5 options for non-verbal cues to use in the classroom

effective classroom management strategies

In Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, she mentions a motto she and Barrack used when dealing with the low acts of the opposition: “When they go low, we go high.”

When it comes to noise in the classroom however, I suggest you reverse this: “When they go high, you go low.”

When your class’s noise level creeps up to an unacceptable level, rather than adding to the noise by calling out over the top of it all, I recommend implementing a non-verbal cue instead.

Non-verbal cues / attention grabbers are a way of getting your students’ attention without using your own voice. They’re a quick, clear and easy way to get your students’ attention in a way that doesn’t add to the noise level or strain your precious teacher voice.

Non-verbal cues are especially useful in the literacy classroom where your students may be focused on their reading or writing or engaged in a short turn and talk discussion and you need to grab their attention in a fast and effective way (without shouting out over the top of them).

Here are 5 common non-verbal cues (in no particular order) that you can use in your literacy classroom.

 1. Hand Bell

Non-verbal cue n the classroom

How it works: You pick the bell up and give it a short ring to get your students’ attention.

Pros: Distinct sound that works well to grab attention. Easy to use.

Cons: Can be too loud for open plan classrooms. Less useful than other options when you’re on one side of the room and the bell is on the other side. If your nephew hides your bell over the holidays it can be hard to quickly source another one…

Where to buy: Catering shops, some party supply places and some music stores.

2. Doorbell Chime

classroom management staretgy non-verbal cue

How it works: The chime generally comes in two parts: the ringer button and the chime speaker. The speaker generally sits at the front of the classroom whilst the ringer button can be attached to your teacher lanyard to remain within arm’s reach at all times.

Pros: The button is portable so can be pressed wherever you are in the room. Depending on the type of doorbell chime you purchase the chime sound may be able to changed and the volume altered.

Cons: The button is portable so can be lost if you put it down. Some of the chimes can be a bit long.

Where to buy: Bunnings or other hardware store.


3. Musical instrument (e.g. Triangle or chimes)

Non-verbal classroom cue. Behaviour management

How it works: The triangle and striker remain within arm’s reach (or the triangle is fixed to a point in the room) and you sue the striker to create a chime when you want the students’ attention.

Pros: The sound of the triangle is quite gentle and should be heard through loud classroom noise.

Cons: If the triangle isn’t fixed to a point in the room the device requires two hands to use- this can sometimes be problematic. Not as portable as other options.

Where to buy:

4. Sound/singing bowl

How it works: The sound/singing bowl is generally placed at the front of the classroom, and you or the students run the striker around the rim to create the sound.

Pros: The sound produced by these is quite soothing (they are used as meditation bowls in Tibet) so they can gentler on the ear than some of the other options.

Cons: Not as quick and easy to use as other options. Not portable.

Where to buy: Shops that sell meditation and Buddhist items (including that Ishka shop that seems to have a permanent 50% off sale for ‘this month only’).

5. Clapping Sequences

How it works: You clap a sequence with your hands (e.g. clap, clap, pause, clap, clap) and the students stop what they’re doing to repeat it back to you. You can keep clapping patterns until you have everyone’s attention.

Pros: 100% portable- you can use this inside, outside and upside down. It can be used across the school. Requires no purchases. Is quick and easy to use and implement. It serves two purposes- you get all students’ attention AND you remove everything from their hands while you’re doing it.

Cons: Requires you to have two free hands.

There are plenty more non-verbal cue options than what I’ve presented here- I just wanted to list 5 that are particularly useful in a situation when your students aren’t likely to be looking at you (e.g. turn and talk).

Some tips for using non-verbal cues in your classroom

  • The whole point of these cues is that they are NON-verbal. This means you should resist the urge to follow up your clapping sequence with a voice command such as ‘eyes this way please.’
  • When you first introduce the cue to your students, clearly state your expectations for what the cue means- is it eyes this way? Stop what you’re doing? Turn and face the front? Nothing in your hands?
  • Make a point of using the cue more frequently at first- to help your students get used to the cue and its follow-up expectations.
  • Insist on your students following your stated expectations. If ringing your bell means ‘eyes this way’ don’t give your next instruction until you have all ‘eyes this way’. The students will quickly pick up on any sloppy teacher follow-through and the cue will lose its potency.
  • If your students don’t respond to the cue the first time, you may need to use it again. Don’t underestimate the power of a silent pause (and good old teacher glare) to help encourage full compliance with your expectations. 😊

The use of non-verbal cues such as the ones I’ve presented here can contribute to a positive, supportive and smoothly run literacy classroom, with less time wasted on transitions and behaviour management issues.

Investing time in implementing effective classroom management techniques like this will pay dividends when you and your students are better able to engage in deep and rich literacy discussions and work in the future.

Do you use any non-verbal cues in your classroom? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook group.

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5 thoughts on “5 options for non-verbal cues to use in the classroom”

  1. Not quite a NVC …. As it requires voice but I often use a short chant to which students respond or those who hear it which then alerts other students . Does not need to be loud just clear .
    Eg ‘one two three four five’ to which students respond ‘once I caught a fish alive ‘ . If necessary the next or following lines can be continued until all children listening. There are many chants that can be used including various cultural chants, calls and responses. This can be a class decision ( agency) and research various chants calls etc Students can also take the lead and start the call.

  2. A rain stick is soothing and can be heard over classroom excitement. It takes about 5-10 seconds once turned, with the sound becoming softer as time passes. No need to use a voice at all. It can be left at the front of the room for either student or teacher to turn, gaining the attention of others in a calm and quiet way. It’s very effective.


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