarity around the noise levels, making sure the children understand the expectations explicitly. And then as soon as they are doing it right, as soon as they are getting it. Lots of recognition, don't wait, they need short feedback loops. So as soon as they're getting it right, make sure you recognise and acknowledge that. Using proximity praise is helpful, too. So if you've got the majority of a table of children working at the right level, and maybe one who's getting a bit too noisy, you've got a choice there, you can either turn and focus your attention on the one who's being too noisy and draw attention to somebody who's getting it wrong. Or you can choose to draw attention to somebody nearby who's getting it right. thereby saving everybody the humiliation of maybe an unnecessarily telling off and highlighting the behaviour that you do want. So often just turning to the person next door and saying, Billy, I liked the way that you're working at number two there, I can hear that just the person sitting next to you can hear your voice, you're nailing it. That's exactly right. And then maybe the person next to Billy, who was talking a little bit too loudly, has had that little reminder and understands that they need to adapt a little bit to. Don't expect an immediate payoff for this, by the way, some people stick a noise ometer up on the wall, talk the class through it once and then they fiddle with the dial and they expect that the children will just get it and they get frustrated or disappointed when it doesn't work. Like many, many things with behaviour and classroom management, it's training, you're going to have to keep on reinforcing this behaviour over time to get more of what you want. But you will get there you will do it.

Simon Currigan  16:57  

Absolutely. Tip four. And this is for younger children use settling games, right. So when you're teaching younger children, I'm thinking about primary aged kids here, when they come in from say playtime or when they first come in during the morning, or when they come back from lunch, they might not be in a physical state where they are ready to learn. So if they're overexcited, if they're stressed, if they're anxious, they're gonna find it harder to sit still to pay attention and absorb information from the adult. And we know this is true from neuroscience. If your brain isn't calm, if you aren't biologically in a state to listen and pay attention and learn, then you won't do it. And it can feel like as a teacher, sometimes you're trying to almost push the learning forward, and you can feel the kids, they aren't ready. And it's a mistake if they're not physically ready to learn than just to plough on with your lesson is a recipe for failure. You can't fight the children's biology. So when they come in, if you recognise that they aren't physically ready for learn, instead of just ploughing on, it's a great idea to use calming games, one that I particularly like that I've used from reception up to year six, the whole length of the primary school is heads down thumbs up. It's a very simple settling game, you can play it in a couple of minutes, the rules are very, very simple. All you do is you get everyone sat down in a chair and you pick three children, then you tell the rest of the children who are sitting at the tables to close their eyes to put their head on their desks. And to hold a thumb in the air and the three children that you originally picked. Their job is to quietly walk around the classroom. And each child gets to pick one of the children with their eyes closed by just pulling their thumb down into their fist gently. And we say to the children of that have their heads down and their thumbs up. We say your job is to listen to the footsteps. Listen, as the children walk around the room because if you're picked, you want to try and follow with your ears and your eyes closed the sound of their footsteps back to the front of the room. When the three children who are choosing and finished I go to the front of the room and we tell everyone to open their eyes. I'm looking this direction. And we say if you were chosen, if someone put your thumb down, stand up and you'll end up with three children standing up. And we go to the first child and we say Who do you think chose you?  If they choose correctly, the child who was originally sitting down switches places with the person who chose them so next time they get a chance to choose and if they get it wrong, then the chooser carries on. We work through all three children asking who they think pick them. At the end of it we'll have three new choosers or it might be a mixture of old choosers and new chooses and that everyone puts their head down a thumbs up for another round and we send the choosers quietly creeping around the class, pulling down one thumb each and the game continues like that. That game if you play it for two or three rounds lasts three or four minutes absolutely maximum but what we're doing is we're getting the kids quiet, we're getting them calm, and we're getting them listening, and that that three or four minutes invested in a settling game will pay back dividends for the rest of the lesson. Because teaching and learning is now going to be easier, it's going to be more productive, because the kids are biologically ready to accept the teaching material that you're presenting. Rather than fighting against kids who are overexcited or nervous and stressed, what we've done is we've paid attention to their biological state, we've got them calm and ready. And now we can settle back and enjoy a lesson both from a teacher's perspective and the child's perspective.

Emma Shackleton  20:41  

Do you know Simon, I've known about that game Heads Down Thumbs Up for about 20 years, and I've never ever understood the rules or known how to play it.

Simon Currigan  20:48  

It's really good. One mistake you can't make is if one of the children's picks say child A is picked. One mistake I do see happen is you've got three kids at the front. If child a says I think Bill chose me, and they're wrong, we don't then turn around and say, Oh, it was Bill because then that limits the choices of the children that follow. We only reveal who chose who at the very end, when all three children have made their guesses. That's the one place that can go wrong.

Emma Shackleton  21:13  

Okay, okay. Well, I really like the premise there of helping the children to feel regulated and be ready to learn because you're right, it's an absolute losing battle, trying to shoehorn in learning. If the children are not emotionally regulated, and they're not in a learning brain state. Another really great way to do this is to use calming music to set the tone. I've seen lots of great teachers doing this playing something gentle, something quietly as children enter the classroom. And there's evidence to show that our heart rates actually slow down, when we listen to slow moving music. So that creates that calm and physical readiness for us to be able to pay attention and listen. And again, it's all in the training. So it's not going to work, just putting on some music really quietly, and the class just running in and barreling in and fighting for their seats, if that's what they've always done. So you'll teach them, you'll train them, you'll show them the expectation, physically, stop them at the door, greet the class at the door, and physically manage the way that children enter the room, perhaps you'll let two or three children walk in first, they'll walk in, see if they can hear the music that's playing, as they calmly go to their chairs and sit down, then you'll perhaps let the next three in, you know, it's really, really controlled. And these are small, basic classroom management techniques that we are talking about. But the effect is huge on the quality and the amount of learning that can happen. If you can get everybody regulated and ready to learn, then logically, a lot more learning is going to happen.

Simon Currigan  23:01  

These are the keys that unlock the rest of the last night they and some teachers say but they should be learning immediately. Well, the answer to that is they're not. It's like trying to push water uphill, maybe just keep on fighting and fighting. 

Emma Shackleton  23:12  


Simon Currigan  23:13  

Invest those minutes at the start of your lesson, because you will reap the reward for the next 55 minutes.

Emma Shackleton  23:18  

Absolutely. And sometimes some teachers will feel that there's a barrier here because it's an add on, they'll say, I can't afford to spend three minutes at the start of each lesson on doing a calming activity, I just can't fit that in because the curriculum is fully packed. We know that now. But when they come to recognise that spending this two or three minutes at the start means that everybody is ready and able to learn the knock on effect of that is that you have fewer interruptions, you're not going to have to keep stopping to tell people to be quiet or ask them to sit still or ask them to sit down, you're going to be able to start the lesson and get into the flow and the quality of learning is much higher. You can adapt this type of activity for older children as well. So lots of great teachers have a transition activity ready for the children as they come in. So the routine is that the children calmly walk in through the classroom door. They go and sit in their seat and there is a task waiting for them on the board or on their table. Even with older children. It's unproductive to expect them to move from busy and noisy, straight into quiet learning time instantly. It's really hard. It's you know your emotions and your internal state is not like a switch that you can just switch off. If you've been running around outside playing football getting hot and sweaty, and your heart rates up and you've got all of that adrenaline running around. You can't just flick the switch and go right now we're doing silent reading bodies just don't work like that. Mindful moments are really powerful to some of the great schools that I'm working with are integrating mindful moments into those transition times. So after playtime, after assembly time, after lunchtime after PE, then making a point of doing one minute whole class, mindful moment. It's a great life skill for kids to be able to recognise when they're up and wound up and be physically able to calm themselves down again, brilliant, brilliant life skill. So these little tips and tricks really do help to set the tone for the rest of the learning.

Simon Currigan  25:30  

Loads of ideas for settling activities there. And finally, Tip Five is use table points to get the children to manage a noise levels for themselves. So table points are just a system where you have like a competition. This is similar in some respects to the good behaviour games. So you give each table a name, you might name them after animals, or name them 12345 Or ABCDE, or whatever likelihood is, if you're working in a primary school, certainly you give your tables names, you put the table names up on the board, and then essentially, you keep a tally of points, that the table can win at the start of the session, you say you're going to reward the best two tables who have worked quietly, or silently or productively, which is my personal favourite, or bringing it back to Emma's noise ometer earlier at a certain level on the noise ometer. And what you do is you walk around the room. And for tables that are doing that, who are following that instruction, you tally points on the board and the best tables and the most points. And what's interesting about when you use this kind of system is the children start to self police and give each other reminders so they can earn points, they remind children to work more quietly, so they can be the winning table at the end. Now what you do have to be careful of is this doesn't tip over into a kind of an inverted commas positive bullying, with the children being unkind or harshly policing the noise level or overstepping the mark in order to win table points. You do have to watch out for how the kids are interacting with each other. But when you do it well, when you do it effectively. This frees you up as the teacher from focusing on negative behaviour on children who are talking too loudly or shouting out. So you can emphasise good behaviour. And we know when you're able to highlight good behaviour What do you get more of you get more good behaviour children speaking at the right noise level, you could award points to tables at the end of each session if any table met the standard and then the end of the teaching session or at the end of the day. If you're in primary school, the table with the most points when some sort of privilege do think about how you manage children with behavioural special needs. If you use this approach though, because if you've got a table with a child on it, who has say like ADHD, they might be physically incapable of going the whole session without shouting out or raising their voice. And this is going to cause the rest of the children on the table not to gain points and it might turn them against the child socially or create a sense of shame in the child. So we do have to think about those children and how we handle their needs sensitively. But table points can be a great way of getting the children to self police and listen to the noise levels that you're looking for in class.

Emma Shackleton  28:15  

Okay, so quick roundup, then our top tips were number one, accept that silence and productivity are not the same thing. 

Simon Currigan  28:25  

Treat the day like a roller coaster with high points and low points in terms of noise working with your classes energy rather than against it

Emma Shackleton  28:32  

Relentlessly recognise positive behaviour 

Simon Currigan  28:35  

For younger children use settling games

Emma Shackleton  28:37  

And older children actually 

Simon Currigan  28:39  

And older children. Yeah. 

Emma Shackleton  28:40  

And the thing that Simon's just mentioned, maybe try using table points to get the children to start to manage noise levels for themselves. As you can see, knowing how to settle and calm noisy classes requires a range of skills. And these skills work together to form the skill of classroom management, which is basically how you manage the behaviour of the whole class and is an essential skill for any teacher. If you'd like to know more about whole class management, we've got a free download that's perfect for you. It's called the classroom management score sheet. And it gives you 37 factors that have a direct impact on classroom behaviour. If you want to know what they are. grab a free copy of the score sheet today by going to www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. and clicking on the free resources option in the menu. You'll find it near the top of the page. It's a completely free download. Get it today, and we'll also drop a link in the episode description.

Simon Currigan  29:40  

If you found this episode useful then make sure you get more behaviour tips, tricks and strategies in the future from our podcast. All you have to do is open your podcast app now. And tap the subscribe button and the podcast app will automatically download each and every episode of school behaviour secrets as it's released. So you never miss a thing. It's like the joy you experience having your pistons lubricated without the cost and inconvenience of visiting the garage and who doesn't enjoy having their pistons lubricated. 

Emma Shackleton  30:12  

On that note, we hope you have a brilliant week and we look forward to seeing you next week in the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye

Simon Currigan  30:20  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)