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November 26, 2012

3 Tips to Remember When Using Silent Signals

Written By: Steve Reifman
X Tips for Using Silent Signals in the Classroom

Tips for Using Silent Signals in the Classroom

It is critical for teachers to have a consistent, effective silent signal to use on those occasions when students are working at their desks and we need their attention. I have tried several signals during my career, and my current favorite is clapping three times and then having the kids respond by clapping three times in unison. After clapping, they put their empty hands on their foreheads and look at me in the front of the room. Putting their hands on their foreheads ensures that they are not still working after I have given the signal.

Tips for Using Silent Signals

Practicing the following ideas with your students at the beginning of each school year and consistently holding them accountable throughout the remaining months will take the stress out of what can be a difficult transition. One final note. Try to use your silent signal as sparingly as possible. Getting and keeping everyone’s attention in this manner can disrupt the flow of work, and we want to stop this flow only when necessary, such as at the end of a period or to make an important announcement.

1) Give students some time to shift their attention gradually from their work to you. If we expect our students to attend to our directions immediately after we give the signal, they may still be thinking about or completing some aspect of their work. By giving them some transition time, we allow them to finish their specific task and attend to us without any stress. I like to give my students a calm countdown after I clap three times, in which I say, “Empty hands on foreheads and eyes up here in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0.” That gives everyone enough time to wrap up the sentence or math work they may be finishing, put down their materials, and give me their full attention.

2)  Wait until all students’ eyes are on you before you begin giving instructions.  When we are giving instructions, we need every child to listen carefully. If we start giving instructions while many kids are still working, we are sending the message that is OK not to pay attention to the teacher. This point needs to be clarified and reinforced at the beginning of the year so that everyone understands that paying attention to our instructions is necessary for learning and as a show of respect.

3) Use a “Go” word that signals to students that you have finished speaking and that they may begin to carry out your instructions.  Many kids have the tendency to begin carrying out our instructions before we have finished giving them because they think they know exactly what to do. It is understandable why kids do this – they want to carry out the instructions before they forget the steps. Still, it is important for everyone to listen to the entire set of instructions before beginning to transition. Announcing the “Go” word in advance gives children a consistent indicator that lets them know when the transition can start. In my classroom I use the following phrasing: “When I say ‘Go,’ please bring your pens and Writing Notebooks to the rug. Once you get to the rug, please open your Writing Notebooks to the list of story ideas we created yesterday. Go.”


About the Author

Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time andEight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8. Steve is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. For weekly Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit You can also follow Steve on Twitter.


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  • Gloria Wilson
    November 27, 2012

    How do you get the students to clap all at the same time? It sounds like you are clapping and then giving another short intermission, and then do they clap? I would have them stop things immediately and clap right away. I have trouble with kids wanting to finish what they’re doing, and some of them take longer than others and then get frustrated in the process.

  • Janya S.
    November 27, 2012

    I like the practical ideas and easy to implement steps that are given in this article.

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