6 week challenge: Week 3 – it’s oh so quiet and that’s ok!


March 29, 2013 by gemmalunn

The focus of this week was silence or wait timethe time before a student / teacher speaks. I wanted to focus on the quality of what I’m saying and allow my students more time to think and respond.

Tolerating silence. Inexperienced teachers in particular tend to fill silences by unnecessary talking. Silence is important not only when students are working individually, but also provides ‘processing time’ between instructions, during explanations, while waiting for a student to respond, and during monitoring of activities. Prompting, providing clues and rephrasing the question are often counterproductive when the student merely needs time to answer.” (1)

Here’s part of my transcript from this week including the wait times and my notes made whilst keeping the above quote in mind:

T: So let’s play a game (2 secs) you will look at the picture (2 secs) like this (show picture – 2 secs) or the problem and make a dialogue, make a conversation (1sec. No need to rephrase, is there even a need to say ‘make a dialogue’? as students can guess this from the example). What is this problem? (3secs)

S: Baby.

T: the problem? I’m… (I could have waiting 5 seconds before giving the clue ‘I’m’. I could have omitted the prompt – ‘the problem?’)

S: I’m tired

T: I’m tired, yep, I’m tired (3 secs) solution or suggestion why don’t you …. (I don’t need to repeat I’m tired twice and I should have structured the question properly – ‘What is a suggestion for this problem?’ I said solution by mistake. But mistakes like this could confuse students or give them incorrect meaning of words so I should be more careful. I didn’t need to give the prompt ‘why don’t you’ straight away)

Just from these few lines I found numerous ways to reduce and improve my TTT, you can imagine what the whole 5 minutes of transcript looked like!

Another area I wanted to focus on was during monitoring of activities. I normally verbally highlight where there is a mistake but this week I started pointing to the place to see if students can correct it themselves without any prompts from me; they usually can and my silence means students discuss the mistake among themselves rather than with me.

Some classes are naturally quieter and less responsive than others as they are missing the few extremely outgoing students who lift and encourage the whole class. With these classes I sometimes feel that no amount of silence would elicit a response and therefore that maybe silence is not such an effective tool here. Instead I’d like to try other options such as students discussing answers in small groups or writing down their responses. This may suit the students learning styles more and make them more comfortable.


These are the main ways I can increase the quality of what I say and the quantity of what students say:

  • Increase my wait time by counting to ten and allowing students time to process what I’ve said and construct a response. When I do this and look around at students (another pro – silence allows for more on the spot reflection) they don’t have blank looks on their faces, instead they look as though they are thinking of a response, some are even looking in their books for help. Surely just thinking of a response is almost as effective as giving it as they are still constructing the language and processing what’s been said?
  • Give students time to process instructions before I repeat / rephrase them. I have a tendency (bad habit) to rephrase instructions immediately instead of just letting students absorb what I’ve said. Next week I’ll focus on giving instructions so this is something I’ll add to my aims.
  • Sometimes ask students to write down responses before asking them to share with the class (a John Fanselow tip). This will give less confident / shyer students more opportunity to form a response.
  • With quieter classes not to be worried / annoyed if they don’t respond in front of the whole class. Use other ways such as writing down answers and small group discussions / clarification.
  • Use non verbal clues for error correction. This worked well when I tried it this week.

I did consider trying a whole lesson in silence but I didn’t get around to it (chickened out!) this week! I am currently doing a 21 day meditation challenge which links in nicely with the topic of silence and helps me to get used to slowing down. Increasing silence is something I need to do both in and out of class and something I think we all do less and less of these days.


by @VictoriaB52 eltpics

Further Reading

1 –http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/teacher-talking-time British council teaching English website

Ava Fruin has a great post on her experience with silence http://loveisabetterteacher.blogspot.kr/2013/02/ttt-stt.html

Next week I’ll be focusing on giving instructions.


3 thoughts on “6 week challenge: Week 3 – it’s oh so quiet and that’s ok!

  1. Awesome post, Gemma. I love how you break down the process of refelctive teaching, you make me feel like I could do it too! I am glad that I am not the only one who struggles with the instinct to fill up the silent moments, and appreciate your suggestions as to how we can feel more comfortable with this 🙂 Great post, and thanks for the mention!

    • gemmalunn says:

      Thanks for the comment and the inspiration for this week’s challenge!
      I was hoping that this series of posts would demonstrate how accessible reflective practice is, so I’m glad you feel that!

  2. […] reminder of the benefits of silence in the classroom, something I have experimented with before (here) but not thought about recently and therefore not used. I particularly like the translations of what […]

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