Classroom Acoustics

Children learn primarily through listening.

Much of the education that takes place in K-12 classrooms relies on oral communication. Children, who primarily learn through listening, need a learning environment in which they can fully hear and understand the teacher’s instructions, particularly children with learning disabilities, hearing loss or those learning in a second language.

Poor classroom acoustics can have serious effects on a child's ability to learn and on teachers' vocal health. Research shows that many Canadian classrooms have poor quality acoustics and children are often working in sub-standard classroom listening conditions.

The Facts

  • The average grade 1 student does not understand 1 in 6 words due to excessive background noise and poor acoustics in Canadian classrooms. (Bradley 2005)
  • Grade 1 children require a speech-to-noise ration of 15.5 dB in order to achieve 95% speech intelligibility.
  • Less than 10% of Canadian Grade 1 classrooms tested had an ideal speech-to-noise ratio (key to understanding speech). This means that 90% of our Grade 1 students are not hearing all of their teachers' words. (Bradley, 2005)
  • Young children, whose auditory centres of the brain are not yet fully developed, require better signal quality than adults to understand speech well. They don't have the language knowledge or life experience to 'fill in the blanks' when they don't hear a word or only hear part of it. 

Difficulty hearing in the classroom due to excessive background noise and pour acoustics can lead to:

  • Poor understanding of speech
  • Decreased performance
  • Reading deficiencies
  • Delayed language acquisition
  • Many other negative consequences

Tips to Improve Classroom Acoustics

By taking some simple steps to reduce noise and reverberation in classrooms, we can improve classroom acoustics and improve the overall learning environment.
Here are a few ideas:

  • Place felt pads or other commercial products on the legs of chairs and tables in classrooms with no carpeting.
  • Insulate windows and doors and keep them closed.
  • Draw curtains when noisy activity is going on outside.
  • Replace buzzing lights immediately.
  • Ensure all electrical equipment is functioning appropriately.
  • Use table cloths and line desks that open from the top.
  • Seat children with hearing impairments away from pencil sharpeners, aquariums and projectors.
  • Cover unused blackboard space with pictures, corrugated cardboard, etc.
  • Add hypo-allergenic carpeting and curtains to classrooms.
  • If the room is uncarpeted, use a strip of carpet for teacher's common walking path.
  • Consider soundfield amplification systems.
  • Fix loose or vibrating parts on heating and ventilation systems.
  • Move free-standing furnishings to break up large rooms into smaller areas - thereby reducing sound reflection.
  • Use suspended acoustic ceiling tiles and sound-absorbent panels on upper walls.
  • Add cork boards to walls.

Additional Resources

What Can You Do? 

As a parent or educator, you can inform yourself about the potential effects of noisy classrooms and encourage your school to take measures to improve classroom acoustics. 

Press Conference (2009)

The Concerned About Classrooms Coalition was an SAC-led group of organizations whose goal is to enhance the learning environment of millions of students and the vocal health of teachers in Canada. This group held a press conference on Parliament Hill in 2009 followed by a media briefing teleconference to address these important issues and to urge the federal government to show leadership in our children’s education by encouraging provincial governments to implement acoustical standards for Canadian schools. Learn more.

National Recognition

Our 2009 campaign earned SAC national recognition from the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE). In recognition of our public awareness activities regarding classroom acoustics, SAC was awarded the Associations Make a Better Canada award in the category of Public Information and Education. Learn more.