7 Ways to Keep Control of a Sunday School Class, Club, or Youth Group | Teach 4 the Heart

7 Ways to Keep Control of a Sunday School Class, Club, or Youth Group

Managing your class at school is one thing, but keeping control of a less-structured class like Sunday school, a club, or a youth group is a completely different matter.

In school you can be super structured and controlled, and you can give consequences when needed. But in a church or club atmosphere, that’s not normally the way you want to go. Typically the goal is to be more laid-back and informal. And you probably don’t want to come down strong on a kid unless things are really getting out of hand.

This presents a unique challenge. One I experienced again first-hand a couple days ago.it's tough to keep control of an informal group like a Sunday School, club, or youth group. But it can be done!

This Is Embarrassing.

Our church has a Wednesday-night program for kids called Glory Stars, and my husband and I teach 6th grade. Normally I just have a handful of girls in my class, but due to a different schedule and a larger-than-normal turnout, I found myself standing in front of a mixed class of about 13 on this particular evening.

And they were hyper. To be fair, I had wound them up with a silly activity. But now they were just not listening. Okay, I’m being kind to myself – they were pretty much out of control. My husband was even mouthing to me from the back row, “You’re losing control.”

I know, honey. I know. This is pretty embarrassing. I’m always writing to all these teachers about classroom management & I am definitely not managing this very well right now.

Now if you have a strong, booming voice that commands authority (like my husband does), you can just yell “Quiet!” and you’re pretty much good to go. But I do not have that voice – and that’s not really my style anyhow.

So what do we do in these situations? As you can tell, I’m no expert. But I have picked up a few ideas over the years – ideas I’d better keep in mind next time the boys crash my class.

How to Keep Control of an Informal Class

  1. Use class response sayings. I haven’t pulled these out yet with the 6th graders because I never thought I needed them till the other night. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is something we should teach them preemptively – then they are used to them when we do need to get their attention quickly. In case you’re not familiar, you teach your kids to respond to a prompt. For example, if you say “1-2-3” you teach your students to respond with “eyes on me.” The fact that they have to say “eyes on me” automatically helps them stop their own conversations and focus on you. Or, you can use a clapping pattern where when you clap twice they clap 3 times in response. It doesn’t really matter what the pattern is (as long as it’s easy to remember). The key is that you’ve got to practice it at least 3-5 times with the kids and then continue to practice and review periodically. If you do this right, though, you can quiet a full classroom of kids in about 10 seconds – without yelling.
     
  2. Have a talk with the kids. Sometimes you’ve just gotta’ lay the cards on the table. If they’re getting out of control, tell them that. Get their attention and say something like, “I want this to be a fun time, but you guys are getting out of control. When I’m talking you need to listen. Thank you.”
     
  3. Drop their names. After you regain their attention, you want to work a little harder at keeping it. So if someone’s starting to disrupt things, just drop their name as you’re talking. If that doesn’t work, stop talking, look at them, and say their name. You can even stare at them for a little bit after they look up if you want. They’ll normally get the idea. If they respond with a “What!?” say something calm like, “I’m trying to teach right now, so please be respectful. Thanks.”
     
  4. Move a disruptive kid. If a kid is not responding to your gentle correction, don’t be afraid to move him. Simply tell him to move to the back row. If he tries to argue just calmly say, “Yes, please move now. Thank you.” Then stop and wait for him to move.
     
  5. Use your workers. If you have other workers or helpers in your class, talk to them and tell them how they can help you. For example, ask them to sit with the kids so that they can help you get control when needed. It’s also a great idea to discuss with them how you want the students to behave and when you want them to step in and correct a student.
     
  6. Give the “What were you thinking?” look. This is a great way to subtly correct a kid without having to say anything and without having to delve into the details of the situation. If it looks like something questionable is going on, just give the kid(s) a half-confused look with a shake of the head that says, “what were you thinking?” That way they know that you know. And that’s often enough.
     
  7. Don’t forget all the things that work in your classroom. Even though the class is less structured, there are a lot of strategies that do carry over. So continue to develop relationships with your students. Get the parents involved when needed. Deal with problems while they’re still small. And when a problem is persisting, talk honestly with the kid to deal with the root of the problem not just the surface issue.

I’d love to hear your ideas. What else helps you keep control of a less-formal class?

Photo by Clearwater Public Library System Photos

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Linda Kardamis

I believe that when God calls us to teach, He promises the strength & wisdom to do it well. All we need to do is keep learning, growing, and depending on Him. I'm here to provide practical advice and Biblical encouragement so you'll have the confidence and perspective to not only inspire your students but reach their hearts as well.

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Kathy Kennedy - November 20, 2014

Thank you for this timely post. At school I teach middle school students, but I have been subbing for the third grade teacher on Sunday mornings. I will put some of these into practice this coming weekend 🙂

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Rachel - July 1, 2015

Thanks for these ideas. We have a small but growing church where we have an unusually large amount of kids. It is hard to keep control with so many in a small area. We have lots of helpers but I have found that finding teachers who have good classroom management is much harder. It’s been difficult for me to figure out how to teach it. Thanks for putting these down on paper!

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Dorothy Skoland - July 31, 2015

I have used the hand in the air signal, as well as, the auditory cues. One of my favorites is “Stop! Hands in the Air!” That seems to arrest their attention the best. Also, there is an understanding that I have built in some “turn and talk” time, but that there is also “Teacher time” They know we will not get to the fun stuff if they take my teacher time. So,it’s, “Hands, eyes and ears—teacher time.”
My tough crowd is the 6-8th graders. We play this game ( I modified it somewhat) called “Hot Seat (Scripture Lady.com). I used it to break up the lesson, sometimes transitions, sometimes to interrupt before they get bored. We use an app for drawing names from a bag and an app for a spinner. The first week 2 or my 3 tough guys were in the hot seat. Imagine being able to tell their parents that they were in the hot seat and they should ask their son about it. The son knowing that they were not in trouble (bragging rights do go a long way) were on my team now.

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Trena - August 2, 2015

I turn the lights off and on it seems to get their eyes and ears back on me.

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Sherri Wasson - August 20, 2015

The local public school uses the peace sign to get everyone quieted down, so we modified what the kids do and made it more meaningful by pointing our finger into the air to 1) remind others that Jesus is watching and 2) those choosing to be quiet and obey are also choosing to put Jesus first. It a great way to remind everyone what’s really important.

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    Christi Green - August 17, 2018

    Great Idea!

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    Ms. V - October 23, 2018

    Love it!

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Lauren - December 2, 2015

Great ideas, i teach sunday school and my way to get the childrens attention is to get them to say a sentence. I normally say ” when im talking” and the kids say ” no one is talking”. You can even give them a silent que, like start patting your head.

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    Anonymous - February 29, 2016

    Good, I’ll try the first method

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Gina - March 22, 2016

I say attitude check and the students standup and say Praise the Lord. Works like a charm.

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Maria - April 3, 2016

I have a SS class full of 8 year old boys, some with a reputation for rowdiness. In addition to the tactics above, it helps to be well prepared with your lessons so you aren’t fumbling around and losing attention. If only one child is disruptive, then I call on the child to answer or act out or someway actively participate in the lesson. It gets them back on the right track.

And as a parent when we had a report of our own child being disruptive, we took it very seriously and followed up to be sure the behavior had changed. Thank you for sharing!

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Vanessa Leggett - April 29, 2016

Enjoyed the reader! My18 year old has recently accepted the call to youth Ministry. He runs an activity night with youth 4-13. He bought a light up stick from the $ Tree and calls it, The Talking Stick. Only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk.

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Anonymous - October 24, 2016

I teach a group of preteens and teenagers. One of my strategies is to say, “If you can hear what I’m saying, do what I’m doing!” And I’ll usually just clap a lot or do something silly! It usually works quite well to regain their attention. It’s definitely tough at times to draw that line where you go from formal to informal, because you still have to stay somewhat structured!

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Abby Johnson - June 26, 2017

We just started a new program called Elevate at our church and our class is large with the grades ranging from 1st-6th grade. The best way I have been able to grab their attention is I say Macaroni and cheese and the kids say everybody freeze, or hands on top everybody stop. They really like this. Also I have handed out yellow tickets for those who will not comply with the rules and had several warnings. If they receive 4 yellow tickets a semester they loose game time.

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JoAnn - May 30, 2018

I have to large group of kids that don’t get discipline at home. The parents don’t come to church with most of them.
It’s been tough but we have come a long ways.
First to get their attention I say hand up, over mouth. That means they point one finger toward Jesus and put one finger over lips. During teaching time i have a ball I my hand. That’s our talking ball, you have to be holding the ball to talk. SometimesI want them interacting during class but not everyone at once. So if I ask them something and or they have something to say about the lesson they must have the ball I hand.
Then I have a clothesline hung up. First part is go, then middle is Caution and the end is Stop. They all made butterflies on a clothes line and if they get out of line they get a warning, clothes pin gets moved to caution, if the get in trouble again I move their pin to stop and they loose the treat for the day. Of course i always talk to them. Ir habe a helper do it. And to be honest i always tell them the first time, i don’t want to have to move a clothes pin so they get 2 warnings.
I do think we have to remember kids are different and some are more active, etc. So I use helpers setting beside some that I know need extra attention. I also separate kids that pair up and disrupt the class. And they know if I have to spend extra time teaching they are losing fun time. I remind them of that if I need to. But like I said in the beginning, I have kids from broken homes, parents on drugs, some of tgem was born on drugs, parents in prison and worse. So i always remember they really need love. I do everything in a respectful manner. I always say thank you, please, etc.
Please pray for my Children’ s Ministry.

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    Anonymous - September 5, 2018

    May GOD Bless the children, their Family and you.

    Reply
Ms. V - October 23, 2018

I teach Discovery Time in a public school- its like Sunday school, for 1/2 an hour, once a week. It is a lot of fun but challenging as well.
The grade 5 class I teach is pretty fun and controllable, but the grade 6 class is crazy! So thank you for this post. I will be using some of these suggestions.
One that I do is: At the beginning of class the ‘team’ gets 3 points, with each warning they lose one. Once they are gone, they are gone. No getting them back! If they keep all 3 points by the end of class, they get a little treat. If they don’t have them all they don’t get anything that class but all the points that are left over get recorded and once they have 10, they get a big treat. Like ice cream, or cake, etc.
It works very well in teaching them to work as a team, and think before you do/say something. My kids hate losing points! They are always whispering “shhh! We’ll lose a point!”
Thank you again and God bless you all!

<3 <3 <3

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