1, 2, 3—Eyes on Me! 9 Engaging Ways to Quiet a Chatty Class
Published: May 24, 2023
Have a chatty class? Need ways to keep your kids focused? Read on to find helpful insights, plus 9 simple, engaging, attention-getting tips!
An effective lesson includes time for kids to talk, laugh, move, and discover together. In fact, a noisy classroom is often an indicator that deep, long-lasting learning is taking place! (Learn more about the value of experiential learning and how to make friendship-building part of your ministry.) Yet, at some point in your lesson, you need to be the only one talking. And when kids are engaged in their own conversations or activities, it can be tough to quickly regain attention without shouting or constant “shushing.”
We consulted a group of experienced children’s ministry leaders to get their no-fail methods for quieting (and engaging!) a noisy classroom. But before you check out their easy-to-implement ideas, it’s important to keep a few tips in mind.
Introduce your attention-grabbing method every time you meet.
Research indicates that most kids don’t come to church each week. Therefore, when you sound a bell or clap your hands, kids may not know what you expect them to do. Additionally, you likely have volunteers who help every other week. Get everyone on the same page every time you meet by explaining what you’ll do, and what you expect kids to do in response. Suzanne, a children’s ministry volunteer, recounts the first time she helped in her church’s worship service. “When the room got noisy, the leader would say, ‘Hold a bubble in your mouth.’ Kids didn’t seem to pay attention to that…and I’d never heard the expression before so I wasn’t sure what he meant.” Sometimes a seemingly clever method can lose its impact if it’s not clearly explained.
Rather than implementing a new attention-getter each week, keep the same one for a quarter. You’ll have an easier time regaining the kids’ focus as they get used to the sound and expected response. Inconsistency made an impact on children’s ministry leader Bob at a recent VBS. “Kids were so talkative and excited, and leaders kept needing to get kids’ attention. But leaders in every station used a different attention-getting method. Kids—and small group leaders–didn’t respond simply because they got confused at the variety of language, sounds, or expectations. As a result, the attention-getters just added to the noise and chaos. It could have been managed so easily if everyone followed the same procedure.” If you have different leaders for various sections of your lesson, ask them all to use the same language or attention-getting device. (Consider equipping leaders with this at-a-glance guidebook filled with other practical tips!)
Don’t be afraid to wait for the quiet you need.
Too often we’re in a rush to finish our lesson, and we simply try talking over kids. After using one of the methods listed below, pause and wait for kids to quiet and focus on you. If your lesson is filled with exciting activities and discoveries, kids will be eager to find out what’s happening next. A pause in sensory activity allows kids to stop and tune in, and it whets their appetite for what else you have in store.
Check out these engaging ideas!
Our panel of experts use these nine ideas in their children’s ministry settings:
A bell, party horn, or other sound effect is impossible to ignore in a classroom full of talkative kids.
2. Use sign language.
One leader shared that she uses the ASL sign for “turtle” to draw kids’ focus back to her. Turtles are quiet, and the sign uses both hands. She just calls, “Turtle” and makes the sign. Kids respond by closing their mouths (to sound like a turtle) and make the sign.
3. Clap your hands.
Create a simple clapping rhythm and have kids repeat it back to you. Repeat your clapping rhythm until everyone is clapping along.
4. Put one hand over your mouth and one hand in the air.
This gives a visual cue to you as to who’s seen you, and it helps kids communicate the message to others. Plus, the hand over the mouth is a simple way to help kids stop talking.
5. Dim the lights.
If your classroom doesn’t have a lot of natural light, a change in lighting gives a visual cue that you need kids’ attention. Plus, dim lighting is a natural way to create a more subdued environment.
6. Move physically closer to kids.
In a larger-group setting, kids toward the back may feel disconnected from you or, perhaps, can’t even hear you. Walking toward a noisier group can quickly bring their attention back to you.
7. Call on small group leaders.
It’s likely there are adult or teenage volunteers assisting you. Simply say, “Leaders, have your groups focus back here.” Volunteers will appreciate the direct communication, and it divides up the effort of engaging kids and getting their attention.
8. Mobilize kids who are listening.
Quietly say, “If you can hear me, clap once.” Then pause. Kids sitting closest to you will clap, making an auditory cue for others. Continue, “If you can hear me, clap twice.” When you have most of the class clapping, say, “If you can hear me, say, ‘Hushhhh.’ ”
9. Strike a pose.
Come up with a silly pose, and have kids stop what they’re doing and imitate it. The sillier—and more attention-grabbing—the better!
Talkative kids aren’t necessarily misbehaving—they may miss their friends, need to talk about a fun week, or are just developing a new friendship. Remember to view kids’ behavior as communication. Rather than getting angry or shouting, rely on a consistent attention-grabber to respectfully refocus attention. After all, your time with kids is valuable—so be prepared to make the most of it. A practiced, practical, and planned attention-getting system allows you to let kids engage and keeps your lesson moving!
Resources in this article:
Group’s Children’s Ministry Pocket Guide to Discipline is packed with tons of tips to help you and your volunteers create a less stressful classroom. This children’s ministry leadership book is sold in packs of 10, so you can give one to every children’s ministry worker or use them in your Sunday school teacher training.
Look here for more classroom management tips.
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