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Cut out the Chit-Chat


It can be very frustrating to try and teach an English class when all the students are chatting in Japanese. Getting your students to start speaking in English is another valuable topic. But for now, let's look at four ideas on how to get your students to re-focus and stop chatting.


Focusing everyone together as a group.

Teach or use a song that all the children enjoy, and when the class becomes unruly, start singing the song and encourage others to join you. Naturally, student conversations stop and either out of curiosity or desire to join in, all the students are singing and focused together. When the song finishes, use that natural silence, to continue or begin your class.

Variations on this idea would be to have a different routine, such as touching your head, shoulders, knees and toes, clapping or stomping feet. Examples could be "Hands up, Hands down, turn around, sit down." or a routine statement like "1, 2, 3, Eyes on me" with the student response "1, 2, Eyes on you."

An important key point, is to repeat the song, or routine, but gradually lower your voice to a whisper. Students will join in too, and slowly get quieter and more focused on listening to you, until there is silence, with every student focused on you.

For older classes, short poems, limericks, or rhymes can work too. It could be another way to drill and memorize material for them. Try using these routines during transitional points in a class. When students are getting their books or pencils, encourage them to sing the song rather than talk and get unfocused.


Prevent chatting by addressing student needs

If a class is unruly, unwilling to focus, or just plain talkative, maybe your best course of action is... EXCERCISE. Jogging, running, jumping, and dancing for three minutes will often recharge their batteries. It is important to push them a little bit, because not enough exercise will only leave them wanting more, but too much will exhaust them. Finish the exercise routine with slow breathing, and a stretch, and students should be calm and ready to get back to work.

Also think about changing your classroom layout to discourage chatting, or communicate when and where it is accepted. Placing desks in a large circle, or having students facing away from each other will naturally discourage some private chit-chat. Also designating different areas of the classroom to different activities will help create expectation to what is acceptable. Such as having students stand up during a lecture to listen near the blackboard, and then go to sit at their desks for individual and group work. The simple act of standing may help them to be less chatty.

Also giving students a stronger sense of the schedule will help them self-monitor their expectations and fit into the schedule naturally. Between activities, telling them what time you will continue from. "OK, it's 12:02, we'll continue from 12:03." This creates small social breaks, and creates a sort of contract of understanding, and may help them to understand when they are allowed to chat with friends.

If there is a student who talks too much by wanting to supply their ideas to the class, encourage replacement behaviors, such as having them write their ideas down rather than blurt them out disruptively, then go over their ideas at the appropriate time.


If students are not respecting your authority to teach, and not listening to your requests, there are several subtle things that can be done to improve the atmosphere of the class. Being organized is a good start in communicating that you are ready, confident, and in charge. Moving around the class room also communicates you are in control of the room, with large gestures and a strong voice, you will also project authority and confidence. Also, by dressing more formally for class, it may give a productive social tension, and create an expectation that you are serious about the lesson. Your friendship, and relaxed attitude in class should be a reward for good work to the students,... and for you too.


The final, and perhaps ideal solution is to harness the power of peer pressure, and popular support against unproductive chatting in class. A positive way to do this is to give power, and a voice to students in the class who want to focus and learn. By encouraging students to lead the group-focusing routines mentioned earlier, such as singing, or counting backwards from ten into a whisper. If a student is unhappy that their peers are talking, teaching them to sing a song in English to show their disapproval will be more productive than having them complain to their peers in Japanese and create more chatting. Setting a student leader, or offering rewards for good behavior might help to create popular support.


As the teacher, we may be focused on trying to reach goals in the lesson. But for students, school is as much about socializing as it is about academics. Directing and focusing their social energy in positive ways, will be much less frustrating and beneficial than forcing them to be quiet. It's only natural to want to chat with your friends, so let's try and communicate when it is OK to do so, and let them have their chance to do it, and also when to listen and learn.

Good luck in the classroom!


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