Classroom Acoustics: 10 ways to improve the teaching environment


Classroom Acoustics: 10 ways to improve the teaching environment

Want to improve your teaching environment? Your classroom acoustics can have a major impact on your students’ learning. Too much noise can cause distractions and force teachers to resort to shouting for their pupils to hear properly. It’s important the acoustics in all classrooms are managed and meet regulations.

In a study by Ryan Hannah from Western Michigan University, he highlights how the classroom environment plays a major impact on student learning. He claims the main factors that affect a child’s learning, is the:

  • Design of the classroom
  • Seating arrangements
  • Temperature
  • Classroom acoustics

Noise  is an important factor to consider when designing a classroom.

From a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University, they discovered children struggle to concentrate at schools that are frequently affected by aircraft noise.

It’s understandable how noise can have a negative impact on the way we learn. If you’re trying to read, you’ll be distracted by a car horn outside or noises next door.   


What are the negatives of having a noisy classroom?

Noisy classrooms or teaching areas that are affected by outside noise can cause problems, such as:

  • Students can be easily distracted
  • Students’ attainment suffers
  • Teachers can struggle to keep pupils’ attention
  • Students with learning difficulties, hearing impairments, speech and attention problems can struggle
  • Teachers will more likely have to shout and strain their voices

As there have been studies about school acoustics, the UK government has spent time trying to improve learning areas. They have created regulations to help control noise in schools.


Acoustic design of schools: regulations

The Department for Education and Education Funding Agency detailed the maximum acoustic levels  in their Building Bulletin 93 (BB93).  This bulletin is created for designers and building control bodies, to ensure construction and design meets the Building Regulations on School Acoustics. New school designs and refurbishments have to ensure:

“Each room or other space in a school building shall be designed and constructed in such a way that it has the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its intended use.”

“The acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each room or other space must be suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities which normally take place therein.”

The objectives of the BB93 guidelines is to offer clear communication between teacher and student, clear communication between students and finally to offer easy listening in learning and studying activities.



What are the acoustic regulations in schools?

The BB93 describes the decibel (dB) limits when it comes to classroom acoustics in new buildings and refurbishments.

This table gives some examples of acceptable ambient noise levels for different parts of a school during classroom hours.

School Room Upper Limit for New Buildings Upper Limit for Refurbishments
Nursery  35 40
Primary School Rooms (General) 35 40
Primary Music Room  35  40
Secondary School (General) 35 40
Open Plan Teaching/Resource Areas 40 45
Lecture Rooms (50+ people) 35 40
Classrooms for hearing impaired (including speech therapy rooms) 30 35
Indoor Sports Hall 40 45

The Building Bulletin 92 (BB93) lists the regulations for all room types

The limits described in the report are focused on new buildings and refurbishments. As some schools are in old buildings, it’s hard for them to comply with the conditions.


How to reduce classroom noise

There are many ways you can improve the acoustics in your classroom:

1) Find the source of any problem noises. These can be heating, air conditioning or electric equipment. Once you’ve located the source, you can try to buffer the sound by covering it or putting furniture in front to block the sound.


2) Keep classrooms away from noise problem areas. If there are classrooms next door to the sports hall or music rooms, the children in the classroom will likely be affected by the noise in these other rooms.

Try switching classrooms or discuss a teaching plan with the other teachers so you can try to coordinate quieter and louder lessons at the same time. E.g when the music class is practicing with instruments, the other class can have a more interactive activity. Then when music is having a more theory based lesson, the other class can focus on quiet study.

3) Get acoustic sound absorbing tiles or panels to help contain noise inside one room. If you have thin walls, noise can easily travel. Tiles or panels can help buffer the sound waves from travelling.

4) If noise is travelling through unused air ducts, these can be closed off.


5) Carpets instead of hard floors can help soften noise.


6) Double glazed windows can help buffer outside noises compared to single glazed.


7) Keep machines turned off if they’re not being used. If you have a noisy projector, only turn it on when you’re actually using it. Putting it on standby, can still cause noise.


8) If your classroom is suffering noise pollution from outside, plants like hedges, trees and shrubs can help reduce noise.


9) Reorganise the classroom so the distance between teachers and students is smaller, so the teacher doesn’t have to shout and students can hear easily.


10) If your door doesn’t block noise effectively, look at the bottom of the door. Even a small gap can let lots of noise in. Use acoustic sealing to cover the bottom gap of the door.


Not good enough?

All these methods can help reduce noise in your classroom. However if you find they’re not an ideal solution, then a renovation design can positively benefit classroom acoustics.  A redesign of a classroom is the best long term solution to any noise problems.

At Elm Workspace, we’ve worked with schools and when we’ve renovated areas, we have to be aware of the acoustic standards for each type of teaching room. To manage sound levels we can:

  • Install soundproofing tiles and panels on walls and ceilings
  • Fix acoustic sealing on doors
  • Improve thin or cracked walls
  • Choose furniture that can block or dampen sound waves from travelling
  • Design a teaching area which can manage sound

When we did work at Greenwich School of Management, we designed silent study areas, group study rooms and flexible training areas. When you’re designing different learning environments, it’s important to consider the different noise factors – which we did.


Want to improve your teaching environments?

At Elm Workspace we have renovated educational areas for colleges and universities. Check out our portfolio to see how we improved these learning centres.

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