How to train your students to be silent to a prompt

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My fifth-grade class won’t be quiet when I need to teach. What do I do? - Will, Traverse City, Michigan


Isn’t it strange that kids have been around forever, teachers have been around forever, colleges that are supposed to teach teachers how to teach have been around forever, and yet this most basic and essential procedure: how to get kids to shut up and listen, has never been taught until now?


Well, here’s how to do it. It worked for me for a decade straight, during which time I requested that all of the most difficult kids in whatever grade I taught be placed in my class. It works for thousands of teachers across the world who I have trained or who have read my book. It will work for you, too.

ExplorePHOTOS: Did we spot you Under the Big Top at the 5th Annual Dayton Adult Prom at The Arcade?

It takes me 20 minutes for me to train teachers on this and the entire procedure is taught in nine pages in my book, but I’ll give you the basic formula here. Further study may be needed.

Just a quick word before I give you the Silence to a Prompt Procedure:

1) Entire classes will not be consistently quiet unless there are Procedural Learning Opportunities (PLOs) that make refusal non-functional.

2) Telling students to be quiet is always a mistake because you can’t make them be quiet.

Here’s how I would get silence with your class. Notice that I never give attention, control, or avoidance to the kids who are non-cooperative, and I give all three to the cooperative kids:

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is seated silently.

(Nine kids keep talking/standing)

Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #8 is silent.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #2 is ready.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #16 is silently seated.

(Six kids keep talking/standing)

Kid Whisperer: When will I begin?


Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #4 is silent.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed Kid #9 is seated.

Kid Whisperer: I noticed The Fortnight Warriors (team name) are ready.

(Two kids keep talking/standing)

Kid Whisperer: (to no one in particular, spoken out into the middle distance) Yikes. There’s room for growth here. I’ll help you do some learning later. OK, friends, the Revolutionary War began in… (teaching commences).

(Later, to those two kids during non-instructional time)

Kid Whisperer: Yikes. You both are really struggling with being silent to a prompt. I’m not mad at you though. I’ll like you no matter how long it takes you to learn this, or even if you never learn this at all. Being able to successfully be silent to a prompt is just something that I always require. So how many times do you need to practice being silent to my prompt? One time or two?

Kid #13 and Kid #26: One.

Kid Whisperer: Solid. OK. Go ahead and talk to each other if you want, and when I say, “I will begin when everyone is silently seated,” if you are silently seated, we will count that as a good practice. If not, we won’t count it. Cool? Great. Go ahead and talk.

Kid #13 and Kid #26 either talk or don’t talk. It doesn’t matter.

Kid Whisperer: I will begin when everyone is silently seated.

If both Kid #13 and Kid #26 are seated silently after this prompt, Kid Whisperer asks them if they are experts at being silent to the prompt. If they fail, they do it until they can be successful. If one fails and one succeeds, they continue to practice once or twice until the successful student feels some frustration. That student can then leave after being congratulated. The remaining student, now with no audience, gets to leave once he becomes successful.

This procedure described above can be repeated for as many days as necessary until all students are completely silent and seated to a prompt every time.

Scott Ervin is an independent facilitator of parenting with Love and Logic and The Nine Essential Skills for the Love and Logic Classroom. He is a parent and behavioral consultant based in the Miami Valley. Online:

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