Effective Teacher Talk in the Elementary Classroom

A recent social media post about training students like you do a dog reminded me of when I took our first family pet to training. As the leaders impressed upon me, it’s actually not the dog you’re training but YOURSELF! And this is SO true in teaching. Here are actionable ideas and examples of effective teacher talk in the elementary classroom with direct, intentional, and engaging language.

How to use effective teacher talk in the elementary classroom.

On this page…

The Firmness Conundrum: Insights from a New Teacher’s Journey

New teachers often reach out for help because they try to be “firm” but nothing works.

Sometimes we need an out-of-body experience. We need to step out of the moment to think objectively, not react or overreact, and do something logical and thought out. This is hard for new teachers or when we are in new situations.

Here are a few ideas to train the teacher to be firm, backed with engaging and appropriate activities, learned the hard way by ME, and observed in other teachers in many schools over the years.

Crafting Effective Teacher Talk

The Power of Precise Communication

Effective teacher talk hinges on the power of precision. A common pitfall is the overuse of threats, which often lose their impact over time.

Don’t threaten over and over again.

They are just empty words. Actually, maybe don’t threaten, warn, or cajole at all. Instead, consider engaging activities that direct behavior.

Example: We can’t get rhythm sticks until everyone is sitting in their spot.

Replacement Action: Simply give out rhythm sticks, pick a leader, or choose who is “it” by choosing someone sitting in their spot or doing something else that you consider appropriate. Tell the students why that person was chosen. “Here you go, James. You get sticks because I can see you are sitting down and ready to go.”

The Payoff: The class lesson doesn’t bog down, you’ve made it known that sitting in your spot is a requirement for getting an instrument, and you’ve asserted yourself as the one in charge.

The Art of Mindful Communication

I spent a LOT of time thinking about logistics and language. How I wanted them to move around the room and how I’d phrase my directions.

LESS IS MORE! Avoid falling into the trap of excessive chatter. Overexplaining can cloud directives and overwhelm students.

Example: vocal exploration. If you start out saying, “Now we’re going to echo each other…” or “Now I’m going to sing then you be my echo…blah, blah, blah” you’ve said too much.

Replacement: “My turn (point to yourself), your turn.” (point to them) and then immediately bark like a little dog (high) three times. They WILL echo. Then you follow up with “Yoo (so) Hoo (mi)” then bark like a large dog (low), then an up/down swoop, etc. Or for older kids, just start singing that new song you want them to learn.

The Payoff: Better student focus and engagement.

Communicate Through Student Choice

Empowering students and student behavior through choice is a remarkable strategy. Games like “Charlie Over the Ocean” allow leaders to select participants based on desired attributes. This approach cultivates leadership qualities while promoting desired behaviors.

Example: When playing a group “it” game, student chooses whoever they want as the next leader.

Replacement: Let students choose who is following the parameters of the activity. Play games such as Charlie Over the Ocean that have a leader and tell the leader to choose someone who is (whatever you want here) in their assigned spot, sitting cross-legged, singing beautifully, etc.) to be the next leader.

Communicate With Actions

Don’t group negotiate. (similar to repeated threats)

Example: “When everyone is standing still in the circle we can play this game.”

A kindergarten class had a couple of students in a hold-hand circle who continued to yank on the arms of students next to them.

Replacement: I told those unsafe students to step back and sit down while the rest of us played the game. I also told them to watch how safe and kind everyone was to the person they held hands with. After a minute or two I asked the kids who were out if they had learned how to hold hands and they of course said yes and came back into the game.

Learn more about classroom management by checking out “Classroom Management Tips for a Successful Classroom.”

Adapting to Your Audience: Understanding Classroom Dynamics

You can’t discuss any part of classroom management without addressing quality and appropriate lesson planning. One size does not fit all when it comes to classroom dynamics. It’s not always just about effective teacher talk.

You can’t expect kids to be focused and engaged when you are not planning appropriate and quality learning experiences.

Example: Determine the optimal lifespan of activities for specific grade levels and classes. Flexibility is key – adapting your strategies ensures sustained engagement.

For instance, a 6-minute read-aloud may captivate one class, while a 3-minute version is better suited for another. I’ve taken a 6-minute read for a 3-minute class and paraphrased to turn those pages faster to keep their interest.

Pacing & Variety. In general, the younger grades need lots of different activities: sitting still (listening, singing), moderate (body percussion, instrument play, video play along), active movement (stepping, skipping, circle games, etc.)

Harmonizing with the Experts: Learning from Masters of the Craft

Throughout my career, and during transitions to different schools and challenges, I’ve actively sought out and observed exceptional educators who used effective teacher talk. These professionals possessed the knack for balancing authority and approachability. Incorporating their techniques was a deliberate process, as effective teacher talk wasn’t a skill that came naturally to me.

The True Test From the Students: She Doesn’t Play

Students often offer profound insights. When certain teachers were discussed, kids would remark, “She doesn’t play.” This resonated deeply and underscored the essence of effective teacher talk, the learning environment, and the teacher-student relationship – being genuine, caring, and staying true to one’s words.

“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”

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A My Name is Alice – Popular Books, Activities, and Music

Blank Booklets to Create Your Own Verses

This TpT resource includes

  • a presentation with mp3s to learn the song
  • a simple Orff arrangement for xylophone, glockenspiel, and guiro
  • a booklet template for students to create their own verses
Lyric Writing Booklet for A My Name Is Alice Jump Rope Chant and Song
Continue reading “A My Name is Alice – Popular Books, Activities, and Music”

Sing & Move Day Amazing Video Playlist

When I needed to shake it up for myself or my K-5 students, I had “Sing and Move Day.” I alternated sit-down SINGING videos with get up and MOVE videos. It was a great break from the routine and I found that the kids and I both loved (and needed) it.

Pick and choose the videos that are most appropriate for your students.
Disclaimer: You should preview any video before showing it to your students.

List of Videos (A Growing Playlist)

  • Sing: All of You (Encanto), See You Again (Charlie Puth), Happier (Marshmellow), Don’t Give Up On Me (Andy Grammer), See You Again (Wiz Khalifa), How Far I’ll Go (Moana), Can’t Stop the Feeling (Trolls), Into the Unknown (Frozen), Surface Pressure
  • Move: DJ Raphi Old MacDonald, Waka Waka, Cheerleader, Levitating, Mario Freeze Dance (Coach Corey Martin), Dance Monkey, Ghostbusters, Bruno (Encanto), My Own Drum (Vivo), DJ Raphi Follow the Leader, High Hopes, Happy, Move to Jazz, Silent Movement (Mr. DelGaudio), Move to Beat/No Beat, We Will Rock You (body percussion)

If you aren’t sitting in chairs/stools, tap foot on ground or stand up and step in place.

Kids should pedal a pretend personal bicycle at 2:19 where players as a group create the bike.

C, F, and G7 Easy Ukulele Songs

On this page: C, F, and G7 songs
  • Lava, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Surfin’ USA, Johnny B. Goode, This Land Is Your Land


NEW! Blog page with ukulele storage ideas for HANGING, CART, and SHELVING. Also, common hardware and resource needs to get the job done!

Tuner provided by GuitarAPP.


The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Surfin’ USA

Johnny B Goode

This Land Is Your Land

Your next ukulele page: C, F, G7, Am songs with ⬇️

  • Riptide, Stand By Me, Brown-Eyed Girl, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride

Easy Ukulele Songs with G7

Here is the 1 and 2-chord song page!

On this page: a G7 how-to and songs with C/G7
  • C/G7 songs: La Cucaracha, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Hush Little Baby, Iko Iko

A GREAT game for you or to leave for subs!

Blooket Game identifying strings and frets!

Blooket requires no student login. Just click on “Join a Game” and it will take you to the game pin page. Teachers need to create a free account.)

NEW! Blog page with ukulele storage ideas for HANGING, CART, and SHELVING. Also, common hardware and resource needs to get the job done!

Tuner provided by GuitarAPP.

Tutorial for G7-The TRIANGLE!

Moving back and forth from G7!

C and G7 Songs

Your next ukulele page: C, F, and G7 Songs

  • Lava, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Surfin’ USA, Johnny B. Goode, This Land Is Your Land