Waiting time before the teacher speaks and the purpose of silence in the classroom

This is my first #ELTchat summary. It’s a bit difficult to join the chat when you work in Argentina because #ELTchat usually takes place at times when we are busy teaching. However, whenever I can, I join in. It’s extremely motivating to take part in a discussion full of thought provoking comments by educators from all over the world, so if you’ve never joined #ELTchat, I suggest you do.

Now let’s cut to the chase and talk about silence and its role in the classroom.

Why are we afraid of silence?

The discussion kicked off with @Marisa_C asking why teachers are worried about silence and whether we’re worried about our silence or students’ silence. @SueAnnan mentioned Adrian Underhill who suggests teachers want to fill in the ‘emptiness’ of silence. @sandymillin pointed out that many teachers are afraid of silent moments when being observed. It seems teachers feel the observer may think nothing is going on if the learners are quiet. @priscilamanteini shared some teachers feel the learners are afraid of expressing their questions when they are silent so they decide to jump in. @ashowski told us there are educators who feel students don’t know the answer when they don’t speak. Various chatters also felt silence can be extremely intimidating in asynchronous learning environments. Finally, @theteacherjames raised a very important point by saying that in ELT we focus too much on talk, be it STT or TTT but rarely do we talk about silence. To read more about this click here.

The perks of silence

By being afraid of silence, teachers are missing out on its benefits:

  • “It is perfect for processing time. Students need quiet time to talke language in.” (@sandymillin)
  • It allows learners time to work out answers by themselves.
  • It can be seen as time to personalise. When you’ve taught a number of strategies or lexical items, you could provide learners with opportunities to use them in a context that’s meaningful to them (@natibrandi).
  • A silence break after 45 or 50 minutes of class can help learners relax and get ready to continue learning. (as suggested by @angelos_bollas)

 So how do we make sure we give learners enough thinking time before jumping in?

  • NLP suggests waiting until eye movements have stopped which show processing of information before continuing with conversation (@MarjorieRosenbe).
  • You could also wait until learners look at you again (@MarjorieRosenbe). However, @Marisa_C pointed out it’s difficult to follow eye movement when teaching on-line.
  • Many chatters also suggested counting when teachers notice they’re jumping in too often helps e.g. counting ten seconds by going “one thousand, two thousand…ten thousand” in your head.
  • Avoid allowing dominating students to jump in all the time. Sometimes teachers wait but dominating students jump in too soon. To prevent this from happening, you can use different techniques such as asking learners to look at you or put their pen down when they are ready. Do not allow them to speak until a good number of students show they are ready.
  • Give silence an aim and a time limit: e.g. time to copy from the board in silence and add examples, time to figure out a problem quietly (@natibrandi & @Marisa_C).

But sometimes teachers want silence and studnets won’t stop talking. What can we do?

  • With YLs you can clap or sing a song like: “One, two three, look at me” (@sandymillin) or “I touch my head, I touch my ears and I go silent” which can be accompanied by Total Physical Response (@natibrandi).
  • Other teachers prefer standing in silence and looking at the classroom or use different signs to indicate silence.


It was generally agreed that silence has many benefits, especially when learners are engaged in an activity and remain silent because they’re thinking, processing information and coming up with new ideas.

However, @Sue_Annan and other chatters agreed that sometimes teachers need to jump in to engage the learners when they are too quiet with no purpose. As @theteacherjames pointed out “there are many different kinds of silence, some good, some bad. Not all silence is equal.”






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