Snapping is a big thing in many school settings, not just in poetry class. Grace Lindsey, 22, graduated from Yale last spring and is now a sixth-grade science teacher in Brooklyn. At Yale, she said, snapping was a common phenomenon at poetry slams, spoken-word performances and "the sort of events that feed into college culture."
In the context of middle school, she said, snapping can help teachers maintain a shred of quiet and control. In some schools, snapping is just one hand signal in a wider nonverbal lexicon."If you're sitting in an assembly with 400 children, and they can snap instead of going, 'Me, too! Same here!' it's a lot easier to keep order," Ms. Lindsey said.
Audience behavior is a cultural construct and in a lot of cases, teaching audience behavior is code-shifting.
Another way to look at this... I have been to religious services where one is expected to sit quietly. I have also been to religious services where call and response is the norm, and yet others where individual, affirmative vocal responses to the pastor- mid-service- are encouraged. For a lot of kids, the closest early experience to being in an audience is a religious service, yet in the examples above only the first one correlates with what we want of a theatre audience. When we work on audience behavior we have to move between the expectations kids are exposed to- and, as we already know, the ability to ascertain which audience behavior is required when is not self-evident.
I begin to help kids (elementary and middle school) make this shift by streaming/playing a movie clip in class- and interrupt with an announcement just when things get interesting (in the olden days, I used to have the office call into the room on the PA). The kids' automatic response is to pause the clip so they don't miss anything- and if they do miss something, they say, "We can go back." From there we branch into a discussion on the live theatre environment where one does not have the option to pause or go back. Once this concept is internalized, the kids readily identify what their responsibilities are as audience members; they make the etiquette rules. If you have a live show or concert coming up, you also can ask the question of, "How could we help younger students or people not used to the theatre to be a good audience?" They often come up with great audience education plans... to the point where they enact some within the school. (The biggest payoff I had on this was when a parent came to a performance and jokingly told me that her sixth-grader had thoroughly educated her on how to behave that night- giving exact references to the kids' 'rules' from class.)
I have also found that constant vigilance is necessary. We have to review and practice. I like the above idea of a word or signal from the teacher to prompt the behavior. You can also take a few minutes to show a video clip after reviewing the expectations. What I like about this, is you can throw in 'problems' like how should you behave as an audience member if you are bored with the show? (Show little kids a non-comedy black-and-white clip for this.) If the performance is bad? (Easily available examples on YouTube) If there are technical difficulties mid-show? (Make the sound go out or picture disappear with audio intact) If a fire-alarm goes off?
Finally, I am not beyond falling back on the adage that the kids should treat the actors the way they would want to be treated if they were up onstage. After enough time performing for each other, they all know how it feels when even one or two members of their audience are not being kind to them. That reminder always supports the process.