Silent learners

Silent learners

A lot of teachers face the situation when some students do not actively participate in class discussions, they are silent for almost the whole lesson, they never volunteer to answer unless specifically asked. These learners are often referred to as silent learners. As a teacher, are you concerned about the silent learners in your class? It seems that they sit back and let others do all the work. However, it’s not always like this. Let’s have a look at different reasons why some students do not to speak freely in the classroom. 

Why are some learners silent?

There are many reasons for not being active in an educational context. Below you can find three types of silent students, that’s not the whole list but just the most common types of silent learners.

Type 1 – Introvert

Carl Jung proposed two personality types, introverts who gain their energy from internal events, such as thinking and feeling, and extroverts who gain their energy from external events, such as social interaction and being active. An introvert is a person who genuinely prefers to work alone without disturbance as they feel overwhelmed and ignored by the extrovert members of the group. It’s hard for them to make themselves heard. They are apt to deep thinking, reflection and focus. They enjoy brainstorming and theorizing. They need to feel emotionally secure and require more space—even literally!—because of their need to reenergize alone. 

If you want to know more about introverts, watch the video below:

How to work with them?

  1. Allow thinking time

They prefer to process ideas through thinking and reflection before talking. Therefore, give them as much time to think as they need. They might have plenty to say – when they are ready. Use “think-pair-share” technique (students contemplate a question individually, then share their thoughts with classmates). Introverts will appreciate the time to organize their thoughts.

2. Let them choose the pair. 

They usually engage in deep conversation with one person, the person they feel secure with.

3. Don’t make them speak open class or read anything out loud. 

4. Add more meaning to exercises and expand the topic for further discussion

They don’t like pointless speaking, if they have no experience in the topic discussed, they will just keep silent. Transform the question in the discussion, e.g.

“Do you often travel?” → “Can people travel without moving?
“Do you prefer to stay in a luxury hotel or at the campsite?”  → “Is it possible to travel with almost no money?”

Type 2 – Students lacking confidence

They often say that they can’t do this or that, they don’t know what to say, they are afraid of speaking or that they might sound stupid. They need more time to think before contributing and they often wait for a cue to participate. 

How to work with them?

  1. Allow more thinking time.
  2. Mind your correction techniques

Don’t forget about the “sandwich technique”. This feedback method consists of praise followed by corrective feedback followed by more praise. In other words, discussing corrective feedback is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise. Be positive, opt for delayed correction and give them a chance to correct themselves. Find a way to show that making mistakes is okay.

  1.  Praise sincerely for something specific.

Instead of saying “Okay, next question”, praise the student with “Well done. You have a very interesting idea” or “ Great job! You used several new words correctly and tried to apply new grammar”.

2. Give patterns and examples of sentences.

3. Add more context or assign the topic beforehand.  

Type 3 – Not interested in participation at all

These students are only interested in getting a certificate and want to progress as fast as possible. They might be forced/obliged by an employer to participate in course. They even might be unfamiliar with the ‘rules’ or etiquette of participation (Once I had a student who thought that it is not polite to question the teacher or start talking without permission) or why it is important to speak. 

How to work with them?

  1. Link the task to real life. 

People like talking about themselves. Let them boast and talk about their experience.  

2. Personalize the material, make them more meaningful.

3.Use more pair work. 

4.Discuss the participation rules.

Do you have silent students? How do you work with them? 


Мария Цедрик

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