With all of today’s distractions, being able to calm the classroom can be challenging. It is important, however, that we create a peaceful and conducive learning environment for students.
We know that many students need to be able to move, talk, and be actively engaged in order to learn, so we must provide these opportunities for them.
However, it’s just as important for them to have a calm environment to concentrate, process what they are learning, and self-evaluate.
We can provide our students with the best of both worlds by making some adjustments to the physical space of our classrooms and how we manage learning activities.
Why calm the classroom?
It’s no secret that being able to calm the classroom is one of the most significant issues teachers face right now. Recently, a major shift in students’ abilities to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and actions has occurred.
Due to societal factors, many students are struggling to cope with their lives. In many cases, it is affecting our ability to teach and their ability to learn. Having a calm classroom can go a long way in helping them cope and learn (and helping us keep our sanity).
Not surprisingly, a calm classroom:
- Improves behavior
- Helps students concentrate
- Reduces stress for students and teachers
Ultimately, a calm classroom helps our students improve their independent reading and independent writing skills. It provides an environment where they don’t have to worry about distractions, and they can simply focus on learning.
How can I calm the classroom?
There are many ways to calm the classroom, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top six ways. Implementing these methods may take some time and effort, but it will be well worth it in the end.
Let’s dive in!
1. Start class with a calm activity.
Transition times can be challenging for some students, so setting expectations right from the start is the first step to creating a calm atmosphere.
Set the tone before students even walk through the door. Have instructions clearly displayed on the wall, board, or screen that direct them to begin a calm activity.
Some ideas for opening activities to calm the classroom include:
- Entrance ticket
- Journal writing
- Sustained silent reading
- Coloring with a purpose
- Spiral review worksheets
Starting with a calm activity that is part of a daily or weekly routine will prompt students to regulate their minds and bodies upon entering the classroom. For best results, make sure the calm activities you choose are ones they can do independently.
As with everything we do, set clear expectations for the start of class and practice them. Also, give students frequent feedback on how well they follow the expectations during this time.
Besides sustained silent reading time, one of my favorite ways to start class is with journal writing. Check out my FREE month of digital journal prompts for grades 4-6.
2. Use callbacks to gain attention.
One of my favorite ways to gain students’ attention quickly and calmly is to use callbacks.
A callback is a call-and-response interaction between the teacher and the students, where the teacher asks a question or makes a statement, and the students respond in unison.
The key to making callbacks work is to teach students the call and response and then practice it until they can do it correctly. Then, they need to respond in the same tone, volume, and speed in which you called them.
A few of my favorite callbacks for intermediate and middle school are:
- All set?… You bet!
- Class, class? … Yes, yes!
- We are… Falcons! (use your school’s mascot)
- Alright, stop!… Collaborate and listen!
- Hear ye, hear ye!… All hail the queen!
Callbacks help calm the classroom because you can gain everyone’s attention immediately and in a fun, lighthearted way that students will respond to positively. (Mine love it!)
3. Structure small group activities.
Students must be able to talk, move, and be actively engaged in order to process what they are learning. Even so, there should still be some order and accountability so the classroom remains a calm environment.
To help calm the classroom during small group activities, provide students with specific directions for the task and roles to fulfill. This way, they will better understand the task and know what they are responsible for in their groups.
Some roles for small group activities could include:
- Discussion Director, Text Summarizer, Text Quoter, Word Watcher, Text Connector
- Group Leader, Notetaker, Materials Manager, Time Keeper, Presenter
- Facilitator, Reader, Recorder, Reporter, Encourager
Small group activities can be a powerful way to learn. It’s helpful to have each role defined before students begin. And as always, have clear expectations and practice what you want them to do so they are set up for success.
If you want engaging yet structured small group activities to create a calmer classroom, I highly recommend Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures. If you do a quick search, you’ll find many free materials online.
You can also read my blog post on How to Structure Small Group Discussions in the ELA Classroom.
4. Teach students to manage their bodies.
Attending assemblies, eating lunch in the cafeteria, and even just walking through crowded hallways can cause sensory overload and stress for some people.
Students who are stressed might experience an increased heart rate, they might begin to sweat, and their minds might start to race. Some might even become agitated and disruptive to the class in an attempt to alleviate their stress.
For those who need to learn how to manage their bodies, there are techniques that can help. Make sure to research each technique and talk to parents and guardians before presenting them to students.
Examples of body management techniques include:
- Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Tapping: Tap specified areas on the body that help stimulate the nervous system and release endorphins in the brain.
- Acupressure: Apply deep massage to specified areas of the body to release endorphins in the brain.
- Deep breathing: Take a few deep breaths, which helps more air flow through the body and reduces stress.
One of my favorite calming activities is coloring! It has always helped alleviate my stress, and I found that it works for my students as well. Check out my Motivational Growth Mindset Coloring Pages for grades 6-9.
5. Play music with 60 beats per minute.
Did you know that listening to music with a tempo of 60 beats per minute can have a profound effect on us? This tempo is similar to a resting heart rate, which can have a calming effect on our bodies and minds.
Listening to music with 60 beats per minute helps reduce stress and anxiety because it slows the heart rate. The slow and steady rhythm also improves focus and concentration levels in the brain.
To implement this, simply play the music softly in the background as students enter the room and during any quiet, independent activity you plan.
The great news is that there are a variety of playlists on YouTube with songs that all have 60 beats per minute to easily help calm the classroom.
6. Adjust the lighting for a calm atmosphere.
Our classrooms are usually filled with bright fluorescent lighting. So, when you combine that lighting with computers, tablets, and cellphones, it creates even more harsh lighting for our eyes and brains.
Adjusting the classroom lighting from bright and harsh to soft and warm promotes relaxation, enhances mood, and reduces eye strain.
Some of my favorite ways to adjust classroom lighting are:
- Dim the lights.
- Turn lights off and use natural light.
- Use fluorescent ceiling light covers.
- Use alternative lighting.
Some schools have different rules for bringing in lights, but if you’re able to, try lamps or string lighting that change colors so you can choose the ones that work best for your classroom. I also enjoy opening the blinds and shutting the lights off completely when it’s a bright, sunny day.
To help calm the classroom, explore some lighting options on Amazon.
We can provide our students with a calm learning environment by adjusting the physical space of our classrooms and how we manage activities. Students can then be actively engaged in their learning yet think, process, and reflect when needed.
A bonus for you is that your classroom will be easier to manage. Won’t that be a wonderful way to teach?
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