How Do You Get Middle School Students to Stop Talking? Creative Tips From Teachers

By Catherine Gewertz — August 07, 2019 2 min read
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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:

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.

Liz Henwood reported an amusing technique:

Another teacher dittoed the doorbell approach.

California science teacher Samuel Vo recommended an app that lets teachers record sounds that they can play when they need students’ attention.

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.

Using a little elementary-level psychology seems to work, too.

Simply stopping and staring was a popular suggestion.

Here’s one example of a think-positive approach:

A woman whose Twitter bio says she’s an Indiana Indiana high school teacher offered this move:

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.”

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:

Second-year high school teacher Katy Branigan offered reassurance from Denver:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.