Having a well planned lesson is wonderful (see previous post), but the best laid plans of mice and men fall to pieces when your students begin to shout, scream or squeak (the latter being surprisingly common).
I try to avoid shouting at all costs, even though that's incredibly hard sometimes. It takes a lot of control to speak in a slow but firm manner. However, if you remain calm, the children (in theory) should become calmer too. If you shout, the children usually feed off that energy and become more frenetic. Whereas keeping your tone of voice light and breezy can sometimes diffuse the atmosphere if children are starting to bicker with one another. Adopt a hands-up policy and stick to it. If you respond to the children who shout out, they'll continue to do so. Do be careful to keep an eye on children who've had their hand up in the air for a long time though, if their arms have become floppy then you should shuftie over to them and help them or they'll feel ignored.
When my students are chattering away to each other during a lesson and they ignore or don't hear an instruction, I've taken up whispering softly as a way of getting their attention back. Usually the other children notice and instruct the chatty students to be quiet so that everyone can hear what I'm saying or the children who are nattering wonder why the room has suddenly gone suspiciously quiet. This is also effective because when someone whispers, it's almost an instinctive reflex to whisper back. I had a particularly noisy class this week and so I carried out a class reading activity completely through whispering until the children had calmed down enough to finish the lesson at a normal volume.
If a child shouts or shrieks for no apparent reason, I usually shimmy up to the board and remove a point without saying a word, the other children notice and usually freeze in case I remove a point from their column. This way, the children tend to silence themselves rather than me having to tell them to be quiet.
Avoid the Shh of Snakes in the Classroom (source)
The Dreaded Shh Cycle!
There's a possible drawback of children policing themselves as it can invite the dreaded shh! cycle. Sometimes 'shh' can be louder than the noise you're trying to remove. I've found that it's better to say 'silence please' in a low tone rather than a shrill shh because children copy what I say and so if I shush, they start shushing each other and eventually it sounds like I'm teaching them parseltongue!
It can be difficult to get into these habits for both the children and yourself as a teacher. But it's worth the effort. For example, with several classes of mine, it's got to the stage where when I go to photocopy something, leave the door open and I don't hear a peep from the children because they know that if I return and there's silence, everyone gets points, praise (and I do a little victory dance to make them all laugh).
Stickers and Stars Work Like a Charm
Ah that reminds me, I also include a points system at the top of the whiteboard as an incentive for good behaviour (the children have learned the rules - an automatic three points for bringing homework for example). Most children respond well to a points system but avoid this strategy if there are children who have problems with over-competitiveness as it will only fuel the flames and could be more hassle than it's worth.
Getting The Right Consistency
It's important to be consistent in everything you do and to explain to the children why you do things the way you do. If you have consistency, the children know where they are and what is expected of them. If you explain why, there's a greater chance that the children will respond because the instructions are not simply arbitrary. It's a hard slog but it really does reap rewards. Even though teaching children can raise your blood pressure at times, my favourite lessons have been the ones where the children have responded to instructions and they may have been a hiccup but we were able to get back on track and restore the peace.
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I hope this was helpful for you and please let me know if you have any advice or tips for controlling volume levels in the classroom. My next post will be about the situations when things go wrong and you want to pull your hear out. Stay tuned!
Here's an article that I found particularly useful: Two Words Every Teacher Should Know