How To Manage Voice Levels In Your Classroom

Like so much of classroom management, the key to managing voice levels is to define for your students what you expect of them—and then hold them to it.

Your students need to know during every minute of the school day whether it’s an allowable time to talk, who they’re free to talk with, and what volume level is appropriate.

This can run the gamut from no talking whatsoever to unrestrained expression.

For example, over the short course of a morning, your students may be collaborating with group members at a conversational intensity, whispering to a neighbor while prepping for a science experiment, or working in silence.

They may even be yelling and cheering as part of an outdoor game.

The idea is to standardize a few simple volume levels for your classroom, teach them to your students, and then clarify for each activity which level is appropriate. For example, before releasing your students to work on an art project, you might say simply, “We are working at a level two.”

Although you can certainly create your own number-level system, what follows is one that is easy to use and already proven to work.

0 – no talking

This level is defined as having no communication with fellow classmates. It should be in play during silent reading or whenever your students are working independently.

1 – whispering

Whispering is appropriate for use in the school library or during semi-independent work periods—that is, when you prefer your students be able to consult quietly with a neighbor.

2 – conversation

This is a speaking level for meeting in pairs and small groups. It requires a respect and awareness of others engaged in similar but distinct conversations around them.

3 – have fun

Appropriate for use during outdoor activities and sports and perhaps even some indoor learning games. The sheer exuberance of this level helps define the other three.

A Few Thoughts

Some teachers prefer to define voice levels by proximity. In other words, they’ll ask students to speak in 12-inch or 36-inch voices, for example. But this can be confusing to students and difficult to define—especially considering the phenomenon that transpires at level two.

When students meet in small groups, it’s normal for voices to gradually grow louder as they try and talk above the groups around them. This happens to adults as well as children and is a natural consequence of group learning.

Getting angry and lecturing in response is a mistake that discourages wonderful and beneficial collaboration and learning. As long as your students are on topic, it’s okay if voices get a little loud. Really.

If ever it becomes distracting, however, and begins interfering with your students’ ability to work together, simply stop and ask for their attention. Pause 30 seconds or so and then lead them through a few deep breaths.

In most circumstances, this brief clearing of the boards, and perhaps a quick reminder, is all they need to recalibrate their voices to a more pleasant level.

Whispering, however, is a different story.

There is no natural phenomenon at work when students stop whispering and begin using normal speaking voices. In this case, and in any case of straying from a designated level, just follow your classroom management plan.

“Jake, you broke rule number one and didn’t follow my directions for speaking at level one. You have a warning.”

Many students, however, may not fully understand how to whisper or how to speak when someone is sitting right in front of them. They may not grasp that no talking really does mean no talking.

Therefore, it’s important—and only fair—to thoroughly teach, model, and role-play each level before putting the strategy into practice. Show your students in a highly detailed way how to interact and behave within each level and then let them try it out.

Create common classroom scenarios and let them rehearse—one level after the other. Challenge and test your class, mixing and matching groups and levels until they prove to you they fully understand what you expect.

Although it’s a small part of classroom management, managing voice levels is another layer, another simple but effective strategy that helps keep your students calm and happy and focused on learning.

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9 Responses to How To Manage Voice Levels In Your Classroom

  1. Lucero February 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Thanks a lot. I designed a noise meter some years ago, it’s a graduated foamy stripe that I stick to the board and I use it to show kids how their volume levels are going up or down by placing Garfield’s faces cards, first showing a calm and cool face, a second one when he seems a little annoyed, the third one looks tired and the last one goes crazy. Your ideas will really improve this tool. This time I’d change the faces to show silence, whisper, conversation and free talking.

    PD. Are you vegetarian?

    =)

    • Michael Linsin February 24, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Lucero! Indeed, a poster you can refer to is a good idea. 🙂

      Michael

  2. Morgan March 18, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi,

    My students are a whole different breed of students. I give warnings, put down clips, separate them, and send them out of the classroom when they misbehave/ break the rules. I also send home notes, emails, and meet with parents. Their behavior doesn’t improve and I feel like I have exhausted my resources. Help!

    • Michael Linsin March 19, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Hi Morgan,

      All of our principles and strategies have been developed, tested, and proven to work in the toughest teaching environments. However, there is a lot to learn and you need a solid foundation of understanding to start transforming your classroom. I recommend starting in the Classroom Management Plan and Teacher Tips categories of our archive and going from there. The Classroom Management Secret is a good resource because it has just about everything you need to know at your fingertips.

      Michael

  3. AKjewel October 29, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    I struggle with this a lot in art. I also teach in the library. They certainly understand a whisper and moving quietly in the library. But in art they want to converse while doing. And the conversations grow louder. I will take your good advice to reteach voice levels. One thing I’ve noticed is if they have a sub, then it’s as if they are on “vacation” from all rules.

  4. Shira October 29, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for the great article. What about students who consistently speak to low in class? I noticed this issue in a number of classes. Students raise their hand to answer a question, or comment on a discussion, but speak in a low tone. Since the rest of the class can’t hear the answer the other students get bored while waiting and often the teacher has to repeat the students answer/comment.

    • Michael Linsin October 29, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

      Hi Shira,

      I’ll be sure to cover this topic in a future article. Stay tuned!

      Michael

  5. Lauri Engman November 3, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    I love your articles. I am not a school teacher but work in Sunday school and with young people all the time. Very helpful. Thanks. I read The Happy Teacher Habits and loved it. Going to read it again. Thank you so much.

    • Michael Linsin November 3, 2016 at 11:24 am #

      You’re welcome, Lauri. I’m so glad you like our stuff. 🙂

      Michael

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