Regardless of the level you teach, it’s an undeniable fact that if you don’t have solid classroom management, it’s nearly impossible to create a productive classroom culture. One simple change that can result in huge payoffs is the way we talk to our students.
Here are seven strategies and examples of how to use them, adapted from How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, that can help foster cooperation and promote a positive classroom culture.
1. Describe the problem.
When you simply describe the problem, instead of accusing or issuing commands, you take the emotion out of the situation and point your student in the direction of a solution.
When you want to say: “What on earth is going on in this bathroom? It sounds like World War III. Get back to class now. Move!”
How ’bout this?: “Folks, you can be heard all the way down the hallway.”
2. Give information.
When you provide information without insulting or judging, students are less likely to feel defensive and more likely to change their behavior.
When you want to say: “Why is that DVD under your chair? Those things cost a lot of money, you know. You need to take care of them.”
How ’bout this?: “DVDs don’t work if they get scratched or dirty.”
3. Offer a choice.
Nobody enjoys being bossed around or threatened. Offering choices empowers your students to learn to control their own behavior.
When you want to say: “You haven’t written a single sentence down on your paper! If you don’t get going, your friends are going to have a lot of fun at recess without you.”
How ’bout this?: “I see you’re having trouble getting started with your paragraph. Would you like to brainstorm ideas with me or choose a new topic?”
4. Say it with a word or gesture.
Ever heard that groan when you start lecturing or launch into a long explanation? Sometimes a single word is more powerful in encouraging students to think about a problem and come up with a solution on their own.
When you want to say: ”If I have to tell you people to put your name on your paper one more time I’m going to have a breakdown.”
How ’bout this?: “Name.” (while pointing to top of paper)
5. Describe what you feel.
We teach our students to use “I” statements, and we need to model that behavior. When we describe our feelings without attacking or insulting, students understand why you are asking something of them and can react appropriately.
When you want to say: “The book nook is a total disaster! I can’t believe how disrespectful some of you are.”
How ’bout this?: “I feel really sad when our cozy reading area isn’t taken care of.”
6. Put it in writing.
Just like Charlie Brown (wah, wah, wah), students often shut out grown-up talk, but if they see something in writing, they get the message.
When you want to say: “This sink area is a mess! How many times do I have to say when you use the sink, clean up after yourself?”
Leave a note: “PLEASE wipe up after yourself.” (All caps works particularly well.)
7. Be playful.
Don’t scold or freak out. Try something unexpected and humorous.
When you want to say: “Indoor recess makes me crazy! Put away all these blocks now! We need to get back to work.”
What if you: Use a funny accent. Say in a robot voice, “All … blocks … must … be … put … away … in … 30 … seconds. Countdown … commencing … 30, 29 … ”
Or, break into song: Set your directions to a familiar tune to get them moving. “We can’t start math ’til we clean this room … doo dah doo dah.”
Or, put on your best dramatic flair: Declare how dreadfully dreadful the mess is and how likely it is that you will trip and break your neck on all these blocks and how sad students will be without their beloved teacher!
Have you tried any of these strategies? Do you have other ideas for improving classroom culture? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.