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Listen Up, Students! Attention Signals That Work

By Alycia Zimmerman on November 13, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

The mythological super-teacher can silence a room of pandemonium producers with just a look. However, I've yet to meet a teacher with that particular super-power. All of the super-teachers I know use carefully practiced signals to call their students to attention. Regardless of the particular attention signal they use, the common thread is the consistent expectation that every student stops, looks, and listens. 

Watch how teachers from every grade in my school demonstrate how they get their students' attention, and get tips from their answers to some of the frequently asked questions about effective attention signals.  Mobile users, please go to: http://bcove.me/8iw4yfz0


How do you get your students' attention when your classroom is buzzing? Do you sing, chant, use a call-and-response or clap pattern? Do you stick with one attention signal all year long, or do you use different signals at different times? How do you get your students' attention in "quiet-only" settings like museums or libraries? Share your attention signals and solutions with us in the comments section below. Thanks!


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Comments (50)

I teach 4th and 5th grade. When my students are lined up for lunch or at the end of the day but are still noisy, I like to call out states and my students answer with the capitals. I might say "Idaho", and they say "Boise", "Hawaii"and they answer "Honolulu". I like it because it immediately grabs their attention and makes them think at the same time. We get a state and capital review and the students don't get bored because they never know which state name I will call. It usually only takes one or two state names to get their attention but I end up saying three or four for the extra review!

I teach first grade...the students seem to like this one:
Zip It (hold hand up to lips and pretend to zip lips shut)
Lock It (turn hand and pretend to lock lips)
Put It In My Pocket (pretend to put the key in your pocket)

This was so wonderful to see! Thank you! I love the different ways to get students' attention. I am definitely going to try some of these to see if I can get my first graders to improve on this skill. Practice, practice, and practice some more should definitely help. Thank you! You are all so inspiring!

I say Macaroni and cheese everybody ... then they say freese

I use "peanut butter" and they say "jelly". From day one I tell them that when I say "peanut butter", they say "jelly" and then stop, look and listen to me (for directions, important info, anything). My aide and I do it several times a day in the beginning until they've mastered it, which doesn't take too long. In the beginning though, I may say it 2-3 times until everyone does stop and listen. To get ready at circle time, I also say the 5 Rules for Good Listening: Hands are still, feet are quiet, lips are silent, eyes are watching, ears are listening. We continue with other songs for the different circle time activities (weather song, calendar song, and story song). They know they are to be ready by the end of the song. I also use the "I like the way so-so is ready". Sometimes, when they just seem to not be focusing with any of our usual attention-getters, we just get up and move by doing one of the many "brain break" videos available on Youtube! Of course we do those every day but you need extra ones some days! : )

I teach pre-k. Sometimes I say, "Spring a leak!", and my children respond with "Shhhhhhhhh...". As they say their response they shoot their hands in the air and then bring them slowly to their lap making their voices softer as they go.

We also use one of Dr. Jean's Tricks:
Tootsie roll,(roll hands)
Lolly pop,(mime licking a sucker)
We were talking,(move both hands in a talking motion)
now let's stop.(make a stop signal with hands)

They will self regulate with this one.

The ideas from the video and the ones that others have posted are great! This is a good topic!

Hi Bailey, thanks for sharing both of your strategies (well, Dr. Jean's trick, that you've made your own,) with us! I love that both of your tricks use movement - that's such an age appropriate, child-friendly way to get their attention! Happy holidays! ~ Alycia

I do a slow 3,2,1, freeze and they have to stay frozen until I tell them to melt. I also do "Super Students in 3,2,1" and they clap twice, and fold their hands and put them firmly on their desk (a gentle bang.) A color repeat is good for variety - I say four colors(red, purple, green, black) and they repeat them and put eyes on me. Often I just start to sing, and they join with me. When the song is done, it is my turn to talk.

I don't have a naturally loud voice and I don't like shouting if I don't have to, so I use the "clap clap" method.

I do 2 claps and stick my hand in the air. Students are supposed to stick their hands in the air when they hear the signal and stop talking. Sometimes it takes a few clap claps but it keeps me from shouting.

I say: Giddy-up! (while swinging my arm over my head) and they say "cowboy!" and then they clap, clap and slap once on their laps.

Haha, oh, I'd love to see this one! I wonder if it'd work with my New York City kids. Thanks for sharing! ~ Alycia

"Class?" "Yes?" (students should respond exactly the way you spoke...if you whisper they whisper; if you say it twice they say it twice, etc.)

I say 3,2,1 With my fingers counting down. They reply shhhhh

I use a chime as my signal and I raise my hand right after. My kids then stop what they're doing and look and raise their hands in response to my call. I remain silent with my hand up until everyone's eyes are on me. I trained my kids to kind of tap quietly anyone who did not reply to the signal within 10 seconds.

Teacher: "Macaroni and Cheese"
Student response: "Everybody Freeze"

Teacher: "Hocus Pocus"
Student response: "Everybody Focus"

Teacher: If you can hear me say "I hear you"
Student response: "I hear you"

1.Teacher: 1,2,3 Eyes on me Students: 1,2,3 Eyes on you
2. Teacher: 3,2,1 Students: (clap,clap)
3. Teacher: Turns off lights Students: Drop what they are doing, put their hands on their head, and stop talking with eyes on the teacher.

All three of these work with my preschool students.

I have a variety of ways to get my 6th graders attention. Here are a few:
1. "Freeze please" and raise my hand- kids then raise their hand and stop talking
2. Class, class, class- yes, yes, yes
3. 5,4, 3, out loud and then 2, 1 with just showing fingers
4. Zero sound- hold up a zero with your hand and kids reciprocate

These work great for me and fit in well with my CHAMPS class.

I play 'Beat the Teacher' - hold your hand in the air, five fingers up. Say "Five, four..." while you put two fingers down, continue to count down silently, by the time you get to zero the whole class should be silent. If I get to zero and they're not, I get a point. If they beat me, they get a point. At our school we run a system where teamwork earns the class a token (which can be traded for rewards), so at the end of the week the winner (me or them) gets a reward - token for them, a pat on the back for me.
Some extra things - I teach grade 6 (12 year olds). When I first introduce this we discuss how to quieten down - eg: if you see/hear me starting to count, how do you get others to be quiet without calling out?; no name and shame if there is one person who is still talking after I finish counting). I vary how loudly and how quickly I count down, depending on how many kids I've got/how loud they are/what type of work they're doing - however, I've done this successfully over a week-long camp with over 100 kids.

Wow, Rachael, sounds like a tried and true strategy, and it's great to know it works with slightly older kids, and even a huge group. I love your "no name and shame" policy for the outliers - it's always counterproductive when the class is groaning one student's name for making them all late. It sounds like you've addressed that issue in a sensitive and sensible way. Thank you so much for sharing! ~ Alycia

In high school you set the tone quickly because kids are very aware of which teachers they can ignore. I treat them like adults at a corporate meeting and simply say, "ok, let's get started by going over our objectives for the day." Generally they hush one another. If necessary, I stand calmly (never angrily) and watch the 2-5 kids who don't catch on. Within seconds they see me and stop. High school is sooooo much easier in terms of class management.

Aura, wow, how awesome to hear your positive perspective from high school! Bravo, your students sound college (or boardroom) ready! Thanks for sharing, and enlightening us elementary school teachers. Cheers - Alycia

I have taught 4-6th grades. I have also taught in a middle school type setting where I might have 120 kids at one time. With this in mind I can get the entire 120 kids t o come to attention with one of two methods. The first is "hands on your head" Sometimes I say the words and other times I just place my hands on my head and they all start following suit. The second way is a clapping pattern that they finish. I have also used where I start clapping a beat and they mimic it.

I love all the wonderful ideas. I will try some of these!

I teach 8th grade and use the Power Teaching attention signal. I simply say "Class" and they answer "Yes" and it works great. We practice at the beginning of the year and I say it with different accents and tones. I think what makes it successful is that it wasn't something they did in elementary so it doesn't feel childish to them.

Sheri, thanks for sharing from the middle school perspective. I know two first grade teachers who use the "Class -- Yes" Power Teaching signal, too. It's cool to know the same signal works successfully for such a range of grades - I guess it all depends on how you sell it to the kids, whether it's novel to the teens, and the expectations behind it. Thanks again! ~Alycia

I've worked with children from infants to 12 years of age in the past 14 years. When trying to get their attention so we can go out side I call, "Line up Mice there's cats in the other room!" Then we sing "Tip toe, tip toe, to and fro. Tip toe, tip toe, through the school. Tip toe, tip toe like a mouse. Shhh...." All children know to be in a row and quiet by the time we get to shhh. Then I whisper, "Tip toe, tip toe, right out the door. Good job little mice. Let's go." The class as a group then tip toes through the hall, and in some cases through another classroom filled with "cats" to get to the playground. With younger children 3 years and under I find it helps to keep singing the song until everyone is outside as they learn the song.

My daughter used a clap pattern with a group of students she was photographing. When all of the students responded, the other members of her photog team said, "Wow! Did you teach them that pattern when we were getting ready?" She said, "No, my mom teaches elementary school... so I just gave it a try to see if they knew it." It was awesome.

All teachers in my school have a "chime bell" in their desk and a sball mallet...(works with subs too) We tap the chime once = utter silence!

I use a call and response with my 5th graders that a fellow teacher taught me:
T: Quiet on the set!
S: Act-shhhhhhh-un!

They know that after their response, eyes should be on me. I also just start thanking students for looking my way. They love to here their names being used in a positive way! =)

Hi Michelle - Thanks for reminding us about the power of "Proximal Praise" - when we compliment appropriate behaviors (in this case, students who are paying attention,) to influence other students to be similarly compliant. It's definitely a strategy that works - and one I sometimes forget to use - so thank you! Your movie-themed call and response sounds like fun, too! Best ... Alycia

Middle schoolers would eat you alive if you did any of these...

Hi Misty, thanks for your comment. I've only taught grades 1-5 so I don't have middle school experience. So, what works with your middle school kids? Can you share the 6-8 tricks up your sleeve? Thanks! -Alycia

Thank you for your positivity.

I teach high school so some call and response doesn't really go over that well. Instead I use "if you can hear me clap once. If you can hear me clap twice." I usually only have to go to three before everyone is with me.

Zippity Doo Dah! (T) Zippity Eh! (St)
I say quiet, you say, Shhh...Quiet...Shhh (st) Quiet...Shhh (st)
I say Franken, you say stein...Franken...Stein (st)
I saw Frosty, you say Snowman...Frosty...Snowman (st)
"Oh dear, what can the matter be. Oh dear, what can the matter be. Oh dear, what can the matter be. There is just too much noise." (old children's song)

In my third grade class, I say "spaghetti" and they come back with "meatballs!"

I do many of these! I also sing a song when we line up that goes to the tune of Where is Thumbkin. " Let's be quiet...Let's be quiet...yes we will ..yes we will...We need to walk so quietly ...we need to walk so quietly ..Yes we will Yes we will" It does quiet the class down and gets us ready to walk down the hall.

Our stand by:
Teacher: 1,2,3 Eyes on Me...
Students: 1,2 Eyes on You!!!

I have also trained them that when I say "You guys are awesome," they say "We are awesome!"

Susan, what fun ideas! Thanks for sharing with all of us. :)

My students and I came up with this call and response: "We are students!" "Bam-badum-bum-bum-bum-bum!" Inspired by the Farmers Insurance ads.

Whole Brain Teaching-"class-yes!" "When I say class, they say, yes! the same way. "Class, class...yes, yes" "Classity classity class" "yessity yessity yes!"

I love WBT!!

How about suggestions for 10th Graders?

At the beginning of the year I teach my 5th grade students that when I say, "Give me three!" that they are to hold up their hand and put up one finger at at time and say Stop! Look! Listen!. I remind them that they are to Stop what they are doing, Look at me and Listen. After a couple weeks practice out loud they then are to only count three with their fingers raised when I say "Give me Three!". Our 5th and 6th grade center school has used this call to attention for many years and it is very effective. I also use a set of chimes and a slide whistle (their favorite!) to change things up every now and then.

Thanks for sharing about your strategies! Getting a class's attention is such an essential (and at times nerve-wracking) part of our job. I've got to get a slide whistle - I bet my kids would love that! ~ Alycia

I do give me 5 with a twist. I say, "Give me 5. Ears, eyes, hands, feet, lips. Give me 5." and hold my hand in the air putting down a finger for each part. By the time I say Give me 5 the 2nd time, all my students have one of their hands in the air. Some students have even started to say the ears, eyes, hands, feet and lips part with me. I can do this from a classroom voice to a whisper and I get the attention of my entire class. With the whisper voice, it works well in a large group setting like an assembly.

Dawn, thank you for sharing with us about your version of "Give me 5." It's definitely ideal when a teacher takes an established practice (in this case, Harry Wong's Give-me-Five procedure,) and tailors it to work for them and their classes. If it works for you even in a whisper voice, this is clearly an effective strategy! Best, Alycia

When students sing our song hook "Just know I'm here for you, just know I've got your back!" it serves in two ways. First, as a sign it's time to get back to working as a classroom unit. Second, as a reminder that loyalty and being helpful are a big part of becoming a great classroom citizen!

I love it! What a great idea to reinforce a citizenship message while using a musical attention grabber. Thank you for sharing about your song! ~ Alycia

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