If there is anything summer camp should be, it is fun. But nothing kills a fun mood like being shouted at to be quiet, sit still, and pay attention. Yet that was exactly what we expected from our campers at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp — silent, still attention — for emergency situations, announcements, and concerts.
In order to direct the attention of a large group of people we developed a robust toolbox of positive attention getters. They are ways to mobilize young people without saying, “SHHHH!” or requiring the speaker to be louder than 175 campers at once.
I’ve listed my favorites below.
Get their mouths moving…
The easiest way to quiet a group is to actually ask them to be loud together. By having them move their mouths with us, they stopped moving their mouths (talking) with each other. There are a lot of options for mouth moving. We gave campers words to say, chants, cheers, and just random fun sounds to make.
- “When I say _______, you say ______.” (Macaroni/cheese, camp/Bernstein, pizza/party)
- Sizzling. Do “sizzle” (shh, szzz) patterns that students copy back to you. You can make them very complex or very short.
- Vocal warm ups. The more wacky and weird you can make the warm up the better. They love learning to sing in their head voice.
- “And a hush went over the crowd!” “Hush!” Probably my favorite, because it is so simple. Campers love to shout hush, and then are quiet.
- Role calls. Each cabin would come up with a quick response to show they were present at the lineup or meeting. My cabin’s name was Bizet, so I we learned to say the following catch phrases. “Bizet, BAZAHHH!” “Hey Joe are you busy? No we’re Bizet!” “Be the best you can BE! ZET!” Some other funny ones were Barber “Snip, snip,” Bach “To the future!” and Bellini “Balogna!”
- “If you are ready for ___, say WE READY.” “If you are ready for ___, say OH YEAH.”
Get their hands moving…
Another strategy is to have campers move their hands together. This usually grabs the attention of the rest of the group and gets physically energy out.
- “If you can hear me… ________.” (Touch your nose, point to the sky, crouch down to the ground)
- “If you can hear me, clap ____.” (once, twice, three, seven times, etc)
- Clap copy cats. You clap a rhythm and they clap the same rhythm back to you (similar to sizzling).
- A quiet gesture. Have a gesture you always use to quiet down the group. For example, whenever I put a bubble in my mouth, you do too, and therefore stop talking.
- Move your hands in a silly way and they copy (hands up, llama hand, crab hands, turtle hands)
- Just put your hand up. Sometimes you just expect respect, and campers will give it to you. In scenarios where I needed to use a serious tone or needed to communicate something very quickly, I would just put my hand up in their air and wait for everyone to stop talking. Use this sparingly so it has effect.
While you are talking…
Sometimes you will loose campers’ attention while you are talking. These are some strategies to bring their focus back to what you are saying.
- “Oops! I’m missing some eyes.” Wait for campers to look back up at you. You can stare at misbehaving campers until they look at you. They can’t look at each other if they are looking at you!
- Give the group an instruction. Show me two fingers/show me a rock on/show me with your hands what time we need to be lined up, etc. Students will realize they weren’t paying attention when the rest of the group does something and they don’t follow.
- Set up a short, uniform clap. After someone finishes speaking and deserves an applause teach students to do a rollercoaster, a *snap snap sizzle,* just three snaps/claps/pats/golf claps, etc. This will prevent you from loosing campers during transition lag time (such as applause).
- Just go silent, or speak quietly. We all know as musicians that the most effective dynamic is the pianississimo. Use the dynamic in your speech, requiring students to work hard to hear you. When you stop making sound, they will too.
Learning and constantly practicing these attention grabbing techniques at Blue Lake has set me up for success in the classroom. Students are bound to loose focus, especially when the going gets tough and you need them to pay attention most. Try using a few of these attention getters the next time you are in front of a large group of students. Rather than yelling and threatening opt for one of these positive approaches.