Try to be quiet for five minutes straight. No music. No TV. No background noise. Don't talk. In this silence, attempt to get something done. Write a story. Read a book. How easy is that?
For some, it might not be too bad. For people like me, and a lot of my students, it's hell. However, we tell students to come in and sit quietly for a variety of activities. Take my class. They have to sit quietly and read for fifteen to twenty minutes. It's even worse on days when we take district assessments. There are days when a district assessment can take the entire period. In our school, that's 70 minutes. When was the last time you went 70 minutes without a single noise?
Why is this an issue? Because our kids are used to noise. It's comforting. If there is no noise, they'll make their own. A lot of the kids I have are used to noise. The TV is always on (whether or not anyone is watching it), there's music playing and, since the student likely has siblings, they're probably making some noise, too. Noise is normal. The absence of noise is abnormal. You want school to be normal and comfortable, so you should have some noise. If you don't, they'll create noise in wonderfully frustrating ways. They'll talk, sing or even drum a beat on the desk. There will be noise, so you might as well be the one to choose it.
If I expect my students to be quiet, I provide them with some noise. I use music. Don't let them pick the music. Someone will hate rap, another will hate country, someone hates rock and another one hates R&B. I pick the music and if they don't like it, it goes away. Inevitably, they'll pick teacher chosen music over silence.
I like to use movie soundtracks and the kids end up liking it, too. I try to use more recent movies. Right now, my kids are listening to a combination of the soundtracks from The Dark Knight and Inception. It works. It works really well. I keep the music turned on the entire class and simply turn the volume up whenever we need some instrumental music playing. The dramatic effect this has had on my students' ability to remain quiet and respectful is staggering. This is one trick I wish I'd know my first year, for sure!
Here's one of the songs they hear from time to time: