Stop the chaos by re-ordering your words
Setting the scene:
The students were engaged all day and a buzz could be felt throughout the room. This group of kids – the challenging and fun ones – had a wonderful morning learning and singing, despite multiple curveballs (American baseball slang for "unexpected changes or disruptions"), and were putting their items away just before lunchtime.
Then I said something I immediately regretted the second it left my mouth.
It went something like this:
Me: Alright gang, great job this morning! We’re going to go to lunch…
All students jump up to go grab their coats, rush to line up at the door
Me: NO! I didn’t say it’s time to go to lunch!
Student 1: You told us we’re going to go to lunch.
Me: Yeah you’re right, but I didn’t say to line up.
All students: Confused looks on their face as they take 1-2 minutes to get settled again.
Me: I sit in front of classroom hanging my head staring at the floor.
What I really meant…
I wanted them to put their books and items away.
I wanted them to have a seat at their tables.
I wanted them to have a brief moment of calm before an hour of unstructured lunchtime.
I wanted to tell them how great they had been that morning.
I wanted to dismiss them one by one.
Instead, I stoked a fire that took a few minutes to put out. My bad.
But I’m not alone. Odds are you have done it too!
I would like to say this is the first time I’ve done something like this but, alas, it is not. If only I had re-ordered my language to better reflect what I really wanted to happen. Re-ordering
Truth be told, I usually try and say something like “I am looking for students who are…” to prepare them for a transition, rather than try and backtrack from an errant statement like the example above. I am still learning!
What I could have said is:
"I am looking for kids who have...
(1) put their books away and
(2) seated quietly in their chair."
Once they have done this, I could have given any instruction without much chaos to sort out.
By re-ordering our language, we make our expectations clear; we keep our ducks in a row. Whether we are giving instructions for a lesson or preparing students for an activity or transition time, by slowly doing so we give our students extra processing time and sequential steps to follow.
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned pro, give it a go!