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The problem

I have become really good at getting my classes to work silently. But I do not always want silence, so I am looking for tips on how to keep a class quiet, but not silent. I find that if I let them talk, the noise keeps rising until it is unbearable.

What you said

I find that sometimes a little bit of quiet background music can help keep a class settled but not silent.


Try saying (and repeating) "quieter". Start loud enough to be heard. Wait a few seconds, then repeat at a lower volume.


The expert view

This is tricky: you have silence when you need it. Many teachers would see that as reaching the top of Everest. But you want pupils to be able to talk quietly about their work. Try one of the following:

Approach 1: Do not tell them that they are allowed to talk. Just let them do so and see what happens. You could warn them that you will keep anyone who talks too loudly behind. Then patrol, cutting the heads off the tall poppies. This will require vigilance, time and effort, but it could train your pupils into tacitly understanding the new paradigm in the classroom.

Approach 2: Drive conversation by being the instigator of it. Ask directed questions and set short talking tasks with neighbours that are ruthlessly timed and stewarded, so that they learn to talk in a moderated manner. Ensure that when you assess the task there is some way you can ascertain whether the talk has been directed. Then you can punishpraise as needed and pupils will learn that when you set a talking task, you mean that it is a task and not just talk.

It takes time to achieve either approach, but if you are serious about driving behaviour towards learning, you will no doubt relish the task. There is, of course, a third alternative.

Approach 3: Silence is great and better for pupils than if it is rowdy. Give me too quiet over too noisy any time. Not for me - for them, for their learning. You are right to worry that silence can mean boredom and so on. But this is a lesser evil than chaos. And maybe count your blessings.

Tom Bennett is author of `The Behaviour Guru' and `Not Quite a Teacher'.

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