In the TEFL classroom, silence can be golden. We tend to think that silence is worthless. That if a class (especially a language learning class) isn’t busy listening or speaking, it’s a waste of time.
Even I’ve said that if you can do it at home, don’t do it in the classroom, and we tend to think that silent activities fit this category. They don’t.
Silence can be a useful tool. I’d like to show you four ways to consciously use silence in the classroom.
‘Critical Thinking’ Silence
This study has shown that pausing for longer after you ask your class a question can increase the quantity and quality of the responses you get. The teachers that participated in the study waited for an average of one second to answer their own question, after they asked the students.
A further study showed that waiting for longer increased both the quantity and quality of student responses. A longer waiting time before answering allows students to engage their critical thinking skills.
So, pause for longer (3-10 seconds) after asking your students a question. Don’t be afraid of the silence.
‘Cooling Down’ Silence
After a fast-paced activity, it’s nice to create a quieter, calmer atmosphere before moving on to a different activity. It can allow students time to mentally transition from one topic to the next.
An example could be one minute of silence to review lexis or lexical chunks that will be used in the upcoming activity.
Often we ask students to use their imagination for an activity, and then complain to our colleagues when the results are poor.
Give the students some quiet contemplative time to think! After you give them a task, allow some thinking time in silence. Make sure they know how much time that they have, so they don’t feel the need to rush to finish, either.
When you want your students to concentrate on a difficult point, or really drive a point home, you can use silence afterwards. Silence helps to emphasise that it’s important, and also gives time to consider it, and/or take notes.