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Why Do Students Talk During Class?

It’s one of the typical notes on report cards of students of all ages and grades: “Johnny is a great student, he’s very clever, and he makes excellent grades. But he talks too much during class.” It’s a classic classroom management issue, and there could be several causes of this problem. 

There are several different reasons why students may be talking in class. Each child and situation is different, and what causes one student to speak during class may not be the same reason for another child. Therefore, examining each child and situation is essential to determine why the child is talking during class.

Here, we’ll explore many different causes of talking in class and look at ways to leverage students’ talking to promote a better classroom atmosphere. 

Why Do Students Need to Talk in Class?

Sometimes it seems that students absolutely need to talk in the middle of class. Some young learners may start fidgeting or looking impatiently around before they resort to chatting away with their classmates. While this behavior may be annoying for the teacher, it’s a real need that students have. 

In some cases, students talk through the lesson because they seek attention or validation from their peers or teachers. However, these cases are much less common than boredom, distraction, or a legitimate need to communicate with classmates.

There are several reasons students need to talk during class, and allowing them some structured time to speak and express themselves can be a boon to their learning. Let’s look at some of the reasons why talking and class discussion are crucial for building and maintaining a thriving learning environment.

Promote Academic Language Use

You probably spend plenty of time teaching relevant vocabulary, regardless of the topic, age, or grade level. Class discussions allow your students to use all the academic words you’re teaching them. 

Plus, it also allows you to see which vocab words your students have mastered and which concepts still need some more instruction and/or practice. As a result, students can feel more comfortable using their academic lexicon in different contexts, but they must start somewhere!

Avoid Boredom and Wandering Minds

Even the most engaging educators face the struggle of teaching bored students. And the younger students are, the shorter their attention spans. You can use class discussions and short “chat breaks” to keep kids interested in their learning. 

When students are asked to explain ideas to one another, they’re more likely to stay focused. And while students are much more likely to see their teacher as the source of knowledge, they look to their classmates for motivation and other social cues (source).

Undo the Effects of Pandemic Learning

The pandemic turned so much of the education system on its head. This had a massive impact on students and affected more than just the medium of instruction or class setup. The pandemic years also impacted how students learned to communicate with groups of their peers.

Moreover, social anxiety among students has spiked since the pandemic (source). Structured classroom discussions can give children and teens a comfortable and safe place to practice expressing themselves without fearing being wrong or facing harsh judgment. 

Learning Lifelong Social Skills

Active listening and clear expression in a good classroom dialogue inherently promotes social skills students will use throughout their academic and professional careers. In addition, students with more developed social and interpersonal skills often exhibit higher academic achievement (source). 

So, helping students build up their social skills – through structured class discussions and free-form chitchat with their classmates – can lead to higher overall success. 

For more information about setting and attaining long-term goals, check out our article How to Set and Follow Through on Academic Goals: Examples for Success.

Managing Student Dialogue in Class

The key to effectively managing student dialogue in class is to keep your learning goals at the forefront. Therefore, you should always ask, “How does this discussion contribute to today’s learning goals?”

This will help you establish the relevance of each conversation, and it will help you focus on discussion questions and tasks that directly contribute to your learning goals. 

If the answer is, “This dialogue doesn’t really contribute to our learning goals,” then you should deftly steer the conversation back to the relevant topic. But, of course, you have some flexibility: not every single word of every class period needs to be precisely on topic.

Before class, list basic on-topic questions as you plan your lessons. Then, when you sense that your students are getting antsy and itching to talk, raise one of these questions. That way, you can satisfy your students’ urge to discuss while keeping things on topic throughout the class.

Appropriate Expectations for Student Dialogue

To correctly manage beneficial student dialogue, it’s essential to have realistic expectations about what a class discussion can achieve.

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In most cases, you won’t be able to totally replace lecture or teacher-centered instruction with class discussion, even though talking it through might seem like a more effective (and enjoyable!) way to teach. 

Before you plan a class discussion, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do my students need to know before they can have an informed and productive conversation about the topic?
  • What do my students already know about the topic?
  • What (if any) points are my students struggling to understand about the topic? 
  • What do I want them to learn, acquire, or master throughout our class discussion?

Then, once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll better understand what you expect or anticipate from the class discussion.

At that point, you’ll be able to make a sturdy plan for the class discussion: you’ll be better able to determine the time you’ll spend on the discussion, the questions you’ll ask the class, and the anticipated answer you’ll get from your students.

Sometimes, you’ll have to reign the kids in; they might get excited, carried away, or off-topic in their discussion. For those times, it’s great to have a couple of pivot points in mind to redirect the conversation back to the learning goals seamlessly. 

It’s normal for discussions to fizzle out at points, too. Keeping a list of follow-up and review questions is a great way to get the conversation moving again.

Questions like, “Could you paraphrase what your classmate just said?” and “How would you explain that topic to a child?” are great ways to review the fundamentals of the day’s topic.   

Benefits of Students Talking in Class

While many parents and teachers view students talking in class as disruptive behavior, there are several benefits to having students chat at specific points of the lesson. However, to see the benefit of speaking in class, students’ input should be carefully guided and adhere to classroom management rules.

The first significant benefit of students talking in class is that students learn from one another rather than just from the teacher or lesson materials. This instills in the students that they and their classmates are legitimate sources of knowledge.

When students see that they, too, have something to offer to the learning environment, they are more likely to stay on topic and promote the learning objectives of the whole class.

The next pro is that students can build rapport with their teachers and classmates. They can forge relationships and friendships that then serve as a huge motivating factor.

When students have a strong sense of rapport with their classmates and teacher, they are more likely to participate in lessons actively and show higher academic success rates (source).

Classroom Management and Discipline

Teaching isn’t just about the lessons or homework; classroom management is also a massive part of the education profession. Classroom management refers to the setting up and enforcement of classroom rules.

A big focus of classroom management is building and maintaining a classroom culture that optimizes learning for every student in the class.

“Classroom culture” is a broad umbrella that covers everything from the relationships between the teacher(s) and students, the expectations and consequences that students face in the classroom, to the overall feeling or “vibe” that people in the classroom feel.

Let’s explore some key aspects of the classroom culture and look at ways to promote a strong classroom culture that encourages beneficial behavior from every student. 

Making Effective Rules

A foundational cornerstone of classroom management is the rules that students should follow while in the classroom. Not all rules are created equally, though: there are ways to make rules more explicit and easier to follow so that students can truly thrive in a well-managed classroom.

First of all, teachers should write rules with a positive message instead of a negative one. For example, rather than saying, “Don’t talk while someone else is talking,” it can be more effective to say, “Please respect others when they speak by listening attentively.”

Even though these two sentences express the same desired behavior, it’s better for students to hear the rule explaining what they should do instead of what they shouldn’t do. 

Another effective way to promote an excellent classroom culture is to involve the students in creating the rules. No matter what age or grade your students are, they already have some pre-existing ideas of what good behavior in the classroom looks like. You can elicit these expectations to establish some basic classroom ground rules. 

Of course, most students won’t be able to come up with a complete list of classroom rules, and not every rule that they propose will apply to your classroom. That’s why it’s important to have a premade list of rules before you ask for the student’s input. 

The crucial point here is that students feel listened to, acknowledged, and taken seriously. No matter the age or grade, this feeling of being heard and appreciated can contribute to an overall higher motivation level and better behavior in the classroom. 

Consistency is Key

No matter what rules you lay out for your students, the key to effective classroom management is consistent application. This means you must constantly refer back to the classroom rules and expectations.

You should avoid making exceptions whenever possible, and you should highlight the consequences – both positive and negative – as you implement classroom management.

When kids understand the effects of their behavior, and when they know that the teacher will consistently enforce the consequences, they will be more likely to respond positively to classroom management techniques.

Basically, if kids can expect and predict the results of their good or bad behavior, they’re much more likely to act in a way that yields consistently positive results.

Vibe Check!

The overall “vibe” or atmosphere of the classroom can also contribute to the classroom culture. The classroom decor can greatly impact the overall culture: if the room is tidy and decorated with age- and grade-appropriate materials, this can create a better atmosphere.

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Students will respond positively to this atmosphere and will be more likely to exhibit behavior that promotes the learning goals of the whole class. 

You can also use music, lighting, and other strategies to create a peaceful atmosphere for learning. For example, try creating a playlist with your students’ favorite songs to help them relax during breaks; go for soft music or ambient noise during individual activities.

Another idea is to have class traditions, like a little chant for marking the day off the calendar or having a “reading buddy” for storytime.

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Ensure the lighting is sufficient for clearly seeing the board and lesson materials. Check for any glare on the screen or board, and ask students if they can see everything easily. Rely on student feedback to adjust audio and visual settings as necessary.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why students talk in class. Sometimes, talking with other students is part of the lesson plan, and students can benefit from structured and intentional discussion in the classroom. In other cases, talking during class is disruptive.

Teachers often consider this disruptive discussion as destructive behavior or breaking the rules. In those cases, teachers should fairly and consistently enforce the classroom rules because when students can accurately expect and predict the consequences of their actions, they’re more likely to act in ways that lead to positive results.