Talking in class is a big issue – maybe even the biggest issue – for elementary teachers. Every teacher, without exception, has had to deal with a student who simply cannot stop talking.
Defining the problem
There are different categories of talking in class and different teaching strategies for different situations. Here are three common types of talkers:
1. The blurter. Even as he is raising his hand, he's already answering the question.
2. The whisperer. She simply can't stop sharing her every thought with her neighbor, but thinks she's being sneaky.
3. The chatterbox. Any topic is fair game, at any volume level. No sneaking here or concern with being caught, just a child who loves to hear his own voice.
What are they talking about?
It is important to understand that there are two broad topics that talkers blurt, whisper and chatter about: curriculum… and everything else.
A social talker. This student talks about non-school things. He may want attention or he may never have to practice self-control at home, but he is not generally talking to process learning.
A subject talker. When this student talks, she is processing learning in a verbal manner. Talking about things is how she reinforces them. We all “talk to ourselves” about issues… this child is just not keeping the words in her head.
Regardless of the reason, for all cases – blurting, whispering, chattering, socializing or processing – there are steps to follow that will minimize the problem and lessen its impact on other learners.
Classroom expectations: Set and remind
Some families have not established a habit of listening politely when others (especially parents) are talking, and a child simply “does what they know” when they get to school. The result is often talking in class.
We can address this as we do so many other behaviors by setting appropriate behavior expectations for school, which can be applied regardless of the expectations at home.
Every child should be fully aware of when it is appropriate to speak up, and they should have this understanding within the first week of arriving in your classroom.
This expectation alone is enough to resolve many of your talking issues, along with appropriate reminders.
“Josh, you blurted the answer. When someone shouts out the answer, all the rest of the people feel super disappointed because they had the answer, too and didn't get to share it. We'd accept an apology if you offer one.”
Or, ignore it and say to another student:
“Thanks so much for quietly raising your hand, Carson. You are really doing a great job meeting expectations for not blurting. What are your thoughts?”
“Let's hold our conversations and focus on meeting expectations and getting some great learning done.”
“Oh my, Peter, did you know that when you talk non-stop other people can't learn? See if you can try harder to not interfere with learning and give folks a chance to do their own thinking. I'll stop by in a few minutes so you can talk to me about our lesson.”
If reminders aren't enough, asking a student to step aside for a quick one-on-one chat helps. It removes them from the situation for a more physical reminder of expectations; moving the entire body adds emphasis to the point.
For those situations where reminders are not enough, we must move toward individualized approaches.
Video tips: Talking in class
Individualized approaches for difficult cases
Some of my ideas go against normal advice: If a student simply must talk in class in order to process his thinking about content being taught, then make sure he has the opportunity to talk! (I like unconventional but effective ideas!)
He is truly a learner who must vocalize and we don't want to quash that if he is successful. We just need to set the expectation for appropriate talk and appropriate times for talk.
Look for acceptable ways for him to verbally process his learning without drawing others off task: A quiet place to sit with a book where he can tell himself the story is one example.
Here's an idea for handling talkers using simple technology. Give the student some time with a set of headphones plugged into a laptop and a microphone… but turn up the volume so she will only whisper to herself as she talks to herself about a book, or her math problems or her spelling list.
Regardless of a child's need to talk (and this is true of both subject talkers and social talkers), it is appropriate for him to start learning to control that impulse. Remember our main classroom rule:
Be honest with the child; by first grade a student is old enough to understand that talking may bother others and that you are going to help her control that impulse. It all comes down to placing the child in the best position for you to influence her.
Location, location, location
With the talkers I have and have had in the past, I have found success by bringing the student closer to me rather than sending them farther away from learning opportunities (and sending a student to be isolated in the hallway or another room – the solution of some – definitely counts as “far away”).
For example, one boy I taught liked to whisper during reading time when kids were gathered on the carpet. He was quiet, but his whispering in class drew students off task and it became quite insidious. So, after setting expectations, this student knew that he would be sitting right by my toes if he needed help meeting those expectations.
See the difference? It is more effective to pull them closer rather than to push them away.
Proximity control can work like magic! It is just common sense when applied to talking in class.
Summing up the approach to talkers
1. Set expectations for the entire class
2. Explain the impact on others to give perspective
3. Provide appropriate reminders of those expectations
4. Understand what need the talker is fulfilling by speaking up
5. Individualize the approach if reminders aren't working
6. Pull the child closer to help him better meet expectations
Be sure to keep the parents informed if you are undertaking a special approach for a particular child for any length of time – not to get the child in trouble at home, but to give the parent the opportunity to discuss and reinforce your efforts.
Besides, any time you are pursuing a long-term strategy for an individual student, the parents should be kept informed.