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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. This is great information! I especially like moving from a familiar place to an open student desk so the class doesn’t get so use to you standing in the front of the class. I’m definitely going to try this and see what happens. I, too, tend to talk too much when I’m teaching and I struggle with the “wait” time but I am resolved to doing this because they have to figure out how to solve a problem in order to understand it.

  2. I find I get more student talk when I simply ask for and answers followed by a swift why. Student always begin discussions over the why rather than the answer because why gets to the process not the product!

  3. Thank you, Angela! I plan to teach my students sign language right away for questions regarding their physical needs. Those questions often cause my class to lose momentum in our rich discussions. I’ve also found that providing an agenda for the day eliminates the never-ending questions like, “Will we get to_____ today?” and “What are we going to do after this?” I notice that my reading group (2nd Grade Advanced Group) needs the agenda more than my homeroom.

  4. Thanks, this is a very nice article and I will try to work with all the recommendations. Unfortunately, in my school there is very little help from the above captains and students have many issues that are going from late arrivals for first period to fix and accommodate attendance records allowing kids to be in school at the second period. Then comes the problem for poor hall transit control from period to period and hall walkers who are bothering by the door constantly and even cutting classes. Students are not suspended and instead are allow to stay in the cafeteria. Teachers in this place are responsible to contact (using our cell phones) struggling behavior students and cutters otherwise we are held accountable. Our school is more into data records than allowing teachers to work with students in the classroom where the majority of the students are level 1 in ELA and Math. Our school leaders and the CFN are empowering to teach every subject with writing concentration so the Bulletin Boards look very informative. Students struggle with the administration ideas to use rigorous work and different work without even consider the intellectual ability of the student. Testing and testing for data records and curriculum completion enforcement produces confusion in the students and in fact more behavior problems. Students in my schools come from lunch hyper and they obey the rule of no bathroom policy after lunch or last period. The use of sign language is a great tool but it is not enough for a place where teachers are accused formally of corporate punishment if we do not allow students to go to the bathroom with the excuse that supervisor are claiming that the child had a emergency. Our school is well known for social events and clubs to motivate learning, unluckily these events are happening outside the classroom and our reputation in the media is more noticeable than a flash event including cheating influence during the state test, students fights in a neighborhood store, students beatings in the detention center, and more. Consequences for behavior problems students over there is something that our wonderful leaders avoid to keep school records and reputation clean then teachers are left alone to manage more behavior issues in the class where some students are trow in the classroom at the expectancy that the educators manage the problem keeping records which are more time consuming and less practical. Most parents help very little and there is no support from administration to teachers who have to take the abuse from students otherwise there are repercussions to the staff.

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