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.”






A teacher goes on holiday… AGAIN!

Recycle-Tag2015 was my third year working as Younger Learner Coordinator and teacher at IH Buenos Aires. Easy, right? Well, not really because I also became the head of the testing department for another IH School, I completed the IH teacher trainer certificate and I taught an on-line language development course for Uruguayan teachers of English as a foreign language. Fortunately, on Dec 30th these jobs were paused and I was officially on holiday.

But does going on holiday mean forgetting about teaching altogether? A Director once told me life starts when we close the school and go home. However, I believe that teaching is an important aspect of my life and even while on holiday I tend to have a couple of thoughts connected to our field. I embrace these thoughts because they are more reflective in the sense that I’m not busy and thinking about what I have to do next. So I thought I’d share the following with you.

Do it again!

I was watching a film with a friend and somehow we started talking about how she used to watch her favourite TV series again and again and she would learn the dialogues by heart with her brother. This lead to how children enjoy reading their favourite books more than once or even being told the same stories. And there, I started talking about how I’m a big believer in doing exercises again and repeating tasks in the classroom.

I often find that teachers like to innovate and most of us spend time planning and creating new activities. When these activities work, we are happy, and we may try them with other classes. But how often do we repeat the exact same activity the following class or week?

The perks of repeating activities

I feel that repeating activities (e.g. from word formation exercises or gap fills to projects) is more conducive to learning in the sense that when students do something for the second or third time, they can compare it with the first time they’d done it and measure their progress. It’s interesting how sometimes they make the exact same mistakes or even different ones. They can also analyse why they’ve improved or not.

Which exercises should we repeat?

When it comes to teaching, there’s never a one-size fits it all answer, but I think we need to repeat exercises which are at the right degree of challenge (neither too easy nor too difficult) and which students enjoy doing or at least understand the reasons why we are doing them and the benefits they have. This reinforces the idea that teachers need to share aims with their learners.

How can we add an element of fun?

If you’ve done a typical coursebook multiple choice exercise and found that students struggled with it and there’s loads they can learn from it, you can repeat it by uploading the questions to https://getkahoot.com/ That way, learners can do the exercise in a fun way using their mobiles and they may even ask to do it a third time.

If you’re working with word formation exercises while preparing learners for International exams and find that they still struggle, you can make a list of the words learners struggle with and have them do the exercise again but playing with spongy letters or writing answers on a laminated board. Here’s a video in which my former FCE learners talk about this.

Do you usually do this with your learners? Is there anything you’d like to comment on? Please share your thoughts below.

Finally, I’d like to thank my friend and colleague @ashowski for encouraging me to start blogging.