Parents often remark that NMS teachers have a magical power for getting children to listen. There may be some “magic” that comes with being in a school community that helps with listening, but teachers also have built up their own toolboxes for communicating with students. At the Primary level, we use some of these tricks for making our messages effective.
Make it positive
Children hear “no” and “don’t” more times in a day than many of them would like, and probably more times than we adults would be able to handle if we were in their shoes. Instead of telling students what they cannot do, teachers strive to remind them what they can, or should, be doing. We say “Walk” instead of “Don’t run” and “Hands on your own work” instead of “Don’t touch someone’s work.” Children’s developing brains have a much easier time switching to the new action (“walking”) instead of having to process the negative direction (“don’t run”) and come up with their own replacement action. This also prevents the issue of only part of a negative direction being heard or processed, even if only subconsciously; missing the first word of “Don’t touch someone’s work,” leaves the student, or a passerby, with the idea of touching someone’s work.
Make it interactive
Young children love to be a part of your message! Teachers often play a game similar to Simon Says to bring the focus of the group to them. We give directions, such as “If you can hear me, touch your nose,” until the group is attentive and ready to hear a brief verbal message. Sometimes we even use this technique to deliver the whole message: “If you’re ready to wash your hands for lunch, put your hands on your hips.” This way, directions don’t feel like a lecture! We also make it interactive by using a call and response format at times. Primary 3 students know the line they are standing in is about to start moving when the teacher calls out, “All set?”, and they respond, “You bet!”
Make it musical
It’s never fun to hear your name said with a scolding voice, so we often use a singsong tone to call someone’s name if we need one student’s attention. Singing a whole direction or message to the group also works! Having a go-to song or two that you adapt for any situation works best for this so you don’t have to put as much thought into it during a busy moment—something like, “If you’re happy and you know it,” can be easily changed to, “If you’re hungry and you know it, get your lunch.” A musical question and answer tune also gets children engaged and on board with your directions, with the teachers singing a direction such as, “Who has their listening ears on?,” and students responding, “I have my listening ears on.”
Make it quiet (or silent!)
Talking over a group can make the room’s noise level higher and higher, so stepping back and delivering a quiet message gets attention as more and more children want to hear what their peers are now listening to. This strategy can be incredibly calming for a group that needs to lower its energy. To invite students to an activity or to line up, a teacher can whisper the name of each student—or even just hold up a name tag with the child’s name and/or picture. If it’s too loud to hear the words of a story, we do a “picture walk” of a book and silently show the pictures on each page (which promotes creativity as students imagine the plot!) We can also pantomime the actions that students should be doing if it’s part of a routine that they are familiar with, such as putting on outdoor gear like boots and mittens.
Take home some of the school magic—try one of these tools from a teacher’s toolbox and see if your message sticks better than ever!