Have you ever encountered dead silence in the classroom? Those long excruciating moments when students do not utter a single word after you have asked a question? How do you handle that? Do you fill the silence up with grammar or vocabulary explanations? Do you engage your students by telling them a funny story about yourself? Do you panic and give them a writing assignment to teach them a lesson? (Just kidding!)

Silence is absolutely normal. We may forget that our students are not native speakers of English and, therefore, they may need time to think and process their responses.

Apart from “processing times”, there are other reasons why your students may not be talking: they might be shy, feel insecure, not know the answer, or not want to participate. And there are ways of getting around each of these reasons.

Pair and group discussion make it less daunting for the shy students to share their ideas and take risks. In addition, it is always a good idea to have students discuss and check their answers in pairs before a whole-group interaction, such as homework check. It is a lot easier to voice your answers with the whole class if you know that at least one other person has the same answer as you.

Now, if a student is silent because they do not know the answer to a question, for example, it might mean you have to remedy a gap in learning in order to be able to build on it and move on. Just because a topic was taught, it doesn’t mean it was learnt. Therefore, reviewing content can help improve students’ participation and boost their confidence.

Finally, unwillingness to participate is not an ideal behaviour in a classroom. If varied interaction patterns, types of activities and nominating won’t work, it might be time for a one-on-one conversation outside of the class. Issues at home, at work, and homesickness are just some of the reasons that can affect classroom behaviour. Trying to understand what makes your student act in a certain way is essential when dealing with the issue.

These are some of my ideas on the topic. How do you handle silence in the classroom?

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