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Culture & Religion

Effective Classroom Management to Encourage Listening (and Regulate Blabbermouths)

Managing a classroom is an underrated skill that can be honed with strategies that encourage participation without intimidating students.

Everyone remembers the one kid in each classroom who loved to hear himself/herself talk (for the purpose of this example we’ll call this person something random and totally not steeped in reality or based on a real person: Adrian Spencer). Simple questions like, “What does the green light represent in The Great Gatsby?” elicit Biden-esque adventures in digression and pedantry. Not only does Adrian Spencer make everyone around him miserable, but he’s also not doing himself much of a service because of his inability to sit for five seconds and open his ears. As a teacher, it’s important to nip folks like Adrian Spencer in the bud. It’s important to encourage participation. It’s also important to discourage bogarting class time.

This is a big piece of Jessica Lahey’s recent column in The New York Times. Classroom management is an underrated skill that either elevates or deflates a teacher’s ability to effectively reach students. Allowing the same blabbermouth to answer every question takes up class time and serves no one. Prompting shy kids to speak spontaneously can feel like the teacher is unfairly picking on them. Lahey explores several strategies for maximizing classroom egalitarianism while also encouraging listening over talking.

One strategy comes from JC Clapp, an English teacher at North Seattle Community College:

“I deal out playing cards and then students put their card on the table when they make a comment. That way, they can’t comment again until everybody else has put their cards on the table. This encourages students to speak that don’t usually, and it forces students who pipe up all of the time to choose their comments carefully.”

Take that, Adrian Spencer.

Lahey includes several other simple practices such as the teacher who randomly chooses students to speak, similarly by way of a deck of cards. Another teacher won’t pick on anyone to speak when she sees two-thirds of the classroom’s hands shoot up. Instead, she has them write the answer and walks around to collect their ideas. This way everyone gets their say and the urge to speak becomes a driving force for written communication.

Here’s Lahey:

“We all feel rushed in today’s classroom — to teach, to question, to respond — but increasingly, we need to teach children how to close their mouths and open their minds. Silence, whether packaged as a reflective writing period, a mandatory three-second waiting time on student responses, or simply as a moment of quiet reflection between subjects, is golden.”

If you’re a teacher with an Adrian Spencer or two in your classroom, take a look at Lahey’s post and see if any of the strategies espoused work for you. With any luck, you’ll turn Adrian’s classroom filibusters into learning experiences for the whole group.

Read more at The NY Times.

Photo credit: Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock


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