Two Words Every Teacher Should Know

There are two simple words every teacher should know. Well, I guess teachers better know hundreds of thousands of words in order to be able to communicate intelligently, but these two little words in particular are very powerful. These words are magical. These words will get your class to be instantly quiet, and they will immediately get the focus back on the teacher, or whomever the focus is supposed to be on. These words require no yelling, and are actually more effective the more quietly they are spoken.

I'll wait.

It's as simple as that. If you are getting ready to teach a lesson, or if you just need to tell your whole group something, you only need those two words. Your students will know that what you are about to say is important and that they need to listen up. They will also know that their talking, being out of their seat, humming, tapping, etc. must stop before the day can continue.

I have been in classrooms where teachers feel they need to yell at and threaten kids to get their students' attention. I have also been in classrooms where the teacher starts talking and half the class isn't listening or paying attention. I can count on one hand the times I've had to raise my voice. I can also say that I make a point to be sure everyone's hands are still and everyone is looking at me before I start talking to my students as a whole group. I learned that lesson the hard way after watching a video of a lesson I taught while student teaching. I was up at the front of the room, completely immersed in the math lesson I was teaching. The lesson went exactly as I had planned, and I was excited to get to view the lesson and show it to my supervisor. Uh, that is until I played it back and watched in at a student siting near the camera who stared at the camera and made faces at it the. whole. time.

I learned to wait and survey the entire class to make sure I had everyone's attention before speaking. All it takes are those two little words.

I'll wait. 

I should also mention that you have to follow through once you say the words. If you say, "I'll wait" and then start talking before everyone is ready, it obviously won't work.

Here are a few variations for different situations.

I'll wait for you to be quiet before I give directions.

I'll wait for everyone to be in their seats before we get started.

Let's wait for everyone to be ready before you begin your presentation.

I just love how simple it is to tell students you'll wait on them. It makes them responsible for their actions. Also, it is a non-humiliating way to get that one student in line who seems to have his or her own agenda. If you keep having to stop and say "I'll wait" for one student, you better believe they'll get the hint. The best part will be that you didn't have to raise your voice or get upset. Also, you never had to call that student by name, which would have either humiliated him or given him the attention he was seeking.

There are so many fantastic ways to get students focused in the classroom. I know there are some awesome Whole Brain Teaching strategies that I can't wait to use. I just thought I'd share what works for me. Leave a comment and let us know what works for you!

On another note, I was interviewed by Teacher Certification Degrees recently, and here is the article!


  1. I use, "I'll wait," all the time! It works so well, and the kids know I mean business. LOL

    my classroom is my runway

  2. It really works, doesn't it? I just visited your blog and I am your newest follower!


  3. I'll wait is extremely effective - and yes, no yelling needed! Sometimes I combine the "I'll wait" with me sitting down on my stool and just looking at them, they SO get it!

  4. I use "I'll wait" all the times. Works like a charm. I will also sit down like Marcy so they get the visual as well as the auditory symbol. They know that if they see me sitting that I'm waiting for all students to pay attention.


  5. I say this all the time! But you're right, it works! It's calm and effective :)

    Fourth Grade Lemonade

  6. I use "I'll wait." ALL THE TIME! Sometimes I wonder if its working.. but your'e right, it is much more powerful than shouting!

  7. I love using those two words. get them every time.

    Do you have some ideas for teaching about exlporers?! I'm a first year teacher for 5th grade and am having a hard time getting my students excited about social studies...which is my FAVORITE!

    please email me at


  8. Yes, combining "I'll wait" with sitting down is super effective!

    Ally, I have actually never taught explorers since we were departmentalized, but I'll try to rack my brain for some ideas!

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  10. Works like a charm! Especially while sitting down with an annoyed look on my face :)

    Fifth in the Middle

  11. Just found your blog and I agree with you totally! This is my first year teaching 5th grade and I've caught myself trying to talk over the students. I've learned the hard way if I just stand there quietly that they get the hint much quicker than if I raise my voice! Thank you for sharing!!

  12. What do you suggest if you try that and the students continue to talk. They don't want to hear what I have to say, so if I wait it just gives them more time to talk to each other.

  13. I use I'll wait and sometimes turn my back to them and talk to the wall and ask why he always listens to my directions. I've also been using a lot of grabbers to get the whole class going... I'll start with red robin the class will respond with yum and know to freeze , something with McDonald's jingle and subway. Just to break up the typical ill wait and have everyone respond and regain their focus.

  14. Diane- Yes, an annoyed look always adds that extra oomph! :)

    Shannon- Fifth graders love to talk, don't they? Sadly, it's almost shocking to them when we don't raise our voice.

    Nicole- I love those tips! I'll have to try those when I get back into the classroom. I especially love the red robin- yum!

    Anonymous- That is a good question. I know it can be so frustrating when the students don't seem to care that you are even standing in front of them trying to teach. I guess at some point you just have to trudge on through, and teach to the ones who do want to listen. Keep your head up! It gets easier! :)

  15. Very nice. I haven't tried with those words (I generally just cough) but yes, nice one.

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  17. I have worked with more affluent populations in which the "I'll wait" can be used somewhat efficiently - to some, it is a public shaming technique meant to call out students for talking, and some students are embarrassed into snapping into line.

    However, I commiserate far more with Anonymous on this one. I work in a turnaround school in its first year (last year it was failing, in the bottom 10% of schools in an urban setting). If you try to give students the "I'll wait," most of what you will get is students who ignore you and keep right on doing what they're doing.

    Furthermore, "I'll wait" sends the wrong message entirely. When you tell students you'll wait, you are telling students who meet your expectations that their learning time is only as important as talking students will allow it to be. I agree, you must set the tone that you will not talk over your students, which I do not, but I do not tell students that I will wait for them, because there is no time to waste in my classroom. I don't allow students choosing to talk to hijack the learning of other students. In the more rare cases when most of the class is talking will I tell them that I will wait for them to quiet down - but ONLY when their leisure time is being lost, not their learning time (before recess, or at dismissal).

    I write this because as someone who struggled with this in my early days and received messages like "hang in there," I thought that there must be strategies; hope is not a strategy. Kids respond to consequences: whatever your school's approved behavior modifications are. Be it a clip chart, or a demerit system (my school uses the latter), students must be held accountable for their behavior, both positive and negative.

    As a first warning for talking out of turn, I might pause and give a look (only if it is not very public, otherwise I must send a message to the others). For the second, or a very public first, the warning and a stern look is given. Then the consequence in the form of a demerit. No yelling is involved - the consequence speaks for itself. Anything after that, it is second demerit (no more warnings), then a clear message that the student must leave the room if the talking continues - either to another classroom ("buddy room") to calm down, or to the dean's office.

    If you are consistent in your approach, and students know what will come next, then they'll understand and fall in line. The students that are frequently sent out of my room or have to visit the dean are students who visit me often and ask me to have lunch with them - we have no animosity. That is because they know what I expect and know that they've made choices - I make it clear that I am there for their success and that I do not issue consequences because I am angry, but because the rules are the rules and they made a choice to break them.

    1. I'm afraid you may have misunderstood the point of this post. Obviously, a teacher should have a behavior plan in place for his or her class. This strategy is to be used to get the attention of the whole class before you give instructions or begin teaching a lesson. This is a first line of defense, similar to ringing a bell or flipping the lights on and off. Also, I have worked with many diverse populations. Students certainly do not have to be "affluent" to respond to this strategy. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  18. ***NOTE:For the sake of students with epilepsy, PLEASE DO NOT flip lights on and off to get students' attention. This can and has triggered the onset of seizures. Onward.

    I am pleased that the strategy works for you, and that as evidenced by posts here, that others have found success using it, too.

    My next steps to take were a response to Anonymous, who seemed to be frustrated that the "I'll wait" gives her students more time to talk to each other. No guidelines were given, so clearly what is "obvious" to you, is not to him/her. As I wrote, I too was perplexed when I went looking for options when I was new to teaching, only to find comments like, "trudge on through."

    Your comment is well taken on my use of the word affluent. To suggest that socioeconomic level determines receptivity to a certain strategy is specious, and I thank you for pointing that out.

    None of this, however, negates what I previously wrote. Specifically what I have quoted below.

    "I'll wait" sends the wrong message entirely. When you tell students you'll wait, you are telling students who meet your expectations that their learning time is only as important as talking students will allow it to be. I agree, you must set the tone that you will not talk over your students, which I do not, but I do not tell students that I will wait for them, because there is no time to waste in my classroom.

  19. There is no time to waste in my classroom either. This strategy works for me. That's fine that you don't find value in it. To each their own. Have a great day.


  20. What a great idea! Your ideas are incredible! If you have a minute, please check out my blog - from one fifth grade teacher to another. :)


  21. I have always used those two words very successfully in my class with my students refocusing very quickly.