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Effective Ways to Manage a Quiet Class

Effective Ways to Manage a Quiet Class
Admin - Aug 03 2015

Silent and deadly.

Every teacher has gone through this before, but it can be particularly unnerving for new teachers - you go in the class with what you think is your best lesson and it falls flat. The students just sit there. No one speaks. Maybe at the back of the group one student is coughing. Panic starts to set in as you realize that you have a “speaking” class where no one wants to speak. Bueller? Bueller?

I hear the same questions or comments over and over again. “How can I get them to speak?”, “They just sit there for the whole class.”. If you find yourself faced with one of these silent classes, you might want to keep the following suggestions in mind.

1. Don’t compensate for a quiet class with more teacher talk

That’s the biggest mistake that I have noticed with new teachers. When they are in a class and no one is speaking, suddenly the teacher will begin to do all the talking. Silent classrooms can be unnerving for teachers, but if the teacher begins doing the talking for the students, the students will never see any need to speak for themselves. In fact, in some classes the students would be perfectly fine if the teacher did all the talking, all the time.

When I would observe a teacher’s class and it was a quiet class, I found that the teacher spent a lot of time filling the silence with their own comments. They would answer their own questions. One area where teachers, especially new teachers struggle is with teacher talk. They will talk too much in class and the students won’t say enough (or anything at all).

If you find yourself in the situation where students won’t volunteer answers themselves, you may wish to devise a system whereas students as made to “volunteer”. You can make it a fun system. I have used dice, cards and other things to get students to volunteer answers and it has always had the desired effect. For some classes I bring in multi-sided dice – the more sides the better. I usually use a d20 (for those of you that have never played roll-playing games before that is a 20-sided dice). You can get these dice in any gaming store. I give the students time to practice the material and when it comes time to volunteer, I give each student a die and on the count of three they roll it and the highest roll “volunteers”. This never fails to elicit cheers or a groan from the “volunteer”. Once students get the idea that they may have to volunteer an answer, they take the time to prepare one. I’ve also used cards here – each student takes a card. Most of the cards have a smiling face, one has a skull and crossbones. The student that gets that card again “volunteers”.

The point with the above suggestion is that sometimes you have to look at creative and perhaps humorous ways to get students to volunteer their answers. Once they get comfortable with the idea of volunteering answers, it will become a lot easier for them.

2. Don’t take it personally

I once worked with a teacher who would berate the students if they just sat there. Don’t do it. You aren’t going to inspire or motivate your class by tearing into them. I knew another teacher that was regularly complaining on facebook about their class (again, don’t do it). The silent class happens to every teacher. It doesn’t matter how good of a teacher you are or how long you’ve been teaching. It’s going to happen. The main point is how you deal with it.

Teacher’s invest a lot of time in their lesson plans, so I can see where teachers take it a bit personal where all their effort goes for nothing. However, just like classroom discipline, you have to remember that it’s not personal. These students that are quiet may be quiet for their other teachers as well. Don’t take it personally. In most cases, it is not the lesson content but rather the students themselves who are uncomortable with speaking in the class.

Having said that, if you have a quiet class you may want to take a close look at the materials and ask yourself questions like:

- Is this material appropriate for the level of the students? Too easy? Too hard?

- Is this material interesting for the students? Does it relate to their background and what they need to know?

- Is the topic interesting or is it possibly something that the students have already done dozens of times before?

While in most cases, I believe a quiet class is not the result of the materials, in some cases it is. Either the topics don’t interest the students or the material is too hard. In any case, if you have a quiet class, it is a very good idea to take a close look at the materials used for the class and determine if they are appropriate. Change the materials and see what effect that has on the class.

3. Don’t allow one student to speak for the group

What often happens in a quiet class is that the students acknowledge one student as the unofficial leader of the group and then that student proceeds to answer most of the questions. This is usually the student that the other students recognise as having the strongest English. In some classes it may be the student that is the oldest. Age is another area which may affect students. Some students may be uncomfortable sharing their opinions with a student who is much older/younger than them.

At any rate, it is important to note who answers and how often. If you find you are in a class where one student dominates, it might be beneficial to discuss with them after the class, how you’d like to try and get the other students to answer. Be sure to talk with them privately and also be sure to praise them for participating. However, be clear that you want everyone in the class to participate. Some students are happy to be passengers, along for the ride, but they aren’t going to learn much that way.

4. Switch it up

Routine is boring. I’ve taken language classes that followed the exact same pattern everyday for weeks on end, and it was painfully boring. If you do the exact same routine everyday, you are going to find that the students become listless and bored with the class. Their motivation will go down and they are going to speak less.

Good teachers break the routine and keep classes fresh. Play a game. Watch a video. Do a song. Find activities that break students out of the drab routine and get them interested in the class. I’ve seen quiet classes completely transform when playing a game, shouting out answers and laughing. A quick note on activities like this though – they can easily be overused. Games should be used sparingly. If you bring them in every day, you will find it hard to ever do any serious work. Try and get the students to write sentences? Nope. You’ll hear the moans of “ooooh, teacher. Game.” Use them as an incentive for the students. Let them know that if they finish their work and do a good job, they can play a game or watch part of the video.

Remember these tips the next time you are faced with that class that just won’t do anything. I believe with the right attitude and approach any teacher can transform a quiet class into a more active one.

Good luck.


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