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Classroom Management, Equity Resources, Teaching Tips & Tricks   |   Sep 11, 2014

8 ways teachers can talk less and get kids talking more

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

8 ways teachers can talk less and get kids talking more

By Angela Watson

If you do fewer teacher-directed activities, that means the kids will naturally do more talking, doesn’t it?  Not necessarily.

I have often found myself talking almost constantly during group work and student-directed projects because I’m trying to push kids’ thinking, provide feedback, and help them stay on task.

Even when the learning has been turned over to the students, it’s still tempting to spend too much time giving directions, repeating important information, and telling students how they did instead of asking them to reflect on their work. Here are 8 ways teachers can talk less and get students talking more:

1. Don’t steal the struggle.

It can be uncomfortable to watch kids struggle to figure out an answer, but they need time and silence to work through it. Resist the urge to talk students through every step of a problem and instead just observe. Similarly, learn to love think time. I often worry about keeping the momentum of a lesson going, and it’s uncomfortable for me to allow several moments of silent “wait time”or “think time” before calling on students. However, I try to push against the feeling that I will lose students’ attention because I know providing wait time can actually increase the length and quality of their responses. Letting kids think instead of rushing in to narrate or question builds anticipation around what’s going to be said next and increases participation as more kids are prepared to move into the conversation.

2. Move from the front of the classroom.

It’s easy to get in an instructional rut when you stand at the same place near the board all day long. Try occasionally sitting on the side of the classroom or in an absent student’s desk and say, “I need someone to go up and demonstrate ___ for us.” Because students are used to the person at the board facilitating the lesson, they are likely to talk for much longer than if you stay at the front and they’re in their seats answering you. You can even remain sitting among the class once the student is done demonstrating and ask follow up questions from other students instead of commenting on the students’ demo yourself (“What do all think? Is that an effective method–how do you know? Does anyone use a different strategy?”)

3. Teach students signals for your often-repeated phrases and for transitions.

Cut down on conversations about bathroom/water/pencil sharpening/etc by teaching kids to use sign language to request permission: use sign language to indicate your answer back: yes, no, or wait. I also like to teach kids sign language for please, thank you, and you’re welcome so that I can reinforce their good choices and acknowledge kids without constantly talking. Use music, a chime, or other auditory signal to indicate when it’s time to start an activity, pause, and clean up. The idea here is to give kids a break from hearing your voice: they are far more likely to tune in to a unique sound than to a 20 word direction.

4. Use non-verbal reinforcement for behavior whenever possible.

A lot of the talking most of us do throughout the day is related to student behavior, and most of the time, we’re wasting our breath. Resist the urge to lecture students every time someone forgets their materials, interrupts your lesson, or makes an inappropriate noise. It’s far more effective (not to mention easier and less disruptive) to give students “the teacher look” and keep the lesson moving. If you need to have a conversation about the behavior with a student or issue a consequence, try to wait for a break in your instruction rather than stop the whole class from learning while you discipline one kid.

5. Turn your statements into questions and prompts.

Instead of saying to a group, “Nice work over here, I like the strategy you used for ___”, ask the kids to reflect on their own work: “Tell me how your group has chosen to solve ___.” Instead of telling a child, “Take a look at #3, that answer is incorrect” say, “Would you tell me how you got the answer for #3?” Not only will these questions get kids talking instead of you, kids will also have the chance to reflect on and articulate their learning.

6. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense?” say, “Can you put that in your own words?”

If you’ve ever asked kids “Are you getting this?”, you’ve probably noticed you rarely get an insightful response. So, you either move on without kids understanding or you repeat something you’ve already said. Try inviting kids to put what you’ve explained into their own words, either repeating it back to you (if you were helping the child in a one-on-one conversation) or by turning and talking to a partner/doing a quick think/pair/share.

7. Stop repeating yourself.

It’s tempting to say important points and instructions a couple of different ways to make sure every child understands, but that strategy can backfire when it’s overused. Kids learn that it’s okay to tune you out because you’ll repeat everything you say. Instead, experiment with different strategies for getting kids to follow directions the first time you give them and use call-and-response routines to get kids’ attention right away.

8. Notice moments when you summarize/review for students and instead get their input.

If you hear yourself saying once again, remember, as I said, as always, so to sum this up, or don’t forget, that probably means you’re about to drive home an important point for the second or third (or tenth) time. Practice making those moments a chance for kids to share: What’s the rule about this? Who can sum this section up for us? Who remembers the way to determine ___? Some teachers even turn these moments into interactive activities, where the whole class does a hand motion, body movement, sound, or chant to indicate that they’re summarizing an idea or reviewing directions before getting started.

Active learning strategies are a powerful way to get kids talking about their learning. Click the image to learn more.

Active learning strategies are a powerful way to get kids talking about their learning. Click the image to learn more.

Do you have any advice for a new teacher on making the shift from teacher talk to student talk? Please share your ideas (or struggles!) in the comments.

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. Can a teacher or TA tell me: when I go to my assigned Kindergarten class to help the teacher (1 hour) I know my job (few things she’d like me too do upon arrival) BUT~ while I’m there, is it alright to address a student lying around in floor & not sitting cross cross applesauce (gentle voice~ sit sup) or mind my own business? I very much love my time there & want to help her not overstep or hinder… Any suggestions?? & there’s 5 non English speaking kids~ 2 come to me often for help while she’s teaching…. How can I or should I approach this very nice teacher about her expectations of me???
    ( I am not a TA! I’m just a mom to 5 kids (youngest is a spectrum kid) special Ed volunteer at religion & a lunch aide to at K class & a also a special needs 1:1 kid) like this article, let’s me read why the teacher does certain things the way she does!!!
    One more?~ if a child is not behaving & it’s a continuing cycle, does a teacher really want to know??

    1. I would ask the teacher! I taught kindergarten for 2 years, and my favorite classroom volunteers and aides were the ones that jumped right in and helped. Especially in classrooms with large class sizes, a teacher doesn’t want to be constantly correcting behavior. You shouldn’t be giving out consequences, but redirecting behavior (Bobby, I think Mrs. F wants you to come to the carpet!) or giving reminders (remember, on the carpet we sit criss-cross apple sauce!) and modeling go a LONG way!

    2. Dear Ann,
      Trust me, the teacher probably already knows if a child is laying around or not behaving but as a teacher I’d really appreciate a parent like you. Some kinder kids may be struggling from lack of sleep (let them take a catnap). Others may be acting out for various reasons (once I had a second grader tell me her feet were too hot–she took her shoes off at her desk). The best technique which has worked for me in the kindergarten room is what I call “bait and switch.” Make the activity SO MUCH FUN that they edge closer and closer. Ask them a question they are not expecting and then invite them into your activity. (Or have them get a drink of water and come back–they might need the movement.)
      Some students are not ready for what we are trying teach in kindergarten. More and more, kindergarten is looking like first grade these days and the creativity/socialization factors are shrinking. We as parents, educators, and observers in the room need to speak our concerns.
      Having said all of that, ALWAYS step in if someone’s safety is at risk or call it immediately to the teacher’s attention.
      I hope you continue to volunteer and are enjoying your kindergarten experience this year!

      Thanks for a great article, Ms. Watson!

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