Having trouble getting just one child to quiet down or clean up? Imagine wrangling 20. These classroom tricks will keep kids on track.

Illustration of a mother, a teacher, and children
Credit: Jen Corace

The advice: “If you want kids to listen, lower your voice instead of raising it. This forces kids to focus. Whisper, ‘If you can hear me, touch your nose.’ After a little while, everyone does it.”
Mary Satchwell

Try it at home: Need to corral a bunch of six-year-olds at a birthday party? Whisper, “If you want cake, hop on one foot.” Goofy jumping is bound to be contagious.

The advice: “If students don’t like an activity, I pull out my timer and give them exactly one minute to complain. Once the timer dings, it’s time to get to work.”
Melissa Louise Page

Try it at home: You can’t set a timer every time your child starts a sentence with “I don’t wanna.” But allowing one 60-second over-the-top display of whining about feeding the cat could buy you a drama-free afternoon.

The advice: “Kids who don’t write over school breaks lose their sharpness by the time they get back. Encourage them to write at least a sentence every day.”
Claire Webb

Try it at home: If you have a reluctant writer, help her out by acting as a pen pal of sorts. Write notes to each other, leaving them on pillows or taped to the bathroom mirror.

The advice: “We have a Desk Fairy who checks the kids’ desks while they are in another class or at recess. She leaves stickers or a prize if their desks are neat. They never know when she’ll show up, so they have to be organized at all times.”
Elizabeth Mazzurco
Paramus, New Jersey

Try it at home: Make-Your-Bed Fairy, anyone?

The advice: “To get students to calm down and refocus after lunch, I dim the classroom lights, which does the trick.”
Amber Koonce
Charleston, South Carolina

Try it at home: Are the kids wired this evening? Try eating dinner by candlelight, or reach for the dimmer switch.

The advice: “Kids are less likely to complain if they feel in control, so I offer them choices where all outcomes are acceptable to me.”
Sara Lynne Schiwal
New York City

Try it at home: Scrambled eggs or cereal? Leggings or jeans? Just make sure there aren’t so many choices that you’re late for school because Miss Picky is still debating.

The advice: “Young children are often more visual, rather than auditory, learners. If you want them to pick up toys, label shelves with the name of the object and a picture.”
Theresa McGee
Oakland Park, Illinois

Try it at home: Snap a picture of blocks or dolls and tape it to the front of the storage box where those things belong. Or if your child loves to draw, have her draw pictures of her toys.

The advice: “When the floor is a mess after arts and crafts, I challenge students to locate the ‘magic scrap,’ which could be anything from a red crayon to a piece of paper. Students race to clean up in the hopes that they’ll be the one to pick up the magical piece. Also, no one can ask, ‘Is this it?’ during the process, because then the magic wears off. When the floor is clean, I announce the King or Queen of Scraps.”
Susan Kuntz
Oakwood, Ohio

Try it at home: Watch kids scurry about to be the one who finds— and puts away—a magic item in the playroom. The winner chooses what’s for dinner.

The advice: “Schedule bath time for toys. We put all the blocks and plastic toys into buckets with soapy water and ‘bathe’ them. It makes cleanup easy and fun.”
Shellia Nash
Maryville, Tennessee

Try it at home: He wants to keep playing when bath time is over? Let him! Out comes the kid, in go the toys (and maybe new water).

The advice: “It is invaluable to have a child look at you when you tell her something important. I will even say, ‘Look at my mouth, because I need to say something you must hear.’ This helps them pay attention.”
Barbara Porter
Jackson, Mississippi

Try it at home: If “Look at me when I’m speaking to you” falls on deaf ears, get creative. Try, “Find a freckle on the tip of my nose” or “Let’s sit and put our heads together while we talk.”

The advice: “To keep things on a positive note in class, I keep a ‘marble jar’ on my desk. When students are quiet and on task, I drop a marble in the jar without saying anything—the sound of the marbles is a great attention-getter. Once the jar is filled, our class earns a popcorn party.”
Sinead Ochinero
San Jose, California

Try it at home: “Catch” your kids behaving well by walking over and placing a sticker on their hands when they are playing peacefully. They then move freshly earned stickers to a chart taped to the refrigerator. After they’ve earned 20, break out the ice cream.