3 Simple Words That Improve Listening

Smart Classroom Management: 3 Simple Words That Improve ListeningIt’s most noticeable when giving directions. And it’s so, so frustrating.

You can actually see it happening right in front of you.

As soon as your students think they understand what you’re asking of them, they mentally check out.

They stop listening.

They turn to their tablemates. They fumble with materials. They begin moving toward whatever they’ve concluded you want them to do.

All while you still have critical details to give.

In response, it’s common for teachers to increase the volume of their voice in an effort to cut through the fog.

You’re going to be writing three paragraphs today, not two! That’s three paragraphs. Also, be sure and include a connection to yesterday’s reading. Oh, and remember, it’s independent work time, so there is no talking!”

But by then it’s too late. The majority of students have already moved on. Before long, confusion and uncertainty fill the room. Hands go up. The work suffers.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, many teachers will stop talking as soon as they notice attention beginning to shift. They’ll pause and wait. They’ll sigh and tap their fingers.

They may even throw in a lecture about how important it is to listen to all the information first before getting down to work.

And while this approach is certainly better than soldiering through it, it’s reactionary. It interrupts the flow of the lesson. It brings a negative vibe to the classroom and wastes learning time.

A better way to handle it is to utter three simple words before giving directions.

It’s a phrase that keeps students from moving on until they hear everything you have to say. It notifies them—clearly and unmistakably—that more information is coming.

The phrase is: “In a moment.” As in, “In a moment, we’re going to begin writing a response to the day’s reading.” Or, “In a moment, we’re going to line up for lunch.”

At first glance, In a moment doesn’t seem like it could make much of a difference. But when combined with four more words, which we’ll cover next week, it’s remarkably effective.

It keeps students from moving on mentally or physically until you’ve finished giving every last direction. It removes the urge to be first or fastest.

It avoids disruptions to your teaching and ensures smooth routines and focused independent work.

The most effective teachers use the phrase up to a dozen times a day. It becomes a message, and a mantra, that reminds every student to listen instead of guess and to know for themselves instead of relying on others.

The beauty of the strategy is that it gets stronger with time, as students come to understand it more profoundly. Eventually, active listening will become Pavlovian in response.

Three simple words, with four more coming next week.

In a moment . . .”

Try them, and you’ll see the difference.

PSThe Happy Teacher Habits: 11 Habits of the Happiest, Most Effective Teachers on Earth finally has a release date. (Yes!) The book will be available on Tuesday, May 3rd.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.



23 Responses to 3 Simple Words That Improve Listening

  1. Jeanine Oberg April 2, 2016 at 9:54 am #

    Where will I be able to purchase the new book?

    • Michael Linsin April 2, 2016 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Jeanine,

      It will definitely be available through Amazon and Amazon Kindle on May 3rd. As for Barnes & Noble and other retailers, presumably also on the 3rd, but I’m not sure.


  2. Cindy April 2, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    Not sure what you’ll post next week, but the phrase “When I give the signal…” followed by instructions works wonders for me. Careful listening ensues as students wait to hear the signal which is usually “move please” or “begin please” and you are right – if explicitly taught and used consistently it becomes Pavlovian!

    • Michael Linsin April 2, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

      Very good, Cindy! You’re getting a bit ahead of me.


  3. Kate Hrotek April 2, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi Micheal, I am a would-be math teacher, but English is my second language. Yes, classroom management is a big issue to me, and I just wonder which of your books you can recommend to me to buy.

    Kind regards,


    • Michael Linsin April 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

      Hi Kate,

      I recommend The Classroom Management Secret, which covers everything you need to know to effectively manage your classroom.


  4. Emily April 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    I have a student with Aspergers who is fixated on “in a moment”(I’ve been using it for a few years) and won’t let me forget to use it! 🙂

  5. Mandy Hoovers April 3, 2016 at 6:04 am #

    I read all your articles carefully.

    One of my favs; Telling students, “Raise your hand if you do NOT understand what to do.”
    My students’ attention span has risen, and the phrase manages to elicit a giggle every time.
    Keep up the awesome work.

    • Michael Linsin April 3, 2016 at 7:37 am #

      Thanks Mandy! Will do.


  6. Sue April 3, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    It is amazing how well “In a moment,” works!

  7. Greg April 3, 2016 at 10:52 pm #

    I am very excited about the new book and that it is available on Kindle on the release date. I speak at an orientation for new teachers about classroom management for our district 3-4 times a year and always recommend this blog and recommend all of your books.

    If I may respond to earlier question about which book to buy of yours, may I also respectfully recommend ” Dream Class”. Fantastic book!

    • Michael Linsin April 4, 2016 at 6:49 am #

      I appreciate it, Greg! I made it a point this time around to make sure the e-version was available on the same day as the physical copy. Looking forward to hearing what you think.


  8. Dan April 4, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    Not only do I script a lesson but I also prepare visual aids to help with teaching. My concern is body language to reinforce all my messages. Where am I standing, or sitting to create a dramatic frame that increases the impact of my message. (Putting 3 fingers up) to reinforce 3 paragraphs…from computer games most children’s brains are now rewired to take in more of a visual message than an auditory message.

  9. Donna Martyniak April 4, 2016 at 5:43 am #

    Love your tips. Keep them coming.

    • Michael Linsin April 4, 2016 at 6:49 am #

      Thanks Donna. Will do.


  10. Cameron April 4, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

    Hey Michael, what do I do after giving clear instructions if a student is NOT misbehaving as in disrupting other students learning (Yes I do have a rule that says follow instructions quickly the first time given.), but chooses not to participate whether it’s partner / group work, or individual work? Is this something I would give a warning for? If yes, and then I wait for a bit, and they’re still not doing the work / activity, do I then move them to time out? Do I leave them in time out if they continue to not work / participate? I know of course usually there is a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with, but would I allow them to remain at their desk? What about if they put their head down and close their eyes? Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin April 5, 2016 at 6:55 am #

      Hi Cameron,

      This is a bigger question than we have time for here, but I’ll put it on the list of future articles. I will say, however, that if the student isn’t misbehaving, then you would definitely not follow your classroom management plan. It’s a motivational/academic issue and therefore must be dealt with on this end.


  11. Monica April 6, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    Thanks Michael for you weekly inspirations.
    I use your cues with great success in my Art Room.
    As a specialist teacher you get to be with the whole awesome community.
    Love seeing your articles in my inbox!

    • Michael Linsin April 7, 2016 at 6:49 am #

      You’re welcome, Monica! I’m glad the articles have been helpful.


  12. Brenda Cromer April 12, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    I love it.
    I placed the words by my computer to remember to use them.
    They are already working great!!
    I had a student ask if she could begin after I finished the directions.
    Usually the students are jumping into work before the directions are half started.


    • Michael Linsin April 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      You’re welcome, Brenda!


  13. C. October 21, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for all you write here, it’s very useful.

    • Michael Linsin October 21, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      You’re welcome, C.