Back to School: First Steps in Managing your Class

Teaching is tough.

Teaching children who understand only part of what you say is even tougher.

Although the challenge can vary from group to group, and depends on the amount of previous instruction in the additional language, maintaining the attention of a rowdy group of twenty five 5-year-olds can be daunting.

When starting out a new school year you can easily forget how everything needs to be taught all over again. So I decided to set out some of my favourite techniques I use at the beginning of each year to create that very special and magical learning environment.Back to School: Listening Skills

First off, dedicating time, A LOT of time and repeating these learning experiences is never a waste. Consider it as an investment, all the amount of work you put into the beginning of the year will pay off later when you want to do “real” work, such as investigate a project, implement learning centers, create a Writer’s Workshop and much more.

Although I think there are many more, these are the FIRST three things I focus on every September:

-The Quiet Signal

-Whole Body Listening Skills

-Voice Levels

Let’s break them down!


The Quiet Signal

I first learned about the Quiet Signal and the way to teach it from the Responsive Classroom.


I love the techniques and resources they have, I even recently bought their books and have watched all the videos I could find. They have many incredible tips, ideas, games, ice breakers and more. In fact there is a whole philosophy of teaching behind these practices. They believe, as I do, that learning comes from an environment of respect for the student and for their growth over time.


If you want to learn more about Responsive Classroom: CLICK HERE

To see some of their videos: CLICK HERE

When I first saw the video of the Quiet Signal I was taken aback: No more shouting over the voices of my students, no more annoying ringing of bells, no whistles or any of those other practices I have seen or even used myself over time.



How do I start in my class?

-Choose an instrument or bell which has a pleasant but ringing sound.

I have had rain sticks and jingle bells, but I searched everywhere and in a music store I found these CHIMES. They have a very pure and pleasant sound.

Quiet Signal

-Introduce the chime to the class as something magical and amazing.

We have a class “pet”: Tuck the turtle that brings us books and special things from time to time. So, he brought the chimes in a box the very first week of school with the appropriate drama and magic (yes, glitter included).

Now, this may seem obvious but it wasn’t to me, just introducing and object and telling them they are going to be quiet when they listen to it is not enough, you have to teach this.

Over time.



-Teach the Quiet Signal

So, how I do teach something as basic as silence?

Use Interactive Modelling (Responsive Classroom).



-The teacher models and asks the students what they see.

-The teacher then involves one or more students in role play and reflects on what they have done.

-He or she invites the whole group to act out the appropriate model

-And repeats when necessary.


Believe me; it is necessary to repeat often. The younger the children are, the more patient you have to be in order to help them create a new habit.

In this case I also give them a verbal cue to remind them what they need to do:  BE SILENT AND STILL

HERE is a video of my class after two months of introducing the quiet signal. You will not be able to see the students (maybe later on). But note the level of noise before and after the chime. It works wonders, especially in those crazy moments when you really need their attention or in special moments like before recess, when lining up, after packing up to go home, etc.


Whole Body Listening Skills

Listening Skills Poster

Once I’ve introduced the Quiet Signal I move on to the most basic of Listening Skills. It helps if they have developed these skills with previous teachers, but even so don’t be surprised if you have to start all over again.

Summer has gotten in the way and they have to connect with you as a teacher as well. One of the moments of the day when the children’s listening skills most come into play is during the Morning Meeting or Circle Time.

Children are challenged to sit properly, pay attention, answers questions, listen to each other or to me and to participate in a respectful manner. Needless to say it’s a tall order.

Listening Skills in my class

I introduce these skills with “I am a Good Listener” Posters which you can find the link to at the end of this post.

The skills involve:

– Sitting with legs crossed and hands on their lap

– Being silent and still

– Making eye contacct with the speaker

– Listening with your ears and heart (respectfully)

– Thinking about what is being said

– Raising your hand or using gestures to participate

 Listening Skills Posters

I use several strategies to teach these skills which you can use or you can invent your own:


To sit down properly:

I Teach them the chant: “Criss Cross, Applesauce”

I chant “Criss Cross” and the children respond by sitting straight and saying “Apple sauce”

It’s a simple play on words that minimizes disruption and keeps everyone on track.


To look at the speaker in the eyes while listening:

“If you’re listening to me….”

Depending on the group start with “If you’re listening to me… eyes on me, touch your nose, your eyes, your hair, etc.” until you finish with “…be very still and silent”.

Repeat it as many times as you need and don’t try to shout over the kids voices.

Look them in the eyes and keep calm.


To listen and pay attention:

I remind them by exaggerating the motions:

Open your eyes (put your hands on your eyes like goggles)

Open your ears (tug on both of your ears)

Lock up your mouth (key motion across mouth)

And throw away the key.


Another good one for getting out the wiggles:

                “I wiggle my fingers, I wiggle my nose

                I wiggle my shoulders, I wiggle my toes

                Now that all the wiggles have gone out of me,

                I will be as still, as still as can be”.            (End up with your hands on your lap)


To help them listen to each other:

I try to keep them on their toes and ask them what another student said or if they agree or not with each other. If you tell the children that you will do this before you or another student starts talking, the class will be more on task.


To participate respectfully:

Sometimes children just want to feel part of a conversation and they will tune out if the speaker is droning on or they can constantly interrupt to explain their own experiences.

Teach them to participate in effective ways using hand gestures, for example:

Use differente hand gestures to indicate that you agree or disagree with what is being said or to indicate that you also did an activity similar to what is being explained

My kids raise their hand and signal themselves silently, indicating “ME TOO!”


Voice Levels

 Voice Levels

The last skill I teach at the beginning of the year are Voice Levels. Why?

Because it implies that the children are already motivated, engaged and working, they are aware of themselves and how they act in class. They have connected with me as a teacher and to each other; all essentials things that take time to build and grow.


Using Interactive modeling I explain that we can use different kind of voices:

-Playground or Outside Voice

-Strong Speaker Voice

-Table Talk


-Silence or No Talking


We spend time role playing each one. Believe me everybody wants to stand up and act out the Playground Voice because they get to shout. We also talk about different situations where we can use these voices and how they sound.


Remember, I have kids that are learning to speak the English Language, so when I say “talk” I mean we reenact different situations while I teach them what the situation is called in English and they learn it.


I also ask a lot of questions.


If you have a book (while having a book in my hand) and Pablo is shouting can I read? Noooo!

If you are working together and Maria and Clara also are working what do we use? Whisper Voice


I don’t automatically assume that these will work overnight. Every time we start a new activity, we have to think about what kind of voice will work the best.

Sometimes we do this before play or learning centers, sometimes before library time, and other times before doing Reading Partners or working on a Project.

You can set the tone together with them, remember to be patient and, if necessary you can remind them about the voice you agreed on during the activity by using the Quiet Signal.


You can download the VOICE LEVELS CHART for FREE here:


You can find the LISTENING SKILLS POSTERS here:


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3 comentarios
  1. Thank you for your blog, I am a new teacher and find the beginning of the year terribly difficult. Thank you for your time and effort.

  2. It is rare for me to find something on the net that’s as entertaining and intriguing as what you have got here. Your page is lovely, your graphics are outstanding, and what’s more, you use reference that are relevant to what you are talking about. You are definitely one in a million, keep up the good work!



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