Voice Levels in the Classroom


It can be difficult to control the level of noise in a classroom. While it would be simple to institute a "no-talking" policy, this reduces to opportunity to discuss material and make the lesson relate to the students. It may be helpful to designate four voice levels to describe the level of noise that is acceptable for different tasks. Several teachers have constructed "noise-meters." These are signs with a moveable needle to point to the voice level that is acceptable for an activity. When the class gets too loud, the teacher needs only to get the students' attention and show that the noise level should be lower.

Voice Level Zero: No Talking

  • This level is complete silence. This is the level students should follow when the instructor is teaching, or when anyone is addressing the class as a whole. It can be difficult to get a class to come down to this level, especially when they come into class and are continuing conversations they had on the way to class. One method for controlling this is to set a trigger meaning that everyone must become silent in five seconds or risk punishment. Some signals include flicking the lights on and off, clapping your hands together, or even a silent gesture such as raising your hand up for everyone to see. Some teachers even use musical instruments to signal their classes.

Voice Level One: Partner Voices

  • This level is sometimes called "six-inch" voices. The idea is that no one should be able to hear you more than six inches from your mouth. While it is impractical to actually measure this distance, the idea of it can be effective at controlling voice levels. This is the level that is acceptable when two students are cooperating on an assignment. You may choose to also allow this to be the acceptable level to be used between students during Voice Level Zero if they need to ask a fellow student a quick question for clarification or if they need to barrow a pencil.

Voice Level Two: Table Voices

  • This is the voice level that students should use during group activities. It should be loud enough that the other students in the group can hear them clearly, but not so loud that it interferes with the conversations of other groups. You need to take care at this level not to allow the discussions to become too noisy. Children's voices have a tendency to get louder as they get more involved in a project, and nearby groups may unconsciously raise their voices in response. You may need to remind your class a few times to keep the noise at an acceptable level.

Voice Level 3: Classroom Voices

  • At this voice level, a student can be heard clearly throughout the whole classroom. This should be used sparingly, as you do not want the students to become used to the loudest level. This is the voice level in which students should respond to the instructor or ask questions after raising their hand and being called upon. This level can also be used during discussions between the class as a whole, although it may be necessary to call on students one at a time to avoid a yelling match. This is also the level of voice that should be used if a student notices something dangerous and needs to alert the class and instructor.

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