Playing with the sound

megaphone-157874_960_720It goes without saying that silence can sometimes speak louder than words and that the more loudly the teacher speaks in order to be heard in a noisy class, the louder the students get. This, I think, is also true for situations when you play an audio to the class. Over years, I’ve discovered that playing with the volume and sound can do wonders.

Whenever I play a recording during listening practice, I always start at a fairly low volume. Kids and teenagers especially don’t fully concentrate from the start and I’ve found out that if the recording is not loud enough (relative to the noise in the room), the students will be more inclined to calm down and to start paying attention. After all, unlike a video, an audio can only provide the sound so students have nothing else to hold on to.

If the above doesn’t help and provided the recording is only a few seconds in, I stop the disc, rewind and play it again (and again) from the very beginning. I even do this three times if necessary. Believe it or not, the students will eventually calm down without me having to say a word.

If I notice that someone is not paying attention later on during the listening practice, I just pause the recording again and look at that person with a threatening compelling expression on my face. A few seconds of silence can sometimes help me to get that student’s attention back without disturbing the others in the room with additional ‘noise’.

I was once told by an inspector observing my class that the recording I’d played was too loud to her taste and that it’d really got on her nerves. Fair enough, I thought. I’ve kept that in mind ever since. The fact is that you’ll never know until you sit at the back at the classroom. The speakers are usually turned towards the class – not the teacher – so the volume may indeed be too loud without you even realizing it.

I’d say that the older I get, the less noise I’m willing to tolerate overall. Even more so after my nine-year-old son told me that it’s simply too noisy at his school – especially during breaks. So I gather that even children prefer a quiet atmosphere to a noisy one. I’m not saying that learning can’t occur when there’s a little excitement but there should certainly be a limit.

As a rule of thumb, I’d now say that it’s always better to have a low-key presence in the classroom. This means operating in a quiet but effective way, sometimes deliberately speaking beneath the din of the mob and turning the volume down rather than up in an attempt to gain students’ attention when using technology.

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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4 Responses to Playing with the sound

  1. careymicaela says:

    Hi Hana!
    I completely agree. I tend to speak softly in class and I’ve noticed that this keeps their attention much better than attempting to shout. The trick is to signal that you’re going to speak and wait for silence, which sometimes requires quite a bit of patience.
    If I have to raise my voice in class, my students know that they’re in serious trouble.
    My signal in class is to raise my hand and cup my ear. Students are supposed to copy me and this helps them to settle down. Do you have a signal that you use in class?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      I’ve just discovered I didn’t reply to your comment. Sorry. To answer your question, no, I actually don’t have a signal like that – maybe because I mainly work with older kids and teenagers. I just pause and wait and this is a signal itself. I’ve recently learned how important it is to be able to work with silence and this is one of the occasions when silence or a short pause work best. Thanks for your comment, Micaela.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    I often end up mentioning voice volume to teachers after observations, but not really audio volume, unless it was far too quiet. This seems like a good idea, though I think it’s important to train your students to tell you if it’s too loud or too quiet as well – I’ve sometimes had students get to the end of a 2- to 3-minute recording then complain it was too quiet!
    Thanks for the idea,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      I’d say that my teenage students would let me know that they can’t hear the recording properly but they probably wouldn’t tell me if the volume was too loud even if I had trained them to do so. I guess they’d just put up with it. But I’ve never tried so it’s just an assumption. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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