A post on Twitter has unleashed a flood of creative responses to one of the Most Persistent Teaching Questions of All Time: How do you get ever-chatty middle schoolers to quiet down and pay attention?
The Twitter thread, started on Monday by Baltimore English/language arts teacher LaQuisha Hall, has sparked 140 suggestions so far. They’re a refreshing mix of traditional, funny, predictable, and unconventional.
Here’s how Hall, Baltimore’s 2018 teacher of the year, began the conversation:
“If middle schoolers are incessantly talking and I need their attention, I _____ (fill in the blank). 👇🏽
— Mrs. Hall (@MrsHallScholars) August 5, 2019
You can imagine it, right? You’re feeling excited and anxious as you begin a new school year, taking a break from planning lessons or setting up your classroom to check your Twitter feeds. You see Hall’s question. Even if you teach elementary or high school, you relate: Yeah, I have this problem all the time. How does everyone else handle it?
A lot of teachers responded with the tried-and-true techniques: Hand claps. Counting backwards from five. Flipping the lights off and on. But many had funny and original ideas to deal with the chatter problem.
— Dr. Kristopher J. Childs 🎓👓📚 (@DrKChilds) August 6, 2019
I use hairspray. I actually say “hairspray” and they all shhhhhhh each other. It’s hilarious and effective. pic.twitter.com/JtTSQUFYOH
— Cup of tea teaching (@2ndgrCup_of_Tea) August 6, 2019
Liz Henwood reported an amusing technique:
Wireless doorbell. Mine currently meows when I ring it. 🤷🏻♀️
— Liz Henwood (@MissHenwood1) August 5, 2019
Another teacher dittoed the doorbell approach.
Buy a wireless doorbell from Amazon (hide the plug & remote) & ring it when you need their attention, you will definitely have their attention bc they will be busy figuring out where the sound came from and quiet. You can change the chime so you dont reuse the same one. Magic!
— Ms. Stav (@TweeTeach14) August 6, 2019
California science teacher Samuel Vo recommended an app that lets teachers record sounds that they can play when they need students’ attention.
My phone or tablet is connected via Bluetooth to a speaker allowing me to play sound effects from the free app, 100s of Buttons and Sounds. When my Ss hear the “gong” sound, they know it’s time to quiet down & listen up.
— Samuel Vo, M.Ed. (@pedavogy) August 6, 2019
Many teachers said they’re fans of the call-and-response technique. One suggested her colleagues check out the “tons of call-and-response strategies” in The Wild Card, a book about creative teaching.
Sing, “Red Robin” and they will reply, “Yum”. They can’t help themselves.
— Jana Hubbs (@janahubbs) August 6, 2019
Using a little elementary-level psychology seems to work, too.
If you really want to mess them up, do the elementary rhythm clapping thing. They will start clapping back without even thinking, and it weirds them out. 😄
— 🦆 🧶 Carina Hilbert✌️ (@CarinaHilbert) August 6, 2019
Simply stopping and staring was a popular suggestion.
Give them one of my crazy facial expressions they all say I have. pic.twitter.com/okiQqbpjDW
— Rodney Robinson (@RodRobinsonRVA) August 6, 2019
— Darcy White (@virgogirl1972) August 6, 2019
Stare. I heard that it doesn’t work for all teachers but my stare is amazing, I’ve been working on it since birth so it’s who I am lol. If your stare isn’t alarming then don’t even bother and listen to someone else’s advice 😩
— Shanay (@blackgrlcrowned) August 5, 2019
Stare over my reading glasses. @blackgrlcrowned has seen my glasses stare. It’s epic. When they won’t bring it down, I reach up for the glasses, then they start yelling “she’s putting the glasses, be quiet.” Works every time.
— Jennifer Ochoa (@OchoaJen) August 6, 2019
Stand silently at the front of the room and wait. After 34 years, my wait time is on point. If that doesn’t work, I dim the lights. I will not yell over them.
— Donna Vorreyer (@djvorreyer) August 6, 2019
Stand quietly and then tell them I’m nt competing w/their talking. I also tell them tht if they take my time now, I’ll take theirs later. ie. recess
— LBoogieBrown (@SoulFireReader) August 5, 2019
Here’s one example of a think-positive approach:
Begin by thanking the students who are quiet. Then usually everyone will get quiet because they want their name to be said.
— Carl Felton, III (@cf3unscripted) August 5, 2019
A woman whose Twitter bio says she’s an Indiana Indiana high school teacher offered this move:
I’ve always randomly said “nose goes” and touch my nose! They’ll quickly touch their nose and then get quiet to see what the heck they are touching their nose for! 😂
— mrstgrc (@mrstgrc) August 5, 2019
Some teachers use emotion and heart-to-heart talks to deal with the problem.
Angelina Murphy, a high school teacher who uses the Twitter handle @magicalmsmurphy, said one of her “talk moves” with students is to count down from 5, and she finds that it usually works. But when it doesn’t, she has a talk with them.
“I’ve talked to the students about how that makes me feel, how that makes other students feel if they aren’t given space to talk,” she wrote on Twitter. “I think this conversation humanizes me as a teacher and as a class, we come up with collective behavioral norms so we feel like everyone is being respected and feels safe to share. You can address this in an RJ circle or just as a class, but talk about classroom culture.”
I usually say, “I love you, but I can’t talk over you”. 😊
— David Cordell, Ed.D. (@drdavidcordell) August 6, 2019
Of course it can be just plain frustrating when students are talking and won’t be quiet. Here’s how one teacher responded to Hall’s query:
— Nursing the System (@NurseTheSystem) August 6, 2019
Second-year high school teacher Katy Branigan offered reassurance from Denver:
@peachsandgrades this thread made me think of your tweet today, and might give you a new strategy to try out tomorrow. Just keep in mind that no one nails it their first year, and every day is a chance at a fresh start. You got this 👊🏼
— Katy Branigan (@MsBranigan2) August 5, 2019
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.