When And Why It’s Okay For Students To Talk

Smart Classroom Management: When And Why It's Okay For Students To TalkThere is a common misconception that effective classroom management means silence.

It means rigidness and tight restriction. It means backs straight and eyes forward.

Hour after hour.

And while there are teachers who try to run their classroom this way, or think they should, here at SCM we think it’s a terrible idea.

Because it limits social and academic growth.

It causes boredom, resentment, and a strong dislike for school.

It makes every day an agonizing, tension-filled slog to dismissal.

Of course, there are blocks of time throughout the day when your students should be quiet. Uninterrupted independent work, to use one example, is a critical component of learning.

But this is an academic strategy, not a way to keep students under your thumb.

To create a healthy, well-behaved environment, your students need breaks. They need opportunities to stretch their legs and recharge their batteries.

Teacher-led exercises are a good idea.

Jumping jacks, desk push-ups, air curls, arm circles, static poses, and jogging-in-place are simple ways to clear the boards and provide energy for the next activity.

Dancing and lip syncing to music, depending on your grade level, also work well and are especially fun. Just a few minutes between lessons add flavor to the day and give students another reason to love school.

But there is one particular type of break that seems to work best of all. It’s fast and easy and students really, really appreciate it.

It’s talking.

Now, it’s important to point out that letting students continue to talk because that’s what they’re already doing is a bad idea and will only make matters worse.

The form of talking I’m referring to is structured and defined by the teacher. In other words, you first model what a talking break looks like before letting your students loose.

You lay out your expectations by showing precisely what is and isn’t okay. A reminder that you’ll follow your classroom management plan as usual is also a good idea.

I recommend giving your students two to four minutes to move about the room and talk with whoever they wish.

As for the topic, you can either let them chat about whatever they like or, again, depending on your grade level, provide a topic for them. “Share with someone your favorite superhero and why.”

Bookend the break with a signal to start and a signal to return to their seats.

I like to begin abruptly with something like “Get up and say hello to your friends!” and close with simply “Times up.”

When it’s over and you’re ready to move on to the next lesson or activity, you’ll have a more receptive class. They’ll sit up a little straighter and listen more intently.

They’ll have more energy to focus and the clarity of mind to better understand.

Giving students a few minutes to talk with their friends is a simple little thing. But it effectively shakes the restlessness out of their system.

It wakes them up and gets the blood flowing. It activates the brain and buoys the heart.

It settles. It calms. It motivates.

It prepares them for the challenges that lie ahead.

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14 Responses to When And Why It’s Okay For Students To Talk

  1. Mark Eichenlaub April 15, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    I like the new look of the website Michael!

    I agree that kids are social and do need time to talk but to me it’s ok to expect silence sometimes. I also don’t believe that sitting and talking is the most efficient way to get work done in school…or work.

    As you’ve said many times modelling and laying out clear expectations and procedures is needed.

    Even better when they know there is a CORRECT time to get up and talk they are more likely to succeed than thinking they can never talk.

    Nice work!

    • Michael Linsin April 15, 2017 at 5:21 pm #

      Thanks Mark!


  2. Charmaine April 15, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    Yes! I agree that this is a great and necessary strategy. In my first-grade classroom, I call the talk break “Greet your neighbor.” At the beginning of the year, I modeled how to shake hands and ask how someone is doing. The students love it and it teaches some valuable social skills!

    • Michael Linsin April 15, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

      Excellent Charmaine! Thanks for sharing.


  3. Steve April 15, 2017 at 10:15 am #

    I like having kids get up and survey each other on issues we are talking about.. I have a chart that has them ask 5 people their opinions on whether or not the U.S. should have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan for example. As a Social Studies teacher this is easier, but could probably be used in other subjects as well. This gets them moving but also is still related to content.

    • Michael Linsin April 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your idea, Steve!


  4. elizabeth yunita April 15, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    Awesome. I love when my students can express or share their ideas and thoughts. Quiet class during the lessons can be boring for the teachers too.

  5. Sharon April 16, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Your classroom management for special teachers has assisted me to continue my journey as an educator. Thank you so very much.

    My biggest challenge as an art elementary teacher is the talking during instruction and the noise level during independent work time. I have become better at managing during instruction with several of your strategies, but the noise level at work time is often a problem. I have a designated student voice manager at each table group. They have three cups – red, yellow, green. Green signals a good voice level (spy talk), yellow a warning, red two minutes of silent time to readjust. If the student is not monitoring the table, I will put a table on yellow, or red if they get too loud. This works with some groups, but not consistently.

    Walking into the art room promotes relaxation, excitement, creativity, and a sense of fun. I provide zen music, soft lighting, essential oil diffuser, consistent managing, balance of movement and structure, but it still gets so VERY loud!!

  6. Miss Leigh April 16, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    I have tried this – giving them talk time and cell time etc mid class …. many students take advantage and do not stop when they have agreed to – and with others the anticipation of these times is distracting. SO I give them a few minutes before we being the days lesson so they can reorganiuze, check cells, get settled in – works better than a do now a lot of times – although I have that on the board but i call it “lesson intro” which reduced resistance to the word NOW

  7. Holly Sheehan April 27, 2017 at 6:48 am #

    Hi Michael,
    Lunch duty is an elementary teacher’s nightmare! Any ideas on how to handle cafeteria duty so that we don’t leave with a headache? Usually, there are many classes and grade levels all shoved into a little lunch room. The kid’s talking is always so loud…We have tried everything, noting works.

    Holly Sheehan

  8. Molly Bovos April 29, 2017 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m always fighting the students talking during transitions. This is a great strategy to just clearly define that talking can happen during the transition, but also define how the transition needs to end so they can end it quickly. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin April 29, 2017 at 5:59 pm #

      You’re welcome, Molly!