Do You Have a Chatty Class?

by Mike Anderson on
Students working together in groups

I hear a lot from teachers who are feeling frustrated by students' "chattiness." They say things like "Mike, they're not bad kids, they just won't stop talking to each other. As soon as I stop talking, they start," and "The constant chatter is interfering with their learning. They're not paying attention."

I remember this behavior from my own classrooms, and I found it frustrating, too. However, if you have a chatty class, I'd like to challenge you to reconsider your responses.

As the teacher, you may be focused on teaching reading, writing, math, etc.—but for students, school is as much about socializing as it is about the academic stuff—and there's a heck of lot of learning happening in the course of the social stuff! If you can direct and use kids' social energy in positive ways in your classroom, you'll be much less frustrated than if you focus on trying to keep them quiet.

Here are some specific suggestions:
  • Can you leverage the chattiness?
    Students need to talk, so give them what they need! Use partner chats and other interactive learning structures to have them deepen their understanding of lessons. For example, while teaching a lesson about using descriptive language in writing, have pairs of students chat about topics you suggest: "What are some descriptive words you could use to describe today's weather (or our classroom, or our class goldfish, etc.)?"
  • Would changing your room design help?
    Are students crammed together in the middle of the room? Creating extra space between tables and desks can help students stay more focused on their work. Consider breaking up the work areas so that tables or clusters of desks are spread out. For example, you could move a table for four students against a wall and put a supply shelf or bookshelf (not too tall) in the middle of the room. (Check out Classroom Spaces That Work and the books in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know K–5 Series for more ideas.)
  • Are your lessons short enough?
    Try to keep direct instruction time to 10 minutes or less. If you have multiple teaching points, try breaking them up into separate lessons.
  • Could you add more movement?
    Consider teaching lessons in one area and then having students do work at their seats. A change of scenery and movement can help them stay focused. You could also include some energizers and game breaks throughout the day to keep students energetic and engaged.
  • Are learning activities enjoyable?
    If you were a student in your class, would you be having fun with the assignments? Make sure students have some power and control over their learning by giving them some choices about what they learn or how they learn it. I recently watched a very energetic group of second graders sustain focused engagement for thirty-five straight minutes because they were excited about and invested in the science projects they were working on.
  • Do you have a clear, consistent way of responding to mis­behavior?
    Sometimes, even when we state our expectations clearly and use lots of the proactive strategies listed above, students will still talk when they shouldn't. When this happens, get them back on track through logical consequences.

Most of all, though, remember that students need to talk for the same reasons we need to talk: to interact with others, to share ideas, to meet their needs for belonging, significance, and fun, to ask questions. Think of how hard it is for us as teachers to not have side conversations at staff meetings!

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Mike, thank you for the timely help! My group of second graders are very chatty. Come Monday morning we will have a new classroom seating arrangement! Jaim Foster, 2nd Grade Classroom Teacher, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Gayle and Jaim— I'm glad you found it helpful! It's certainly a juggling act, isn't it?

Mike, Your article was great and just in time. I'm in the middle of an RCIR workshop where participant were asking about chatty kids. I found your article and we enjoyed the conversation together about ways to make it better. Great timing- thanks Dawn, Dame School Concord, NH
My kids always talk during transitions and it used to (and sometimes still does) drive me crazy. BUT I ask myself, "Have you EVER been to a workshop where you have NOT talked to a friend, colleague, stranger during a transition?" If I need to talk, how much more do ten year olds. I have started "minute breaks"...We will begin math at 1:43 kids...or get out your reading books. We'll start again at 9:26. It helps.
Thanks Mike, This informative piece made it to the Chicago NTC website. Teachers in Chicago really needed this advice. Nice to "see" you! Amy Treadwell Chicago NTC
Mike I used a stop light in my classroom to help control the talking. When we are having center( twice a day) time I put it on green. The students can talk at will as long as it is not an outside voice. When I am direct instructing it is on red. This is a time I require students to listen and not talk. I use this in the morning when I am teaching our phonics lesson. Most of the rest of the day it is only yellow, which means soft voices. I have a quiet captain each day and he/she helps me keep up with it as well as to remind his/her classmates. It has worked wonderfully.

Great idea!

Before transitions I use a large chime to freeze them and they MUST stand/sit still or I make apoint of reminding them. I give all my directions 2x for the First Grade and then I melt them and they go. No speaking to me as we transition.  Works well, like the light!

Thanks for the info it was great to see that Children in The Bahamas are no different than any other children around the world. The teachers at all grade levels where I serve as an administrator are saying the same thing. I appreciate your comments and will certainly forward your advice to the teachers on my staff.
Gayle from New Orleans?? Is that really you??
I am so glad to hear I'm not the only one with chatty kids. In this case, I have 3 very chatty girls!
Dear Mike, Thanks for the wonderful advice. I'm starting to introduce the responsive classroom ideas and techniques in my classroom and I'll put your recommendations in action. I'm sure it will be exciting!
What fantastic advice! I can't wait to end the week using these great strategies. Thanks!
You hit the nail on the head. All of these ideas you have mentioned we should be doing often in any class, but especially with a class of talkers. I have two classes of talkers and your ideas have reminded me that I need to self-assessmy lessons and teaching style more often in order to better meet the needs of the class. Thanks for the effective "kick in the pants!"
Thanks for your suggestions and just in time! I have a class of 2nd graders who are VERY chatty. I teach them at the end of the day and it is always a struggle to get them to settle down. I will begin to use the Lesson Plan strategies, Room Design as well as Leveraging the Chattiness immediately. Wish me luck and thanks again.

All good reminders. I find with my kindergartners, parameters for voice level work well. They almost NEED to chat when working at their seats. We talk about using a 'working whisper' all the time and IF they can do it, they can chat away. If they can't, they lose the privilege.

The game breaks are great. I have 27 active 2nd graders with 17 boys this year! Our 5th graders taught us some wonderful games while being super role models.
Thanks for the post, Mike! I know that my students started off with strong transitions & they are becoming less so. One thing I'm noticing is that my language before & during needs to be more direct.

I am using RC with my First Grade for the first year and I agree with the article on "chatty classroom." I developed my own "sign language" for kids who shout out or we stop and say the some of our community is not paying attention and then they aplogize with soryy +...... to the community.  It has really worked quite well!  I often see others trying to get the chatty children to stop or one child will start the backward 5 count and most will then jump in and the scraglers will see how the community is not happy that they cannot hear me or another member.  We do call the class a community!

I also think that the books helped tremedously! I am a slow reader, but by summers end my books were filled with highlighting and stickies.

I am a GREAT fan!

Patty jo

Thanks Mike for such helpful reminders! I am also struggling with a "chatty" group of first graders. I do have to remind myself that 6 year olds are certainly noisy and boisterous! I'm putting your ideas in place starting tomorrow! Thanks a bunch! This was timely! Gayle Robert 1st Grade Teacher Mimosa Park Elem. Luling, Louisiana

Good day. I have a very good class but this one particular student keeps talking. If he can't talk to the students around him he actually begins talking to me lol. I have tried putting him by himself to sit, sitting in the front row, having the students ignore his chats when they have work to do but I just can't seem to get it right with him. He's 8.

Cheryl, That certainly sounds challenging!  Of course, without knowing the specific child, it's hard to be helpful, but I did have a few thoughts. One is that developmentally, it is very typical for an eight-year old to be very social -- it sounds as if that characteristic fits him! 

I'm wondering if you've asked the student for suggestions -- I used to be so surprised to discover sometimes that my students had better ideas for solutions than I did. I've also sometimes found that teaching children replacement behaviors -- such as writing their ideas in a notebook to which we respond, sign language, or even getting up to leave the group when they feel like talking -- can help. Of course, if there are moments when he is quiet, I'd be sure to reinforce those!  Finally, there are some great strategies in the book Solving Thorny Behavior Problems that might help.

Most of all, I'd encourage you to keep holding onto the belief that he can change and improve even if it doesn't seem like that in the moment. I know how frustrating it can be, but hang in there!