How to Use an Explicit Procedure for Getting Silence in Your Classroom

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I can’t get my sixth graders to be quiet when I need to teach them something. What do I do? I feel so stupid having to ask this question. – Carol, Omaha, Nebraska

Carol,

The answer to your question is the Calm/Assertive Silent to a Prompt Procedure, which I teach at schools and conferences around the country. It trains kids to be silent when you need to teach. It uses no anger, lectures, warnings, threats, bribes, or silly rewards. I would do it in your room (let’s say you have 30 students) like this:

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

Kid Whisperer waits for a few seconds. 15 kids are still talking.

Kid Whisperer: When will I begin?

Kid Whisperer waits for a few seconds. 10 kids are still talking.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, drat. Looks like you all need to practice being silent when you are supposed to be silent. Let’s take a vote. How many times do you all need to practice being successfully quiet to my prompt? 2 times or 3 times? Show of hands for 2 practices?  (25 hands go up) Show of hands for 3 practices? (2 hands go up). OK, 2 practice sessions it is.

Kid Whisperer (while looking at his watch): Looks like we have an extra minute for some practice right now. Go ahead and talk, and if you all are silent when I give you the prompt, we will count that as a successful practice. If you aren’t all quiet, that practice won’t count. Okay–talk.

Kids #1-30 talk.

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

Kid Whisperer waits for 0 seconds. 8 kids are still talking.

Kid Whisperer: (looking at no one in particular) Oh, drat. Looks like you all still need to practice. We will do it later. Anyhoo, we are learning about multiplying and dividing mixed customary units…

Kid Whisperer has Kids #1-#30 come in during recess that same day.

Kid Whisperer: Hey, amigos. Alright, how many times do we still need to practice being silent to my prompt?

Kids #3, #7, #8, #9, #18, #23, and #29: 2!

Kid Whisperer: Okay, 2. This will be the spot for you all during this time until you become experts at being silent to my prompt. I will respect you no matter how long it takes for you to get this. Okay, go ahead and talk.

Kids (only some of them now) talk.

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

Kid Whisperer waits for 0 seconds. 3 kids are still talking.

Kid Whisperer: (looking at no one in particular) Oh, drat. Looks like you all still need to practice. Okay, go ahead and talk.

Kid Whisperer repeats this until there happens to only be just one kid still talking, and she has sufficiently annoyed every kid in the room. At that point, Kid Whisperer dismisses individual students or teams of students one at a time, asking if they are experts at being silent to a prompt each time. Kid Whisperer can high-five kids as they leave while smiling broadly. Once the audience is gone, Kid Whisperer simply continues the exact same procedure.

Kid Whisperer: Okay, go ahead and talk.

Kid #26: I’m the only one here.

Kid Whisperer: Yep.

Kid #26 gives Kid Whisperer the stink eye while Kid Whisperer checks his email.

Kid Whisperer (without looking up from his computer): I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

Kid #26 is seated silently.

Kid Whisperer: That’s one successful practice. Nice. One more to go.

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

Kid #26 is seated silently.

Kid Whisperer: Nice. Are you an expert at being silent to my prompt?

Kid #26: Yes.

Kid Whisperer: Nice. (Kid #26 and Kid Whisperer shake hands) Have fun out there.

Kid Whisperer would dismiss students one at a time if, instead of one student, there were four, three, or two kids not being cooperative. Kid Whisperer would simply repeat the exact same procedure, and dismiss individual students once they became cooperative.

The next day, students will be cooperative on an entirely different level when you give your prompt. Just be ready to use this same procedure every day. Very soon, you won’t need it.