VOICE VOLUME AND TONE OF VOICE
Understanding and using the appropriate voice volume and tone, for a given situation, is an essential social skill. Voice volume refers to how loud or soft a speaker’s voice level is. Voice tone, refers to how your voice is heard and the meaning that is interpreted from others, beyond just the spoken word.
Using the appropriate volume and tone, can make a big difference in how someone is perceived by others. It can significantly affect social relationships such as friendships, student to teacher relationships and even casual exchange between people we interact with every day.
When Teaching Children About Voice Volume – Focus On Three Things:
- Don’t be too loud for the given situation
- Don’t be too quiet for the given situation
- Vary your volume (within an appropriate range) for the given situation
Many teachers have a voice volume scale posted somewhere in their classroom. Do you?
You can grab any or all of these handy scales by filling out the form below and joining my FREE club, The Teacher’s Lounge. The first voice volume scale is open for you and/or your students to write in your own labels, pictures or color in. The second scale is great for older students. The third was made with younger kiddos in mind. I sure hope you can use them!
But wait! Don’t skip a step!
While many teachers have a voice volume scale posted in their classroom, the best results will come when the teacher takes the time to teach the students explicitly what the scale means, what each voice volume means and when would be expected times to use each one.
And then….to practice!
You see; it is all too common that we expect our students to know how to do something, once we have given them some directions and even a good explanation. But the truth is there is one more step that we frequently leave out, practice.
Just like any skill, social skills require practice. They are not acquired simply by being told to do it.
Think about it this way, if you only needed to tell your students what to do, you could tell them how to do multiplication one time and they would be all set! No practice sheets, no “mad minutes”, no homework!
Unfortunately, we all know it just doesn’t work that way. To learn a new skill, to do it well, we need practice.
So how do I provide my students with practice using different voice volumes?
I’m glad you asked!
1. Explain & Model: As you explain the voice volume scale, model each level. Yes, each level, even the loudest one.Kids need to hear it to truly know what you are talking about. I f we think that others know what we mean simply by explaining it, we will have several kids (at least) who have a different interpretation of what we said.
This is especially true if you have special education students in your classroom but also consider different ethnic populations as well. “Loud” can mean very different things to different people so you need to be very clear, make no assumptions.
If you’re worried about being too loud, you can do this outside, or just shut your doors and go for it! Trust Me! Your students will love it. Just make sure you put specific parameters around how many times they can use the loudest (screaming/yelling) voice. Be aware of your students and whether or not you have one (or more) who can not handle this due to challenges with self regulation and may need to get this practice in a separate location. Likewise, if you have any students who are very sensitive to loud noises, they may need an accommodation to participate in this activity. They may need to cover their ears or wear headphones, or stand in the hallway during the loud voice level example. Just make that quick adjustment and you are good to go!
2. Give Specific Examples: While there are many universally held beliefs about voice volume levels, i.e. quiet in the library, noisy at recess, etc., there can also be many differences school-to-school and teacher-to-teacher. So make sure your students know what your expectations are in your classroom and school. While going through the voice volume scale, give examples of environments where each level of volume is appropriate. Try to list every possible environment in your school. Don’t forget things like, in the bathroom, or during morning announcements.
3. Tell Them WHY: Many times we tell our students what to do, but we do not tell them why they need to do it. We may assume they should know why, or we may believe that students should do what we tell them to do, simply because we are the authority figure. While that would be nice, it doesn’t usually work out well and is not helpful for students outside of the general population who need more explicit teaching for even the smallest of skills to make sense to them. Students learn more and retain more when they know why they doing what they are doing.
4. Exceptions To The Rule: Oh those darn excceptions to the rule! They are everywhere and really trick up our special education students in particular. While it is great to teach the voice volume scale, to practice the voice volume levels and to discuss specific environments and scenarios for using each volume level, there are always going to be exceptions.
For example, while it is acceptable to be noisy during recess, that expectation would change if you were playing tag with your friend and they fell and were hurt. You would no longer speak to them in a loud voice. You would need to change your volume, to lower it and to sound sympathetic and caring. Or, while you are normally expected to be quiet in the library, if someone suddenly started doing something dangerous, it would be ok and expected for you to use a loud voice to get the teacher’s attention.
These scenarios can be a bit tricky to go over, especially since you do not want to alarm children, but if you know your environment and your student population, you can come up with some of the most likely scenarios to go over with your class.
Some common exceptions to the rule are:
- Safety: for yourself or another,
- Health: feel sick or bathroom emergency
- Special Events/Circumstances: a loud presentation in your classroom such as African drummers
Why Appropriate Voice Volume Is Important When Talking With Others
To make others around us feel comfortable, in most circumstances, we want to avoid the extremes of being too loud or too soft, while also varying our volume within an acceptable middle range. We don’t want to sound like a robot!
People use voice volume to make a variety of judgments about a speaker.
Softer speakers are sometimes judged as meek or unconfident, which may lead to lowered expectations or less perceived credibility. Loud speakers may be seen as overbearing or annoying, which can lead people to disengage from the speaker and message.
How Using Appropriate Voice Volume Helps Build/Maintain Friendships
Voice volume is a critical aspect of social interaction. We all know a child who talks too loudly during interactions, their voice overpowering the conversation and negatively affecting their peer interactions.
Likewise, we also know the child who doesn’t speak loud enough for their opinions and thoughts to be heard by others, affecting their ability to maintain peer interactions and social status.
Learning how to use the expected voice volume, at the expected time, helps children be more empathetic (loud speakers) and more confident (soft speakers) and supports their social relationships by allowing their peers to feel comfortable around them and see them as a valuable part of the group.
Ok, so now we know all about the importance of voice volume and how and why to address it. But what about it’s cleaver and often troublesome sidekick, Tone of Voice!
Understanding Tone Of Voice
Tone of Voice refers to the emotion that you express while speaking, as well as the emphasis that you place on your words.
Based on how we say something — our inflection or emphasis on certain words — our body language and facial expressions; our tone conveys our attitude, whether we are sending a message of humor, anger, sarcasm, jealousy, sincerity, etc.
We all recognize that communication skills are critical to how effective we are in our professional and personal lives, and how these skills assist children in making and maintaining strong relationships with peers.
Our focus tends to be more heavily on voice volume, than on voice tone. Yet, our tone of voice can sometimes deliver a stronger message than the words we say. Using the “wrong” or unwelcomed tone of voice can offend, confuse, or even anger others. Many times we don’t even realise we are doing it!
Children especially, tend to be unaware of the emotional message that they are sending with their tone of voice. For children with social challenges or disabilities, this can be even more pronounced.
This can happen when:
- We assume others know and understand what we are thinking and feeling
- We lack awareness of the emotional message we are sending
- We intentionally send an emotional message that we, perhaps, shouldn’t
How Can We Help Our Students Use A Socially Appropriate Tone Of Voice?
Explain, Model, And Practice!
Many students may have no idea what they sound like. They may be thoroughly confused about why their conversational partners are getting confused, annoyed or angry with them.
3 Ways To Teach And Practice Tone Of Voice
- Define It: Tell your students what tone of voice means
- Model It: Model a variety of tones and have your students do it too
- Explain It: Tell your students why their tone of voice matters and why they need to be cognisant of whether or not they are using the tone they intend
A fun way to practice using different tone of voice styles is to have students say the same sentence, but using a different emotion. Some fun ones to try are:
- I have homework tonight [angry] ( Emotional Message = I don’t like homework at all!)
- I have homework tonight [surprised] (Emotional Message = I didn’t expect to have homework tonight)
- I have homework tonight [bored] (Emotional Message = I don’t want to do my homework, it’s not fun)
Next, have your students practice emphasizing different words. Can they tell the difference in meaning?
- I LOVE school (meaning = the person really does love school)
- I love school (meaning = the person is suggesting that they love school and the listener does not)
- I love SCHOOL (meaning = the person speaking loves school but not other things like homework, getting up early, etc. )
How Will Working On Tone Of Voice Help Friendships?
Sending the intended message will help children to make and maintain friendships and relationships with others. It will also help students to be better able to work together in groups, completing group assignments and projects. Sending the intended emotional message helps to decrease confusion and misinterpretations in social situations.
What If The Message Being Sent is Inappropriate Or Hurtful?
Some children need to work on adjusting their tone of voice so that they do not send the emotional message they are feeling. A lot of our “black and white” thinkers believe that they should “tell the truth” all of the time.
But more socially sophisticated children understand that there are times when we should refrain from verbalizing our true feelings (keep them in our thought bubble), in order to be polite and/or respectful to others.
When teaching children about this concept, I give the following guidelines:
Only do this when:
- The truth would hurt someone’s feelings unnecessarily (i.e. telling someone you don’t like their new haircut)
- The truth would be rude or disrespectful (i.e. telling someone they have really bad breath)
- The truth would make a bad situation worse (i.e. telling someone who is already upset and having a tantrum that they look like a baby)
Never do this if:
- It would put you in a dangerous or very uncomfortable situation (i.e. a classmate tells you that you should ride your bike without a helmet)
- It would put someone else in a dangerous or very uncomfortable situation (i.e. a classmate tells you that she is going to trip another student when they walk by her desk)
- It would go against a firm rule of the school, your family or your religious beliefs (i.e. a classmate asks you if you think what he wrote on the bathroom wall is funny)
Helping your students to understand and use appropriate voice volume and tone of voice is a very important social skill that will help them in school and in their lives beyond school. The benefits are well worth the time it takes to teach. I hope the suggestions I gave you here are helpful.
If you would like to have a done for you set of activities to teach these important skills, you can take a look at my Voice Volume & Tone Of Voice activity set found here.
Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!
Cindy ~ Socially Skilled Kids
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