Thinking time

Tip: Give your students plenty of time to think. The silence might feel strange from the front of the class, but the students don’t hear the silence – they hear their own thoughts organizing and rehearsing what to say.


We have a lot to cover on the syllabus. We want to give our students value for money and cover a lot of ground. We feel comfortable when things are obviously ‘happening’ in class and uncomfortable when they are not. And that’s why we move too quickly into speaking activities. By doing so the value of the activity is lessened.

I find that before a discussion or role-play or case-study I have to remind myself to give students thinking time. Without it students are slow to start; they are unfocussed as they make the internal mental transition from processing the teacher’s instructions to deciding what to say and how to say it.

Where there is text in a coursebook to set up a discussion or CS or RP here is what I try to remember to do:

  • First give the students silent reading time of the text.
  • Then I myself read aloud the text on the page (my phonological chunking and stress patterns make it easier for the students to get the meaning, and I see no advantage in asking students to read aloud in cases like this).
  • I give the students a little time to read the material again, and of course think about it. I take questions on vocabulary all together at the end. I stop students from asking these randomly as it breaks the concentration of the others.
  • I then remind them what the task is, and again give time while they think about what they are actually going to say. For a discussion or CS it will thinking about a point of view, for a RP it will be understanding the role. I know when this thinking time is sufficient – they look up and the atmosphere in class noticeably shifts.