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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks   |   Oct 7, 2013

15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class

By Angela Watson

Have you fallen into the trap of saying “No talking!” or “I need quiet!” all day long? It’s exhausting to keep repeating your requests for silence, and after the hundredth time, kids just tune you out, anyway. There have been some great discussions about how to get students to quiet down on my Facebook page, and I want to share what’s worked for those teachers as well as what I’ve tried in my own classroom. Contributors’ names are written in parentheses where applicable.


1. Sing a song.

For the youngest students, use finger plays like the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Open, Shut Them. Students of any age will respond to simple tunes and call-backs, such as “Dadadadadada…Da da!” and “Bum, bada bum bum…Bum, bum!”  Since Scott R. loves sports, he starts singing the ESPN tune and has the kids finish it. Bianca G.  sings the Wada Wada Bing Bang song with her class, and says, “If they are singing they can’t be talking. The goal is not to sing it more than once.”

2. Play a song.

If you’re not comfortable singing with your class, try playing music on your computer or CD player. You can use kids’ songs, popular music, classical or jazz songs you want to expose the kids to, songs related to your unit of study, etc. I like to use clips of shorter songs–just thirty to sixty seconds. Use the same song daily for several weeks, and teach kids that when the music stops, instruction begins.

3. Use a special sound.

Bethany M. uses a zen chime with a long sustain. She told her students to listen quietly to the chime and raise their hands when it stopped ringing. It became like a game: “The students would strain to hear it–no one wanted to be the first to raise their hand. Within two seconds, it was so silent you could have heard a pin drop.”

Here are some other ideas for sound signals: (Note: all links go to Amazon so you can see a wide variety of instruments and choose the one you like best. These are affiliate links, which mean I get a percentage of each sale at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.)

4. Clap out a rhythm.

Leigh E. says, “I will walk over near a few students and in a calm, normal-volume voice say, ‘Clap twice if you can hear me.’ The few students will clap. Then, I repeat it again. Now, more students are quiet and listening. I will calmly repeat (changing the number of claps) until I have the attention of the entire room. Typically, this will quiet a classroom within 20 seconds, and an auditorium or cafeteria of hundreds of students in less than a minute. I have been using this for years, and it still works!”

5. Get kids moving.

Call-and-responses that include some kind of physical movement are especially effective. Marina T. uses this one: “Drop it [they have to actually drop what’s in their hands], Zip it [mouths are closed], Lock it [all eyes are locked on the teacher.] Then we all clap once together.” Stephanie W. uses this: “Take a seat, take a seat…Take a load off your feet, whoop whoop [raise arms on the whoop whoop].” Another idea is to play a Simon Says-like game: “If you can hear me, put your hands on your head” and so on with different directions to get kids moving.

6. Do a countdown.

For example, you could say, “When I get to zero, I need you the room to be completely quiet. 10, 9, 8…” When time is up, move on to the next activity just like you said you’d do, and let stragglers catch up without acknowledging them except to help as needed. If you’re consistent with this, students will learn you mean what you say and they have to keep pace! Diana S. trained her third graders in what she calls the Five Finger Technique: “Any time I held my hand in the air, any child who saw it started counting to 5, and by the time we got there everyone should have stopped, faced me, closed their mouths and opened their ears.” Since she taught on a reservation, sometimes she did the countdown in her students’ native language, as well.

7. Try a hand signal. 

Jenni S. shares this tip she uses with her eighth grade class: “I say, ‘Teaching in 5, teaching in 4, teaching in 3,’ all the way down to 1. We rehearse this in the beginning of the year. I hold up my hand and use my fingers as I talk. By the middle of the year, I don’t even say it anymore, I just put my hand up and the kids quiet down by 1.”

8. Use sign language.

I like to teach students the signs for quiet, stand up, sit down, line up, and other basic directions. It’s much gentler (and less exhausting) to show a sign all day long than to keep repeating yourself! When you want quiet, simply show the sign for quiet and have students mimic it back.

9. Fill the room with quiet sprinkles.

This is a great one for the PreK-2 set, especially if you have a dramatic flair. Decorate a small container with glitter and sparkles and label it “Quiet Sprinkles.” Tell the class, “When I sprinkle these imaginary sprinkles on your head, you will become quiet and freeze, just like magic! Watch how it works!” and pretend to sprinkle some on a child’s head. Make a big show of gliding around the room and sweeping the sprinkles over your students. If you use this technique more than once or twice a month, it will lose its effectiveness, but it’s a lot of fun!

10. Try marshmallows and bubbles.

Beth O. tells her students to “pop a marshmallow in.” Right after she says the words, she puffs up her cheeks and taps them, and the kids do the same with their own cheeks (which stops them from talking.) She then makes eye contact with individual children as needed and taps one her puffed cheeks as a reminder. Elizabeth D. calls does something similar, but calls it “putting bubbles in your mouth” and says, “Remind students to have bubbles before you leave class and whenever needed! Works amazingly, and they are so cute when they do it!”

11. Get playful.

There’s not much time in the average classroom for play, so attention-getters can be a quick and easy way to incorporate some FUN in your classroom!  Elissa S. says, “Sometimes I have a code word. At the moment it’s BANANA BREAD and when students hear it, they grab their ears with the opposite hand crossed in front of them.” Christopher O. uses a microphone and walks around like a talk show host. Lynda P. says, “Avengers, assemble for further instructions!”  Sharris H., who teaches English in a computer lab, says “Jazz hands!” to get students’ hands off keyboards  so she can have their attention.

12. Get sneaky.

JulieAnn S. says, “Talk softly to one group of students…the rest will want to hear what you are saying.” Lori S. advises, “Speak in an accent they don’t normally hear. They will all look to see who came in the room.” Barry G.  tells his high schoolers, “Please don’t listen to what I’m about to say because I’ll probably be fired if they find out I said it. It gets concert-hall quiet!”

13. Use a concrete reminder.

Tracy C. uses a visual. She tells us, “I have a wand and attached a big check mark at the top (printed from the computer). I trimmed the check mark in red sparkly garland. I teach the kids on the first day of school when I hold the sign up that they are to ‘check in’. Whenever someone is chatty or not paying attention, I hold the sign in the air. The good listeners will inform the student who is breaking the rule by pointing to the sign. I never have to say a thing. The ‘check in” sign has been one of my classroom management tools for years.” Toni L. uses a wind up music box: “I wind it on Monday. Every time the class is noisy, I open it. If there is still music left on Friday, the class earns a treat.” If you don’t like to give tangible rewards to students, make the reward a class dance-off: play a favorite song for 2 or 3 minutes on Friday afternoon right before dismissal and let the kids have some fun!

14. Make it educational.

Robert B. teaches math, and tells his students, “Give me a factor of ___” and the kids hold up the correct number of fingers (i.e. “Give me a factor of 36″ and the kids hold up 6 fingers.)

15. Change techniques once a month or quarter to keep things fresh.

Anne P. advises, “Practice one attention grabber for two weeks, and praise, praise, praise when students respond as requested. Introduce another grabber once they have mastered the last, making it a treat to learn something new.”

Want more?

Check out my list of

50 fun call and response ideas to get students’ attention.

15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class | 50 fun call-and-response ideas

Remember there is no “magic bullet” that will get all students’ attention all of the time. Don’t get frustrated! Constantly having to refocus your class is a normal part of teaching. Take a deep breath, smile, and keep encouraging your students. You can do this! And please use the comments to share your favorite tips for guiding students to quiet down!

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Angela, which one of those methods you posted would you recommend using for my large group teaching time at Sunday School? I have a group of about 40 kids each week ranging in age from K-Gr. 4 for 1 hour.

    1. Hi, Janet! I know you’ve got an especially tough job on your hands, with the variety of age levels and the fact that the group of children is different every week. Maybe you can sing at the beginning of each Sunday School class to signal to kids that you’re about to get started and need their attention. Teach them some kind of call-and-response which you can use for refocusing–it could be something silly or something related to the values you’re teaching them. (I have another post coming up with specific suggestions for that.) Hand signals would also be useful. All the best to you!

      1. Thanks so much Angela. I have been using hand signals, but sometimes it takes too much time before they even realize I am trying to connect. Will work on call-and-response this week. 🙂

        1. Janet, I know a teacher in a Christian school who uses this: “(T) God is good…(S) All the time…(T) All the time… (S) God is good!” Since you teach such young kids, a clapping response or pattern might be nice, too. You’re right that sometimes it takes awhile for them to notice hand signals, but clapping is fun and commands attention right away.

    2. I teach English as a Second Language to Spanish speakers in a Catholic school. I learned this from the Spanish teacher. When it’s time to quiet down, she says: “Hallelu!” and students answer: “Jah!”.

      And coincidentally, Jah in Spanish (ya) means “done”. So, everytime she does this, students know it’s time to wrap things up.

    3. Hi, since you’re teaching Sunday school, I have a great idea from when I went on a religious retreat as a teenager. The leader sang, “Shout out my soul for the glory of God!” We’d all reply in song, “Shout out my soul for the glory of God!” Then the leader would sing, “His love is forever and ever!” We’d reply, “His love is for ever and ever!” There was another verse; something about ‘together’. When done, the leader had everyone’s attention. It was so catchy that I still remember it all these [decades] later! Sorry I can’t help you with the tune but you might be able to find it somewhere on the internet.

  2. My 2nd grade classroom is decorated with my favorite animal- moose. My quiet signal is very simple: I call quietly “Moose!” and my students reply with “Antlers!” They place their hands on their heads in antler form. Nothing in their hands and all eyes are on me. They love it!:)

  3. I use Marco-Polo. I say Marco, and they respond with Polo as a group. They know immediately to stop what they are doing, be silent and focus on what I am about to share with them. It works great!

  4. These are all so clever! I’m a first year teacher with a lively, very chatty, bunch of kindergarteners! I’ve been searching for new attention grabbers because mine are getting worn out. Thanks!

  5. We use an audible 5-count method, and by the time we get to 5, the kids are quiet. We teach them that they should really be quiet by 3 and not need to go all the way to 5. It works really well.

  6. I love the ideas and plan to bring these up at our next grade level meeting. I was just discussing this with a few of my colleagues who are having problems quieting their classrooms. With this many creative ways, surely they can find one that will work for them. I do have a question about using a sign to cue students instead of singing/playing music to get their attention. I just wonder if it is better to use a designated sign instead of singing or music? This way whenever you are in another area of the school or on a field trip you are able to cue students without possibly disturbing other classes/people. I guess you could use both. I really like the idea of clapping out a rhythm. It’s funny because I’ve always had that look that would quiet my students most of the time. (LoL) I plan to try the clapping technique instead of “the look” to quiet my students. I plan to also have my students vote on a choice of three signs for cueing purposes outside of the class/school setting.
    Thanks for all the great ideas!

  7. I use the countdown with my middle schoolers. “I need your attention in 5,4,3,2,1”. Sometimes I start with 3. It’s rare that they aren’t ready by the time I get to 1. I have also used numbers to indicate the noise level. Three fingers = level 3 = too noisy; 2 fingers = still talking, but better; 1 = quiet enough for what we’re doing.

    On a side note, I picked up the finger idea from an in-service where I also learned to use hand signals for when students need to go to the bathroom, get water, etc. Crossed fingers = bathroom, a finger “w” = water. I can keep teaching and not have to ask why a kid has their hand raised. I can just motion to them to go, and keep on teaching!

  8. I use a T.V. remote control to quiet my grade one class… off, pause and volume buttons. I say it’s magical. ! 😉

  9. These are great!
    I teach my students different signals to go with numbers.

    For example, if I say, “Give me a number 1!”
    My students will pat, pat, clap, clap, snap, snap, “shhhh!”

    Or I might say, “Give me a number 23!”
    And they will do say, “Whoooosh” (for Michael Jordon)

    My middle schoolers (!!) love it and it gets their attention when needed 🙂

  10. My daughter is a sub teacher and she flips the lights on and off a couple of times when she needs to. It is effective for most any age group.

  11. What about for rowdy high-schoolers? I have a group of 35 boys and girls and they give me a very hard time in every class. I don’t know what to do with them any more and it’s only been 6 weeks of class!

    1. For older kids I would recommend using familiar tunes. McDonald’s is a good example. T would say…bum, bum, bum, bum, bum…S will respond, “I’m lovin’ it.” If your kiddos are working in groups and you want their attention, I would suggest a quick song clip. You need buy in from older kids and probably some entertainment (silliness to keep attention). Another option might be old t.v. show theme songs.

      1. I am not sure why you would to give macdonald’s free advertising every lesson? And sing an advert song advertising cheap and unhealthy fast food? Just a thought.

        1. Next time you offer “just a thought” also offer, “just a alternative solution”. I would give more diverse ideas of something that YOU approve of and might help someone else…see how that works?….just a thought.

  12. For my rowdy 6th graders I say “Signal” and raise my hand. It works really well but there are days when I do it more often than I should. LOL

  13. For my middle schoolers – all boys – I just stop talking and sit down (I do not respond at all until they get quiet) – they get the message real quick and start encouraging each other to stop talking – usually just takes a few seconds.

  14. I can’t take credit for this one, but I love it! I call out “Shark Bait!” and the kiddos respond with “Oooh ha ha!” They all love Finding Nemo and visitors to our classroom always get a laugh!

  15. I read this about ten years ago and have used it since then with great success. Every day I nominate a “Captain Silence” who walks around the classroom at my instruction and gives the thumbs up or down for students working quietly. They then write up the quietest student on the board for a reward at the end of the day. You can get them to go around as many times as you like during the day. captain Silence gets a reward at the end of the day as well.

    1. Great idea! I teach 7th grade. Here’s my current technique: I say “SPACESHIP”, they reply “ROCKET”. They love to shout it out and I get their undivided attention.

  16. Any ideas for keeping a kindergarten class quiet all day long? They talk when I’m teaching and they talk when they are working. I can quiet them down to get their attention to teach and/or say something, but as soon as I open my mouth, they start talking again.

      1. I had a Kindergarten class full of boys and I learned “Wholebrain Teaching”. I recommend looking into the method. It worked well for me and it enabled my kids to be more hands on and basically teach themselves and others, therfore less time to fool around. Hope it helps! 🙂

  17. I have learned a great way with kids K-4 is to quietly say “Class. Class.”…a few kids at first will reply “yes. yes.” and then I repeat and then they’ll all respond, ready then for directions. Sometimes I whisper it and often use a silly voice, even a loud voice. The kids never know which it will be but it has proven very effective to getting their attention!

  18. My son’s 5th Grade Teacher used to say “Superman.” The kids would respond by putting both arms straight out in front of them and saying “WHOOSH!” I now use This with my midddle school students.

    There is a popular chain restaurant here called “Red Robin.” The commercial’s jingle is very catchy. I sing “Red Robin,” and the students reply, “Yummmm.”

    1. I let my fourth grade students vote at the beginning of the year. I let them make suggestions, I include the ones I can live with, then students vote on their favorite. We have been through Ring, Ring… hello, duck, duck… goose, goose, ding dong… Who is it? and we are currently on Happy… Minions

  19. I have about 40 students in my class. My students range from 17 to 20+ year olds and they can get really rowdy and restless. Any tips for me pls? Thank you.

  20. We had a signal that anyone in the room could use. The first day of school I told the children that our room would only hold so much sound before it started flowing out into the hall. Each of us was entitled to an equal amount of that sound. If anyone felt they weren’t getting their fair share, they could put their left hand over their own mouth and hold one finger of the right hand in the air. Everyone, including me, who saw that signal was obligated to do the same until dead silent reigned. I didn’t realize how effective it was until my husband took some papers in to the sub one day. She had taken a child to the clinic so the room was unattended. The children all started asking about me and our new baby until he became very uneasy. Suddenly, he noticed one child after another raising a finger in the air. Within 30 seconds, the room was dead quiet and then each child took turns asking about us.
    When I wanted everyone quiet at once for a transition, I would walk around the room whispering, “If you can hear me, hold up one finger.” Again, 30 seconds and dead silence.
    I also introduced them to my bell. I told them if they forced me to ring the bell, it would mean a loss of privileges. All I had to do was move my hand toward the bell and silence would fall round about.

  21. I am a Girl Scout leader, and our troop is often rowdy. I am constantly asking them to quiet down. These are great ideas. Thanks so much!

  22. Love these ideas, thank you. In my nursery class, when I want my children’s attention, (sometimes I clap first if it’s noisy), I raise my hands and open and close them like twinkly stars and say, ” one, two, three” and the children reply, “twinkle back at me”. The “one” is loud but I drop my volume as I say it. All the children need to stand still and put down whatever is in their hands so they can twinkle back. I and my staff take the hands of anyone still moving (let me help you stand still) or I say to individual children, “I can’t see you twinkling”. I don’t move on til everyone stops. It works really well and once it’s learned, we can do it silently in assembly, with mimed gestures.

  23. I teach English as a Second Language to 4th to 8th graders. I have a vase for each group and colored marbles (a different color for each). If they pay attention during class and behave well, I place a marble inside the vase. However, when they are not listening, I walk towards the vase and if they continue, I take out some marbles (depending on the intensity of behavior). They know that when the vase is filled, the group gets a price, so when they see me walking towards the vase, they begin quieting down.

  24. Hello Everyone,

    My problem is a little sticky. I teach ESL to adult students in their 40s. It’s a small class of 15 students. They’re all friends and all good students–except for one problem One of them talks too much in class. She tries to get all of the attention for herself. She often finishes her class work before her classmates, but she is starting to annoy me. I don’t want to take her aside and giving her a talking to. Still, I want to quiet her down. Any suggestions?

  25. Number 13: I love the idea of using a music box! I had some students this year who I think would have totally gotten into that. But I teach highschoolers, and I have 5 different periods that I teach, so I don’t think I could use a music box in that situation. I would love to hear other solutions that would have a similar effect as a music box from some fellow educators here 🙂 any suggestions? I know some teachers write a word on the board (like “quiet”) and start to erase it if attention is not given… but I’m not a big fan of that one and again, it’d be difficult to use since I have 5 different classes.

  26. I say once what we’re to do and find one person doing it. Then I say “I like the way **** is waiting to begin”. A bit of praise seems to motivate others quickly. Or I’ll say, “What does ready look like? What does it sound like?” I think it looks like -” And name a person who’s modeling what you want. But I also agree you should vary your techniques.

  27. I work with special needs students, so I find that I have to use a variety of these suggestions..

  28. Our school has an “eat first, talk later” rule at lunch. So we put mini orange caution cones on the table for the first 15 minutes of lunch. We teach the kids that as long as the cones are on the table, it is not time to talk. When we take away the cones, then they can talk to their friends. With my first graders I usually try to remind them that I will take the cones away at exactly 12:35 so the kids know I’m always giving them their entire talking time. My favorite part is that all I have to do to quiet someone is to tap him on the shoulder and point to the orange cone. Since I can be so quiet, the kids stay quiet, too!

  29. Angela, I teach my third graders to count to ten in a number of different languages. As they line up, to get their attention and make sure they are ready to go, I begin one of the languages and say the numbers in different rhythms. Ex: Un, deux…..trois, quatre, cinq…six….sept, huit, neuf…..dix!!! We might say the numbers in that language a couple of times, and I gradually say the numbers more quietly until we are all quiet. Another strategy I use is to quietly sing a song in another language and the students join me and we sing more and more quietly.

  30. I love all these ideas and use a lot of them. My question is “After the students respond to an attention cue, and within seconds of beginning instruction, the students start talking again what do you suggest? I have used varying attention cues within a 5 minute timeframe because my students start talking the moment I start to teach 🙁 I understand they are young (1st grade). Thanks for you help!

  31. I use nose goes- I few years ago it was a popular game with my own children. I do it two ways- I will either say nose goes and the first person to put their finger on their nose is rewarded with our school Reward policy -( a ticket to redeem for an items later) or I stand quietly with my Finger on my nose without a sound.( no rewards for this one- I use it when we do not have our 6 inch voices on) It spreads Like wild fire with others- usually the ones who are the loudest and not paying attention are the last ones to engage themselves in this game- viola- you now know where the issue is and with whom. Works wonders with me- parents and admin even do it when they are in the room.

  32. I would love some ideas on how to quiet down high schoolers. Last year all I needed to do was stop doing anything and look at the major offenders; it worked like a charm. This year it doesn’t seem to be working as well.

  33. Wonderful ideas, will definitely try some of them. I teach Year 1 and use ‘Simon Says”, or ‘Macaroni and Cheese, everybody freeze”. Just started our last term here in Zambia so will try some new ones with the new children next year.

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