They All Talk At Once!

I received an e-mail from a catechist named Betty who mentions a discipline problem she faces in her sessions. Here’s her e-mail, followed by my response.

I am a volunteer religious education teacher in a small parish. I teach the 9th and 10th grades as one class of 13 students. They are a great group of teens. I find it quite challenging but very rewarding. Challenging may be somewhat of an understatement at times.  As we are trying to have discussions or as I am asking questions, they all talk at once. I have tried several different ways to get their attention…and keep it…unsuccessfully. Four years ago, I also taught a 9th grade class of 10 students that did the same thing.

Now, I have just read your article “Ten Tips for Maintaining Discipline” and it offers some great tips, especially when you have one or two students that act out.  But, can you offer any suggestions to deal with the situation described above? Thank you in advance for taking the time for my question.
God Bless,
*  *  *
Thanks so much for your wonderful e-mail. You are indeed quite blessed with your own God-given talents and dedication! I understand the challenge you are talking about…I deal with it all the time. The kids tend to be very impulsive and undisciplined and just shout things out. Here’s what I suggest:


  • Preface your questions with, “someone raise your hand and tell me…” or “who can raise their hand and tell me….”  This acts as a constant reminder that responses should be preceeded by a raised hand!
  • As they begin to talk at the same time, calmly say, “Can I see a hand?”  or “I don’t see any hands raised!”
  • Before beginning a discussion, invite the class to spend 1 minute in silent prayer, asking God to help them focus and to be respectful of others.
  • Preface some of your questions with a student’s name, in essence, calling on someone before they raise a hand. For example, “Betty, what would you say is…?”
  • If that student has difficulty answering, you can follow up with “who can raise their hand and help Betty out?”
  • It’s helpful to ask the students at the beginning of the year, “For our discussions to be successful, what rules would you suggest?” Typically, they will suggest that they should raise their hands and be respectful. Then, you can post these few rules and remind them that they are THEIR rules. When they break them you can remind them that they are not following their own rules.


I hope these few suggestions are helpful, Betty. The problem almost never goes away but it can become more manageable with diligent efforts. Let me know how things go as time moves on.
Thanks again and best wishes for a great year!
About Joe Paprocki 2746 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

2 Comments on They All Talk At Once!

  1. Betty, I have been successful with the “talking ball” which is a nerf ball or one of those “water bomb balls’ (but without the water). Whoever has the ball can talk. For example, they must raise their hands to get the toss it to a young person. After that person speaks, they toss the ball back to you. It is a fun way to get them “trained” to speak in turn. Also, it is less “class roomish” but maintains order!
    Good luck!

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