Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Music Teacher Tip #18 - #QuietingaGroup:
There are so many ways to TRY to get a group to get quiet when there is a lot of noise in the room. My favorite is one that I'm sure many of you use. It goes like this: ch____ ch____ ch_ ch_ ch____ (ta, ta, ti, ti, ta). Here's the thing though... it's not magical. Students will only respond to it if they're taught the procedure properly.
At one elementary school where I was the general music teacher, it was time for an assembly. It was at the end of the school day, so you know it was LOUD in there. We had no microphone and no megaphone. The principal was holding up her hand trying to get the kids to quiet down. The teachers who noticed were holding their hands up too, but the problem was that most of the kids were looking at each other and talking loudly. I asked the principal if I could try to help. So as loudly as I could I said, "ch____ ch____ ch__ ch__ ch____" Almost the entire gym echoed it back and then... quiet. I have to admit, that was a nice feeling.
Here are the steps to teach this procedure and effectively use it in your own classroom.
1. Tell the students that you're going to try a new way to get everyone's attention that's much more fun than raising your hand, putting a finger up to your mouth, or turning off the lights.
2. Show them the rhythm: quarter, quarter, eighth, eighth, quarter. Ask them if you made that rhythm on "ch" if they could echo it back.
3. You make the rhythm and gesture toward yourself, then gesture toward students for them to echo back.
4. If they do it well, praise them immediately.
5. Now tell students that sometimes you'll ask them to do group work and you'll need a way to quiet everyone. Give them a challenge: ask if when you say "go" they would begin talking to each other, but when they hear the new signal, you wonder if they could echo it back and then instantly go quiet - even if it means stopping in the middle of a sentence.
6. "Ready, set, go!" (They will be noisy and excited to do this!) Then, after only 5 to 10 seconds, give the signal.
7. If students echo it back and it is super quiet afterward, praise them and brag on them a lot!
8. Tell them that later in the class, just to see how awesome they are, that you will surprise them with the signal just to see if they can do it when it's unexpected.
9. Be sure to try it again a little later in the class and then praise them when they do well. If they forget, don't repeat the signal. To do so teaches them that they don't really have to respond the first time. Instead, wait for quiet. If students don't naturally get quiet, you may have to call individual names and ask them if they remember what to do if they hear the signal. Tell students they were almost there and that you know everyone can do it, then try again.
10. Surprise them again in the same class to be sure that they have internalized the procedure. Be sure to praise them each time they do it well and encourage them if they struggle. One of the reasons this works is because making rhythms with your mouth is fun! Be sure to keep it fun and brag on them when they do it well.
What if you have some students trying to mess up on purpose? Here are just a few of the things kids have tried in all the time I've used this and the solution. a. Instead of doing the rhythm once, they keep doing it. Remind students how cool it is when the room goes quiet all at once and for that to happen, they have to only do the rhythm once. (For older students you can tell them you only want one measure. Tell them that they'll know it's right when you can hear the air conditioner hum (for example) at the end of the last "ch." Let them immediately try again. b. A few students make the rhythm but don't get quiet at the end. If only a few mess up, check for understanding and try again. If they STILL mess up and find it funny that they're messing the class up, follow your procedure for consequences. In my case, I would give the student a warning. c. They improvise on the rhythm by repeating back something similar. They finish on time though with the rest of the class. If that happens, praise their improvisation skills and let them know that's the advanced level. Let them know that if the whole class proves that they can do it correctly the "Level 1" way, then you'll let them know when they will be allowed to do the advanced level. This also makes following the procedure more fun once it's earned. (For level 3 they can use stomps.) d. One of them tries to do the signal first like they're the teacher. Let them know that only you are allowed to do the signal. Speak individually to the student and let them know that you appreciate them trying to help, but since it's your job, you don't want them to do that again. Make sure they understand. If they do it again after the conference, follow your procedure for consequences.
By the way, if your students are on a point system to earn rewards, it's a great idea to give them a point along with a compliment each time they nail this procedure.
Overall, after teaching what I've described above, be positive about their progress instead of expecting perfection right away. It may help to note who is doing it well. For example, "I think this half of the room seemed really quiet at the end. Let's try again and see if the whole room can do it." Thank students for their cooperation and enjoy the beautiful sound of silence. 😁