I went to a fun session at IATEFL Liverpool : Do something you don’t want to do, every day, by Sarah Milligan of the Macmillan English Campus. One of the five ideas they presented was for teachers not to be afraid of silence in the classroom, and they used this hilarious clip from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to illustrate how not to do this.
That few seconds of silence when you ask a student a question, or when they ask you a question, is the time needed for the synapses to fire. It’s the time needed for a student to register the question and try to formulate an answer, or a students who have just overheard their classmate ask the teacher a question to try to come up with the answer themselves.
I think that sometimes as teachers we tend to associate silence with our not knowing the answer when we’re asked a question. Or with our students not knowing the answer to the question we’ve asked them. But thoughtful silence, accompanied with body language and eye contact that communicates the fact this silence is planned, can make all the difference to using silence as an effective tool.