Waiting for quiet….

Working with children who talk at the same time as you?

Every year do more children seem to come into your school who haven’t learnt to stay quiet when other people are talking? 

Staying quiet when others are speaking is a skill which children typically develop very early in life, usually before their first birthday. Children who arrive at school and still don’t understand that they need to be quiet when other children or adults are talking may need help to learn this skill and realise why it’s important.
You just can’t talk and listen at the same time!

In our experience, Children who find it hard not to interrupt fall into two categories:

Children who interrupt with irrelevant information.
These children are often keen to tell you an exciting piece of news that has no relevance to the lesson you are trying to teach e.g. “It’s my birthday tomorrow”
Children who shout out the answer.
It is great that these children are enthused by the lesson. However, their inability to wait for you to chose them is a problem for two reasons; firstly, they haven’t learnt the social skill of waiting for their turn; secondly, they disrupt the thinking of other children who would have got to the answer but needed more time.

What can you do to help them?

  • Don’t try to compete – don’t start an activity or a lesson until all of the children are quiet but explain why you are waiting. A useful phrase is “I really want to show you what we are going to do next but I can’t because some children are still talking. When everyone is quiet I’ll be able to tell you”.
  • Manage transitions – Transition times can be very noisy! Many children find it hard to stay quiet while moving around the classroom. This means they are not listening to you and the more vulnerable children may even forget what they have to do next. Try managing transitions from one place to another by using non-verbal cues.g. “When I nod at you, you can go back to your table”. This helps to establish a quiet atmosphere in a busy classroom.
  •  Be explicit about why children aren’t being chosen – “I’d love to choose you but can I choose you when you keep shouting out? I’m going to be watching you to see if you are staying quiet”. When you notice them trying hard to comply, choose them and help them to make the link  “I can choose you now! Why can I choose you?” Children we work with are always able to tell you what behaviour they were showing that meant you could choose them!
  •  Use a ‘Let’s talk later’ board. This is a really useful strategy for children who want to tell you something unconnected to the lesson and find it hard to move on. This might be children with neurodevelopmental difficulties or anxious children. They  often find it hard to focus on anything you say until you acknowledge what they are trying to tell you. Help them to move on by explicitly saying “We aren’t talking about Sports day now but I’m going to put your name on the ‘let’s talk later’ board and you can talk to me for two minutes about it at break time if you still want to”.  This acknowledgement helps children to ‘park’ the issue that is preoccupying them and helps them to move on. If this strategy is going to work long term, it is essential that you always follow this up at the agreed time. This gives them confidence that you will always give them the time to talk. 

  • Use Photographs – Impulsive children find it hard to remember the target behaviour of putting their hand up when they have something to say. Taking a photo of them doing this and using it as part of classroom displays is a really positive way to remind them what to do and raise their self esteem as they are being used as a role model to show all the children in the class what to do.