• Anita Demitroff

Silence is Golden… Sometimes


Many of us who have trained in ELT remember being told to maximise STT: student talking time. Classroom heaven would be a place where students get ample opportunity to speak. At the same time, we also had to be aware of keeping TTT down, otherwise the only voice one could hear was that of the teacher.

However, experienced practitioners might have a different perspective, especially in the CLIL classroom. Time is needed for pupils to gather their thoughts, especially if higher order thinking skills are involved. When hand skills are needed, a quiet environment may be in order. And many of us are finding mindfulness techniques useful.


Here are seven ideas for providing time for reflection and boosting listening skills.


1. The “Pink Panther Routine” works when learners have to pay close attention to something in Art or Science class.


For example, you may want to do an experiment that requires your pupils to watch carefully or they perhaps have to look closely at an object before it is put away and they then have to draw that object from memory.


For early and mid-Primary, the toy version of the feline detective is taken out and the class is encouraged to hum the tune, first loudly and then quietly. With gestures, you indicate there is no talking and that the class must look, listen and think. Training the children into this habit takes time, but does work to the point that, when they reach later Primary, you only need to hum the tune to get their attention. Then you can present that activity in silence and your learners are focused, at least for a short period.


2. Listening is a skill that needs practice. Daría Fernández, You First’s French teacher, drew bingo boards to go with Lotto, the sound effect recordings here. Learners listen and then cross out what they think they hear on the bingo board. As they do that, they have to justify why they think it is a particular sound effect. “I think it is the bathroom because I can hear the water.”

3. Similarly, sound machines are cheaply available and can sometimes be found in charity shops.


They are small plastic boxes or panels with sound effects at the press of a button: animal or vehicle sounds or catchy noises, like a coil bouncing or a person screaming. With the catchy sound box, learners can listen to a sequence and draw pictures to represent and remember the sounds in Art.


Alternatively, you can randomly play three sounds and the learners have to make up a story.

With animal sounds, the children may hear those of three different animals and say which one is the odd one out in Science class. Two may be mammals and the third, a reptile.


4. Another activity to activate listening skills is a word chain. Each student or a group of students gets a sheet with “If you hear…” and a word on the left and “you say…” and a word on the right. And that’s how a chain is built.


For example, a student has a sheet that says, “If you hear start, you say primary colours.” You say “start” and that prompts the student to say “primary colours.” Someone else in the classroom has a sheet that says “If you hear primary colours, you say secondary colours,” so they shout out “secondary colours,” and so on. It takes time for learners to get the idea, but it’s worth your while.


5. Declan’s Game (thanks, Declan McCormick) works with learners of ten and older. You read out a statistic related to a topic. For instance, the Earth has a diameter of 12,740 kms, but instead of saying the number, you go “blah, blah, blah” and then ask: “What is the diameter of Earth?” You give a range to go by: here, between 10 and 15 thousand kms. In teams, student teams give an estimate and you respond if the number is higher or lower until one group gets it right. It is a fun, fast-paced activity and one must listen carefully to what the last team said.


6. Two ditties (sung to the tune of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow”) to help learners respond to questions better.


One is: “Listen before you answer the question (x3), you’ve got two ears and one mouth.” That’s for the children who have their hands raised to answer even before you have drawn your breath.


The other little song is “Think before you answer the question (x3), you’ve got a really good mind.” Of course, you as the teacher have to provide thinking time. Moreover, you have to find the right balance between allowing learners to think out of the box and take risks in responding and just blurting out random answers.


7. You want to go from merely recalling facts in parrot fashion to getting learners to apply knowledge with open-ended or more challenging questions.


However, perhaps only the same pupils might answer on a regular basis. A good classroom management technique is to ask, “Do you think you know the answer?”, making sure that students know you are not asking for the answer. You then may give more clues or scaffolding to get more on board. Finally, let neighbours whisper to each other, until more students raise their hand to indicate they think they know the answer.


These are tried and tested titbits for building listening skills.


What tricks have you got up your sleeve?


By Ana Demitroff


Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.