‘Who’s Talking?’ | A Simple Trick for Better Classroom Management

Younger students can be very chatty when they’re excited about an activity. While we want the group to be enthusiastic in class, it’s important to maintain control. There are many behavioural techniques you can employ to encourage quiet, but sometimes the most effective is the most simple.

When my students are talking a lot instead of listening, I simply ask, ‘Who’s talking? Point them out.’

I picked up this technique from a co-teacher in my early days at Prague Youth Theatre. There are two ways that it can be implemented.

Version One | Point to the Talker

When I first encountered the technique via my co-teacher, the question was intended to single out disruptive students. As soon as she said the words, the students all began pointing to the culprits and silence fell. It quickly becomes clear who is not listening when the rest of the group are silent and pointing to them. I know some readers may feel that this is naming-and-shaming, but that’s very dependent on how you manage the technique.

In my classroom, once the final people are being pointed to, they will realise that they have been caught out. Make a joke at this point to let the students know that you’re onto them but you’re not cross. As a kid who talked too much myself, I usually responded better to teachers who made a joke of my chattiness. It reassured me that they didn’t think I was a ‘bad’ child and helped me to acknowledge how my talking had disrupted the class.

When you make light of the situation in this way, you diffuse tension and it makes this exercise a playful way for the group to manage themselves and encourage quiet. Usually, at this point I will receive an apology or at the very least, a cheeky face. If this is the first time they have been caught talking within the class, WE MOVE ON.

At this point screaming and shouting or punishing the child will only make them upset. They already know they have done something wrong. There is no deniability or room for argument. By moving on you show the child trust and respect which they will appreciate.

A second offense

Depending on the group, instead of a warning for the second offense I sometimes offer a different option. I ask the class to respond in a particular way the next time they see the offending student talk when they shouldn’t be. This could be something silly like buzzing like bees or scratting around like chickens. The offending student will often find this funny and not take offense, but it still breaks the cycle of talking.

Often at the start of term I will take this approach to set a precedent that I do not allow disruptive talking in class. By making this clear early on, you avoid hurt feelings but let the kids know your boundaries. You are trusting them to manage their own behaviour and be respectful to you.

If they are consistently caught talking, they have broken that trust and can be issued a warning. By moving on in the first instances, one removes any anger or argument when warnings are issued. You have already been fair and understanding. You have trusted the child to behave better and are asking them to take responsibility for the fact that they have not.

Often the students will begin pointing at me once I resume talking. I’m happy for them to do this as it keeps the atmosphere light and helps us to move on from students who have been caught out. In this instance, play along briefly but try to ensure the students are still listening.

Version Two | Who SHOULD be talking?

Students pointing to the teacher leads us onto the other way of using this simple question to regain control. If you are uncomfortable asking the students to point to each other, you can ask ‘Who’s talking?’ meaning ‘Who is supposed to be talking?’

In this instance students will all point at the teacher. The silence that falls around those who are talking acts as a kind of pattern interrupt technique and encourages quiet. In my experience, this version is slightly less effective as students who were talking have not been caught out and are more likely to repeat the offense. They may protest later down the line when issued a warning if they feel they have ‘got away with it’.

In either instance, you must be very clear who it is that the students should be pointing to (each other or the teacher). I would recommend keeping the mood light as losing your temper can have the opposite effect to the one you desire.

Try out both versions and let us know which you prefer.

Rebecca is the founder and chief executive officer of Silly Fish Learning Ltd. She is a children's playwright with a vast and varied career in education, primarily teaching drama and English.

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