There are times when we need the kids to be quiet and concentrated. We all know that the attention span of children is, generally speaking, short and will vary depending on many factors. Just to sum it up very briefly, we have to take into consideration that:
- each child has a different attention span
- the more children are tired (hungry, stressed,excited,etc) the more difficult it is for them to concentrate (doesn't it apply to all of us?)
- the bigger the group, the more difficult to control a positive environment to facilitate better concentration
- mixed-ability classes are, again, more difficult to handle in this respect
- the longer the class, the harder it gets to control the discipline
- last but not least, let's not forget that the way we, the teachers, behave also affects our pupils' ability to concentrate. If we are in a bad mood, which can translate into a lot of shouting and losing our patience, our pupils will pick it up immediately. Stressed teachers mean stressed kids and, so, the vicious cycle starts.
In case of my groups, some are naturally so quiet that it does not require a lot effort on my part to calm them down - some basic tricks will do - while other groups are fidgety and impatient, which calls for some special, more complicated and highly personalised methods.
Here are some of the basic tricks (can work well both for the ''easy-going'' groups and the more ''trouble-makers'' like classes, tending to be short-term solutions in the latter case)
- story time!
If you anticipate that you are going to have a problematic class (e.g. in the afternoon, just before lunch,etc), try to do some reading-listening activities rather than games or speaking tasks.
- practice spelling and handwriting
Students copy sentences or words from the board. Works well, but not in case of children who don't like or can't write well enough
- ''freeze'' game
Sometimes the best way to get some peace and quiet is just to...start it and let it keep rolling. I have an agreement with my kids that when I count to 3 and say the magic word ''freeze'' the first person who moves or says something loses the game. When the kids ''freeze'' I lower my voice to whispering and reduce my body language to the absolute minimum to get the kids into the ''silence'' mood. If the class is particularily fidgety, I even introduce some relaxation exercises (e.g. close your eyes...imagine a flower...the flower is big and purple...look, there is a cat next to the flower, etc)
- start to sing a song or recite a chant
To get the kids' attention, I often start to either sing a song or a chant they know well. Then, I very quickly start the activity I had planned and, normally, the kids follow me immediately.
- do a short writing activity in the notebook
This trick is similar to the previous one. To get better results, I always say that the pupils who do the task correctly and in SILENCE (stress ''silence'') will get a reward (in my case, I use stickers). Now. if we use such an activity as a ''calmer'', we have to bear in mind that it should be very easy. Confusion creats noise and chaos! So, we need to make sure that the kids know exactly what to do.
If these tricks don't work and I see that the group keeps resisting the discipline and the routine, I talk to their tutor. Sometimes a small intervention on the tutor's part helps a lot. If it doesn't help, I introduce a reward/punishment system and keep track of each class to analyse and fix the problem. But...this is a different story for a different post I hope to write soon.