Students Won\\\'t Stop Talking in Class? Here\\\'s Help
Jan 22, 2010 Classroom Management 5844 Views
I remember my first teaching assignment. I was an ESL teacher in New York City, at one of the worst high schools in Manhattan. Kids would come in from some of the toughest areas - mostly in the Bronx and Brooklyn - and they most definitely did not have studying on their minds. What made it even tougher was the lack of funds, which meant classes of 40+ kids - only five of whom probably wanted to be there. My biggest problem, by far, was getting the students to stop talking so that I could actually do some teaching.
But if you think it was the fault of my administration for putting so many kids (illegally!) in the same class, consider this: I also had a class of six kids, and during that first semester, I never quite mastered how to get them to stay seated and do their work.
Thankfully, all that changed by the time my third year came around. Here are some tips for the beginner teacher who just can't seem to get her kids to stop talking - as well as for the more seasoned educator who experiences these types of days here and there.
1. Be very, very interested in what the students have to say.
Sometimes, kids just don't know how - or when - to express concerns. When your students start talking over you in class, listen actively. Even ask them to repeat - and do it in a sincere way. When I think of this, I get flashbacks to MY high school teachers ("Liane, would you like to share that with the class?"). Don't do that. Really, really listen.
I used this technique during my first period class one day, in my third year of teaching (by this point at a slightly less-tough school in NJ). For some reason, the kids just would not stop talking. So I asked them what was on their minds (I think I said, "hey, guys, I see you're all talking, what's going on?"). I learned that there had been a shooting in their neighborhood, and someone they knew had been killed. They were all shaken up and worried. Allowing them to address this issue and talk about it gave me the chance to show them that I cared, and it provided an opportunity to converse in English. Finally, it gave them an outlet for feelings that could have been couped up all day. I probably made life easier for their second period teacher.
Other times, for one or two offending students, I've simply looked up at them and said something like, "Yes, what is your comment?" They either had something interesting to say about the lesson - which surprised me - or they simply shook their head and said, "nothing, sorry," and that would be it for interruptions. Note that none of this is done in an angry way; it's done in a way that says, "I want to hear what you have to say."
2. Be respectful and acknowledge their need to express themselves
If you're in a rush to complete your lecture, are being observed, or simply do not feel like entertaining your students' concerns, simply address the students respectfully and ask for cooperation. Okay, ready for a flashback? Think about the teacher in YOUR school who yelled at the students for every little thing. "So and so, sit down and shut your mouth!" That didn't go over too well, did it?
Instead, let the students know you really care about what they have to say. "Hey guys, I really want to hear what you have to say about this, but I absolutely have to finish this lecture first. Can you give me 10 minutes, and then I'll give you a chance to discuss it?"
Who could say 'no' to that?
3. Say what you see
This technique is ridiculously powerful. No one likes being told what to do - or not to do. And often, a student in a bad mood will do something especially to get a reaction. So say what you see. "Mary, you're talking." This will usually result in something like, "Oh, I'm sorry Miss!" - at which point class can continue. People prefer to correct themselves rather than be told what to do - and students are, after all, people!
4. Give an advance warning
If you know you are having a bad day, and have little to no patience, warn the students in advance. Seriously - let them know before class starts that something is already bothering you and you have no patience. "Listen guys, I have a terrible headache today, and my throat hurts. I didn't want to stay home because I wanted to make sure I could be here for you, but today, please be extra quiet for me. I don't want to lose my voice!"
I've had students policing bad behaviors for me on days like this. "Hey, stop talking, Ms. Carmi is not feeling well!" Of course, this is something that cannot be abused; use it when you truly need it.
These are just some of the ways in which you can get students to stop talking in class. It's important to stay in good humor and understand that sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. However, if you find yourself frustrated almost every day, and you simply cannot regain control of the class, it may be time to do something to reduce the level of stress in your life.