How to Train Your Students to Be Quiet to a Prompt

Dear Kid Whisperer,

First of all, I have attended 2 of your seminars and have absolutely loved them. I tried the “I’ll begin when you are quiet” technique today. They never got quiet. How much time should I spend waiting? I feel like I am wasting so much time. Thank you so much for your time.   -Riley, Moscow, Idaho



Good work taking your first step away from “bad” into “good”. Now it’s time to go from “good” to “great”. In order to answer your question, let’s look at where you have been, where you are, and where you are going.


In the past, when you used demands (“Sit down!” or “Clean up!”) you unknowingly initiated the Demand-Pray-Punish-Principal Pipeline. In other words, you demand things of your students, you then pray that they are cooperative, you immediately punish those who are not (usually after plenty of threats), and then you send kids to the principal if they are still uncooperative. Of course, this final strategy of sending to the principal actually reinforces the negative behavior because it gives the two things difficult kids want most: attention and work avoidance. This will force you to repeat this pipeline over and over for the rest of the year.


You are telling kids how you live your life: “I will begin when you are quiet.” It is a solidly good thing to say. It does not give the more difficult kids the chance to tell and/or show everyone, including you, that you can’t make them do anything (they are right, by the way). The problem is that for many kids, words–even good words– mean nothing unless followed by actions. This is why many of your students continue to talk. They need you to take action. A great plan for changing and managing behaviors will always involve actions.


This is how I would use my great method for getting kids quiet on your class. It starts with your good initial statement:

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when you are quiet.

Kid: I think now is as good a time as any to tell you all about the years my family used to summer in the Hamptons. As a young lad I often feared the water, though Papa encouraged me to have a stiff upper lip…

Kid Whisperer waits for up to sixty seconds to give the other students time to ask the talker(s) to be quiet. This may or may not happen. If it does, I begin. If not:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. It looks like you guys are struggling with being quiet when I would like to begin. I’m just going to ask you to practice being quiet later. Don’t let it ruin your day. I guess I’ll just get started now.

Kid Whisperer begins instruction.

Later, Kid Whisperer calls the entire class into the room on their way to recess.

Kid Whisperer: OK, folks. How many times do you all think you need to practice being quiet when I am ready to begin teaching: Four times or six times?

Kids vote for four times.

Kid Whisperer: OK, I will wait until we have enough people talking to each other. Then I am going to say “I will begin when you are quiet.” When I do, if every person is quiet, we will count that as a successful practice. If everyone is not quiet, it won’t count. We will do this until we get it perfect four times. I know you can do it! And…talk!

We practice until everyone gets it right four times. 99% of the time, students can get a practice session done well before the end of one recess. If it just ends up being the same student who keeps talking, wait until he has annoyed the rest of the class sufficiently, then dismiss the rest of the class and just have some private practice for the one student who needs it!

Remember, words only set limits, actions enforce those limits.