4 More Words That Improve Listening

Smart Classroom Management: 4 More Words That Improve ListeningLast week’s article was about how just three words can improve listening.

The phrase “in a moment” keeps students from moving on while you’re giving directions.

It keeps them rooted in the present and tuned in until the end.

This week, we’re going to build on the same strategy.

We’re going to add four more words that make the original three even stronger and more effective.

When used in a certain way, and repeated for every time you give directions, the additional four-word phrase motivates students to complete whatever you ask of them with urgency.

It bridges the gap between knowing what to do and doing it with speed, accuracy, and confidence.

It allows for your students to mentally rehearse what you want them to do and provides a push to get them going in the right direction.

While the original three are used before giving directions, the additional four are used after you give directions.

The four words are: “When I say go.”

As in, “When I say ‘go,’ you’re going to complete these directions (or steps) exactly as I’ve given them.”

You’ll say these words just before turning your students loose to complete the task, assignment, or routine you’ve laid out for them.

It’s important, however, to pause and allow for any final clarifying questions before actually giving your signal. You may also want to ask if there is anyone who doesn’t know what to do.

Because once you say ‘go,’ you’re handing responsibility in total over to them—with very reluctant additional support from you. You’ve done your job and prepared them to succeed.

It’s their job to see it through.

If there are questions, or if you feel you need to review any details one last time, you’ll want to add yet another pause before giving your ‘go’ signal. This is critical.

A final pause of 15-20 seconds will cause students to visualize themselves successfully doing whatever you want them to do. It also builds suspense and challenges them to perform with excellence.

Only when you feel satisfied that you’ve provided every tool they need to succeed will you say . . .


This simple two-part strategy of giving directions—in a moment and when I say go—can turn distracted, bored, and daydreaming students into active and tenacious listeners.

When combined with compelling, highly detailed instruction, and a true expectation of independence, it can transform learning.

Now, it’s important to note that there is a lot to this topic. It’s part of a broader approach to education that we here at SCM believe is the answer to motivating students and instilling in them a love of learning.

The article, in fact, refers to a number of important strategies.

If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to visit the links above, as well as the Learning & Independence category of the archive.

My new book, The Happy Teacher Habits (available May 3, 2016), will unpack the entire approach in a chapter called “Shift.”

I hope you’ll check it out.

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.


26 Responses to 4 More Words That Improve Listening

  1. Laura Haynes April 9, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Your posts have been such an asset to my classroom management. You have listed several books you have published. Which book is your “starter” book? I’d like to get started reading them. Thanks

    • Michael Linsin April 9, 2016 at 9:46 am #

      Hi Laura,

      I recommend The Classroom management Secret.


  2. Josephine McFadzean April 9, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    I agree because students love games; so these four words should be very effective !

  3. Susan Grayson April 9, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    I have used your “When I say go” tip all year and it is truly amazing. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin April 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

      Great Susan! You’re welcome.


  4. Chuck April 9, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for these tips. I find that my adherence to these classroom routines generally deteriorates near this time of the year, and I start just jumping into instructions without fully waiting for everyone’s attention (because I’m afraid that they’re tired of me annoyingly waiting until everyone is paying attention before beginning talking). Perhaps you’d be able to write about an issue I’m realizing that seems due to this point in the year:

    A few days ago (it was a few days after spring break), I was teaching a lesson, and I was doing checks for understanding like always, but kids were just NOT engaged at ALL. For instance, I got everyone’s attention, waited until they were all looking at me, and I would ask them what Archimedes’ principle stated. I asked one student, and they didn’t know. I asked another student and they didn’t know what the question was. I had another student repeat the question and the other student still didn’t know it. And I might ask another student and they didn’t have the right definition (even though the definition was written right in front of them on their paper). And then I was like, ‘Okay, let’s all say it at the same time.’, and everyone repeated Archimedes’ principle as a class. And then I would ask another student to use that principle to answer a question which was extremely simple, based on the principle, and they couldn’t do it. I asked them what the principle stated again, and they forgot. I was getting a headache by that point.

    Anyway, they just seem so checked out now that it is fourth quarter. They still enjoy the activities, projects, and demos [they loved the rockets] we do, but they don’t seem interested in actually learning anything new at this point when it comes down to actually getting work done.

    What should I do to inspire excitement again? They’re pretty used to the way our classroom is run by now, and they’re lacking passion because it seems routine to them (all the labs, games, procedures, demos, etc.).

    • Michael Linsin April 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      This is one reason why I wrote the new book. There is a lot to the topic of motivation, planning compelling lessons, inspirational teaching, etc., and thus difficult to put into an article, or even a series of articles. The Happy Teacher Habits—among other things—details exactly what to do to to get your students to want to listen and learn.


  5. Valerie Baxter April 9, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    I went to a training that the trainer did the “when I say go…” And added “when I say what?” theb the students repeat “go”. I didn’t think it would work with my 2nd graders, but it’s MAGIC. A group that previously couldn’t handle multiple step directions, now can with that simple trick.

  6. Sheila Wells April 9, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    I would like to get advice on getting young toddlers to listen as well. As a preschool teacher this age can be challenging. Playing games, songs helps, but would like to learn more statigies.

  7. Ellen April 9, 2016 at 6:13 pm #

    I say, “when I say the magic word…” The first time I used that phrase, the word that popped into my head was “pancakes,” so that has been the magic word ever since. Works great!

    • Brittany Horn April 10, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

      I love this-I am a Kindergarten teacher and cannot resist trying this one. I have found anything you can do to be silly with them catches their ears!

  8. Margo Jablonski April 10, 2016 at 6:32 am #

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom! I tried “In a moment,” last week and it works like a charm! Count me as a loyal follower who teaches first grade.

    • Michael Linsin April 10, 2016 at 7:45 am #

      You’re welcome, Margo. So glad to know you’re a regular reader.


  9. Rachel April 10, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    I am an middle school art teacher and always have intricate lists of instructions to give to my class. I have used this technique for years and it works so well.
    Another awesome technique I have stumbled upon is the progress check. I set a time about 10 min. before the end of class to come by and check wether each student has made progress or not. Easy. In the beginning of class I tell them where they should be in their project at that time, and say “If you are there, you have made progress today, congratulations!” I do not hover over them or micromanage them, except to say toward the end, “10 minutes until progress check….”
    When the time arrives I go around and point to each student with a clipboard in my hand and say ” progress,…progress,…no progress,…etc.” I make note of only the no’s in the grade book and then congratulate the class on making such great progress.
    I never have more than one or two no’s with this technique and it completely inspires the kids to work continuously on their project and not just sit there and talk.
    It is a great way to recognize the ones who always work, to motivate those who never work, to help them understand work ethic, and to keep my projects on schedule.
    Now, my students know to check the progress goal on the board and the progress check time and they get going almost on their own.

  10. Steve April 10, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    I have came in 2nd semester and teaching 3rd grade currently. I read your articles weekly and was excited to see this week’s article that followed last weeks. I used the “In a moment” all last week and it really helped tremendously so thank you!

    I feel like I should take this opportunity to ask a question from a teacher who has always struggled with classroom management. I have recently discovered that when I solely focus on positive behavior and even give instant rewards with classroom or school wide rewards it is very effective. However, there are always those 2-3 students who no matter what you try, do, or say it isn’t effective. What are your suggestions? While I focus on positive behavior, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to ignore not always positive behavior from others. Any book you’d recommend to start reading? And is your new book a book I should read now, or later? Thanks so much! Can’t wait to add those 4 words this week!

    • Michael Linsin April 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Hi Steve,

      I’m so glad you found us, and believe that if you read the newsletter week after week, you’ll soon be able to expertly manage your classroom. We are strongly against using rewards in the classroom in exchange for good behavior, which is one reason why you’re struggling with these particular students. We’ll be writing about this to some degree next week. You can also find articles addressing this topic in the archive. The new book will lay out the entire philosophy in a single chapter. In the meantime, I would recommend The Classroom Management Secret. It has everything you need to get you going on the right track.


  11. Annie B April 11, 2016 at 7:53 am #

    “In a moment”, works wonderfully, but, “when I say go”, gets the kids rushing and grabbing. I teach grades 3-5, and many of the students are very competitive sports-wise, so, “when I say go”, reminds them of a race.

    • Michael Linsin April 11, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Anne B.

      You must model exactly what it looks like—and then enforce it when they don’t do it exactly that way.


  12. Linda F. April 12, 2016 at 4:35 pm #

    I teach first grade. I think I have made every mistake you’ve listed. So, i read Classroom Management Secrets, parts of Dream Class and now I feel so mean in my class. If anyone doesn’t follow a rule, their name goes on the board for a warning. Second time, they’re in time out, etc. I must have had 20 names on the board today. Please help me turn things around. It really sounds like the way that I want to teach, but I am definitely struggling.

    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2016 at 6:59 am #

      Hi Linda,

      Indeed, if you had 20 names on the board, then it’s a sign that you’re missing something, for sure. The only way I can help you turn things around is if I were to speak with you. Otherwise, I would just be guessing. Chances are, based on either the past or how you taught your classroom management plan, your students didn’t believe you when you told them you’d hold them accountable. If you’re interested, I offer personal coaching. There is an expense, but we’ll be able to pinpoint the problem and put you on the right track.



      • Linda F. April 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

        I know there is a cost, but the cost could also make for such a better class! Things are beginning to turn around. I haven’t given up. So, first, thank you for answering, and second please let me know when we can speak. I’m looking forward to it! Please, if you can, tell me ahead anything I can do to be prepared so that I can get the most out of our conversation.

        • Michael Linsin April 15, 2016 at 7:06 am #

          Hi Linda,

          I have an available appointment next week. Please pay first and then I’ll email you to set up a time.


  13. Ben Abbott April 13, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

    brilliant strategy – so simple and effective.

    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

      Thanks Ben!


  14. Heather August 21, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    I have two of your books, and I love your site and emails. I have a new scenario, I started with 15, 4th graders. Things were beautiful I was using your strategies. Then on the third week of school I got some third graders and am now doing a split. The behavior of my 4th graders went way down, and my afternoons are chaos. I’m having extreme behavior issues of defiance, anger, and throwing etc. Things that weren’t present before. Upon speaking the fourth graders are upset they have to have third graders in the room. I am at a loss but refuse to let this bring our classroom down. My plan is start back tomorrow like its the first day of school using your strategies. Do you have any specific ideas for me?

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

      Hi Heather,

      It’s too big of a question for me to cover here, but I’ll put it on the list of future articles. Also, for your specific situation, I’d have many questions for you before being able to give reliable advice. If interested, we do offer personal coaching.