Acoustics - hearing, listening and learning: Guide

Ann Underwood, Roger Turner, Stuart Whyte, Joy Rosenberg, Pauline Cobbold, Gill Weston | View as single page | Comment/Feedback

Managing Noise: some sound advice

Do you find yourself as a teacher witnessing that at least some of your pupils are not attaining the standards of which they are capable? Is it at least in part due to the difficulty they experience daily of not hearing clearly what is said to them by you or any other person addressing the class? Then you need to take action.

These practical suggestions to manage noise are taken from Stuart Whyte’s article ‘Managing Noise’, published in the BATOD magazine September 2011. Stuart Whyte is a Qualified Teacher of the Deaf and Educational Audiologist. Here he looks at the nature of sound in learning settings and provides some practical suggestions for improving conditions for children and staff affected by noise.

Reducing the impact of noise

Different age groups and activities generate different levels of noise. We know that children are aware of and annoyed by noise that distracts them. Age appropriate strategies can be employed to support children to be more self-aware of noise.

  • Pupil talk is important but do teach children and young people the meaning of different working noise levels. Use recorded sound samples or role-play to model what you mean. For younger children discuss stories such as ‘The Quiet Woman and the Noisy Dog’ by Sue Eves or ‘Hannibal's Noisy Day by Anne Adeney.

  • Define acceptable limits; for example, use ‘mute’, ‘whisper voices’, ‘partner voices’ and ‘group voices’ for working noise ranging from no talking through to conversational level; use ‘playground/break-time voices’ for levels unacceptable in the classroom.

  • Use visual indicators of noise levels such as a ‘noiseometer’ or traffic light system to represent the range. This can be a paper, card or whiteboard versions of ‘classroom management aids’ (or there is even an ‘AudioTools’ sound level meter traffic light app for iPod Touch and the iPhone).

  • Support your spoken instructions with accessible visual cues so pupils can see the steps to completing tasks within the lesson. Have clear systems for pupils to show their understanding and ask for help.

  • Distance is critical; deliver spoken instructions near to a deaf child. Provide good access to lip pattern and facial expression; don’t ‘walk and talk’!

  • Co-ordinate your learning activities if teaching in open-plan areas – don’t start your music lesson if the neighbouring class are reading!

  • Turn off the digital projector or computer(s) when not in use to avoid fan noise and save energy!

  • Close doors or windows as far as possible.

  • Carpets, curtains, soft furnishing, soft covers on tables, fabric on walls, soft fibre display boards, and mobiles or materials hung from the ceiling can help. However, if suspending items, ensure materials are not a fire hazard and not likely to activate the motion sensor of the school alarm system at night!

  • Interference by noise affects working memory. A poor acoustic environment affects pupils in different ways; be aware that verbal tasks like reading and spelling are affected by speech noise (classroom babble), while non-verbal tasks may be more affected by environmental noise.

  • Share good practice with colleagues and talk about noise awareness across the school. Consider establishing 'Quiet Zones' in the building. The NDCS ‘Here to Learn’ DVD includes a section that shows how some simple steps can reduce noise in a classroom.

  • Some children will benefit from personal radio aid systems or soundfield amplification within the classroom. Personal radio aid systems will provide the best signal-to-noise ratio. However, careful thought should be given to the provision and maintenance of such systems. They need to be set up for the amplification needs of individual deaf children and access to a Qualified Teacher of the Deaf or Educational Audiologist is essential.


Classroom acoustics should be considered a critical variable in the educational achievement of children. We know that staff and children experience difficulties in learning settings with excessive noise and reverberation levels, so essential services for deaf children and measures to reduce the risks to health and achievement should be maintained.