The class mumbles with whispering for a few moments. It grows to a murmur and before you know it, they are nearly shouting to the people next to them.
How do you get their attention? How do you snap them out of discussion mode and back to listening mode without raising your voice?
I’ve used a lot of different tactics over the years. Some work better than others. I will tell you that the thing that works the least is shouting.
Raising your voice to try to get students’ attention is frustrating. By its very nature, your entire emotional state shifts from peacefulness to aggression. Your blood pressure will rise whether you realize it or not. It is not the kind of day and life you want to live is it?
Instead of shouting or raising your voice, try these techniques. I have used them all and each can be effective in their own way.
Raise one hand in the air and countdown from five . . . four, three, two, one.
If the students are trained and if you count slow enough, they should begin to listen.
The problem with this method is that you will often find yourself saying, “two . . . one and a half . . . one and one quarter . . .” It isn’t the perfect system and you may still find yourself raising your voice.
2. Clap and Respond
“Clap once if you can hear me.” [Clap]
“Clap three times if you can hear my voice.” [Clap. Clap. Clap]
I like this method because you speak and they respond. It has kind of a viral component because the students closest to you clap first. They clap and the others in the room hear their clapping. A few more join in and before you know it, the whole class is clapping in unison.
You won’t need to raise your voice because the clapping will be loud enough. The other nice thing is that they have to put their pens or pencils down to clap. You won’t have to remind them to focus on you.
This method is my my favorite.
I first heard it during a youth conference from Fr. Dave Pivonka. During his homilies and talks he would always say,
“God is good!”
And the audience would respond:
“All the time!”
He would say: “All the time!”
And the audience would repeat back: “God is good!”
I love this.
It is perfect for religion classes and catechesis.
My favorite thing about this method, though, is the smiles it brings. I almost never get an eye roll, at least with the younger grades.
You can really have fun with it and mix it up too. Lower your voice and say it slowly.
Or, say “God is good!” in the voice of your favorite cartoon character. (Andy Donald Duck fans out there?)
It is fun. . . and that’s the point isn’t it?
Why be miserable? Why scream and yell and get frustrated with your students.
At some point in my second year of teaching, I started yelling all the time. I lost my cool. I lost my patience. I didn’t even try to use these techniques. I stopped enjoying myself and the work I was doing when I could have made even the little details of classroom management an enjoyable experience.
You have to loosen up and enjoy yourself a little bit. You have to teach with the joy of the Gospel!
These three ways to get students attention can be effective, but more importantly, they can be fun.
Don’t be unhappy. Enjoy yourself.
It’s the only way you are really going to reach those kids anyway.
One More Thing: Practice, Practice, Practice
No matter what method you choose, you will have to practice it.
Learning the methods and training the kids to respond comes only through practice. Repeat it early and often and help the kids learn the behavior by reinforcing positive responses and correcting the lack of responses.
The Video Version: How to Get Students’ Attention
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(Image Credit: David Goerhring)