American teachers are in a hurry! We feel we have so much to cover in such a short class, we often rush the lesson and we don’t include enough pauses and the right kind of pauses. Today’s post is on using effective pauses in your ESL classes.
1. Pausing is not merely speaking slowly. When teaching, as in talking, you need to group your words together into understandable phrases. Pauses go both in front and in back of thought phrases.
2. Pausing does not need to occur between words. It’s actually not a good idea to pause between every word, because it prevents your students from hearing and comprehending the thought phrases, as well as hearing the linking so common to connected speech sounds. This means your pausing has special significance and must occur at the correct times.
3. Pausing allows your students to “translate in their head”. It may come as a surprise to you but early ESL learners do not think in English. They are probably
- translating what they heard to their first language,
- then formulating a response using their first language,
- then translating their response into English.
These are 2 additional steps ESL students must take in order to respond to your question. Give them the wait time they deserve.
4. Pausing encourages more verbal interaction from your students. You will not always need a verbal response. Sometimes a head nod (non-verbal) will do the trick. However many students have the verbal response ready to go, but if you don’t pause long enough, you take away their opportunity to respond outloud.
5. There is no shame in having silent moments (pauses) in your teaching. If you are of the belief that if the teacher/students are not talking, then they are not learning – you are wrong! They ARE learning, and you may need to pipe down long enough for their brains to think. In that pause, that quiet space, they are processing what they’ve heard and thinking of the associations of language they can pair it with.
6. You are probably not pausing often enough or long enough. The number one complaint that I hear from ESL students is that their teacher “goes too fast”. What they are really telling me is their teacher rushes to the next point rather than waits in the silence which may be uncomfortable for the teacher. Studies show a pause of 1 second is typical before teachers continue (ask the question again, or cue for the answer). However a pause of 3 – 7 seconds has been shown to be beneficial in increasing more thoughtful answers and greater comprehension. Read more about the effective use of pausing .
7. Pausing after student responses yields similar benefits. Instead of affirming a students response right away, if a teacher pauses after a student response, these increases have been noted: length of student responses, number of unsolicited responses, number of responses from less-capable students, and number of speculative responses.
8. Pausing and stress work together, and compliment each other. If you have very little pausing in your lecture, then the points you ARE stressing may lose significance. Pausing calls attention to what was said just before and just after. You will improve your stress by improving your pausing.
9. Your students want you to pause even if they don’t say so. Have you noticed how international students usually don’t interrupt or ask their teachers to adapt their teaching style? International students often approach learning differently from Americans. They are more timid in the classroom and respect the teacher in a way that may look like shyness, or extreme compliance.
10. You can become more comfortable with your pausing. If the silence of pausing makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. This is common for many teachers. I encourage teachers to deal with this area, by being quiet on purpose. Play a silent game with students such as charades, or cooperative games such as passing a ball around the room, making sure every student participates (remind them “no talking, just watching”). You can also keep tally on the board of your purposeful pauses. Count off 3 or more seconds after you ask a question, mark it with a tally, and then look to your students. I’m betting the pause will be a welcome addition to your classroom.