Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Gaining the attention of a large group

What is the problem?
One of the most common problems in using small group activities within a large group, such as paired chats in a large plenary session, is making the transition from a loud, busy chatter — that only minutes before you went to some lengths to set up — back to quiet without losing attention to the overall task.

Standard methods are calling loudly, clapping hands and tapping the microphone. If students are still chattering in groups and some are still completing a task or finishing a discussion point these tend to have to be repeated which can be annoying to you and to those who have started paying attention already.

It is less disruptive to provide a more continuous flow if possible. Here’s one suggestion.

1  Make it obvious in your movement that things are starting again from the front (stand, go to the middle/front of the stage, switch on projector, etc).

2  Begin talking very quietly to the people in the middle of the front row. As you attract attention gradually raise your voice. Around the room people will notice that something is happening and aid you in getting the group’s attention. It doesn’t matter what you say as long as you don’t stop until everyone is listening.

For example,

“Well it’s time to start again but we need to have everyone finished with their chat and cards handed in and some people here at the front have noticed that I’ve started to talk and are ready but I need to raise my voice a bit so that some more of the people in the middle notice that we’re about to start and some are ready but I can see that person over there with their back to me is very busy finishing off the discussion but gradually he’ll realise that things are getting quieter and notice that I’m talking and we’ll be able to get on with the next part of the session but there are still some people over there who are so busy that they still haven’t noticed that we’re getting underway again, etc, etc…”

3  As soon as you have quiet and attention, stop speaking and move on.

This method does allow people who desperately feel they need to finish making their current small group discussion point to do so without harsh interruption. It also gives those who have finished and are ready to go on something to amuse them.