There are two common ways that teachers make requests when teaching. One is called a start-up request and the other is called a shutdown request.

For example,   “We need quiet hands please,”  is a start-up request. The instructor is asking for a new behavior.   

“Stop tapping your fingers,” is a shutdown request.  In both cases, the teacher has just asked for quiet hands. However, do you sense the difference between these two prompts? One is an invitation and the other is a command.

Sometimes it helps to put ourselves in our students’ shoes to get a sense of the difference between these two approaches. As an adult, how do you like to be asked: commanded or invited?  Think about a common school faculty scenario. You are sitting in your school auditorium waiting for your principal to start the meeting.

Your principal could give a shutdown, “STOP TALKING!”  or he/she could give a start-up, “May I have your attention please?”

Do you prefer being invited or commanded?  Kids are no different!  They like to be invited and will become more and more resistant if commands are all they hear in your classroom.

Are commands okay to give occasionally? Yes, of course,  but use them rarely so that they will carry greater effect. There is lots of evidence that the start-up request is going to increase compliance in and out of the classroom.

My favorite study on this topic was done in a city park.  Trash cans in this particular park were labeled in two ways. Some were labeled: STOP LITTERING, and the others carried this message: THANK YOU FOR THROWING YOUR TRASH AWAY. The cans were moved around to different locations to account for higher and lower-traffic areas of the park. The trash cans with the Thank You message consistently received more trash, no matter where the cans were placed in the park. 

Several teachers who were used to giving lots of commands before changing their approach to the invitation mode reported that the mood of their classroom changed for the better once they switched to start-up requests. Students in those classrooms made the observation that teachers who used mostly start-up
requests seemed more fair and happy.  It’s one of those small changes we can tweak in the classroom that will pay big dividends for both students and teachers.