Encouraging a silent class to talk?

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Encouraging a silent class to talk?

Unread postby Squirrel » 07 Oct 2010, 21:13

Hello all,
I have never in my life encountered a class of children as quiet and passive as those I met this afternoon!

4 children aged 7 to 9 years old ... for Native Language tuition provided by the local Education Authority (I'm in Sweden)
These children all have a parent who is a native speaker but it appears that in most cases, certainly for this group, the English speaking parent is an absent one that the child sees about once or twice a year ... so they might as well be ESL students.

(I have three ESL classes as well as these, new, Native Language classes)

The children appeared to understand most, if not all, of what I was saying to them and they completed the games and worksheets willingly if without enthusiasm but they barely spoke to me at all - only to confirm understanding or to give a one word answer. Other forms of questions led to long long silences until I made life easier for them by asking a question that could have a one word answer.

I realise that games and fun communal activities will be the way forward, and I'm planning an 'information sort and share out' activity for our topic, which is Forest Animals. Each child has chosen a favourite forest animal as a basis for further research, reading, writing and hopefully speaking and presentation of information ....

Any ideas or advice?
I remember reading somewhere that Chinese, Japanese, etc. students can sometimes be incredibly quiet and passive due to cultural expectations/teaching and learning styles.


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Re: Encouraging a silent class to talk?

Unread postby pokedmund » 11 Oct 2010, 05:54

Hi Helen,

I'll try and help with what I can as I am working with Hong Kong students...but all I can say is good luck!

Start be pre-teaching the vocabulary though questions. For example, say "hello, my name is ..." and then get one of the students to say this with you. Or pre-teach the language through written questions, exercises. Everything has to be topic related and have a purpose.

Hopefully, pre-teaching the language verbally for about 30-40 minutes should get them to use the language for the last 20 mins, but if it doesn't, then ensure that they answer written questions or statements about the language topic that is being taught so that when they come to practise the language at the end, they can refer to their notes for help.

Whether they are 4 years old, or 17 years old, you have to look at the country your in (Sweden in this case) and really find out what the age groups like in their social life.

Not to be rude or dismissive towards your teaching activities, but sometimes (and it has been in my case too) the age group which you teach may not find the games you introduce to them fun enough to become involved with. Students like to tell you through their body language that they will do the work, but it's really boring, and they just never get focused into the lesson.

You may need to speak to the parents to discuss the difficulty you're having and get them to help you give an insight into what their kids like at home, in school, outside of school time. You basically have to research their way of life and adapt your course material to be meaningful AND fun to them.

I've got some 4 year olds who like to sing and tell me what they've drawn in English, I've got the 8-14 year old boys who like to talk about battle spirits (a card game...which I still don't understand but appears helpful when getting them to speak in English)....and then the 8-14 year old girls vary dramatically from not talking, to playing hangman, to playing dictation games, to playing pictionary, and some who don't want to learn speaking through games but through written exercises and poetry.

The point is, tailor your lesson to the age group, and in my case, to the individuals and the class. Once you get to know the students, you'll be able to work around them using the language.

And finally, if you really believe that all avenues have been tried, just smile, give them a piece of paper, and go through a conversational scenario with them, giving them the step by step lines of what to say when (for example) you are shopping. This is not creative, nor does it get them to think much about what they are saying, but they at least do hold a general conversation for a minute or two, which I feel is very encouraging when all other avenues have been tried and tested.

At least you're getting one word answers. Be grateful you are not getting the students who reply to my "Good morning Class!" with "I want to die!"

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Re: Encouraging a silent class to talk?

Unread postby LouannePiccolo » 16 Oct 2010, 17:26

Hi Squirrel,

I agree with Pokedmund but I also wanted to add a comment.

Kids love to play and you have tried games with them but didn't really find that they had anything to say during the games. When games flop it's mostly because students are using the language they are being asked to use but 1)they are doing so out of politeness to the teacher and 2)the game doesn't interest them. If you use language games then make sure that they students are being given a reason to use English.

This is easier to do with children than with adults. Most games can be adapted depending on the level of English of the students. Try to get them to play games that win their team points or that, if played properly, allows them to get something they really like or want.

An example of a simple game that gives children a reason to speak in the ESL class is the Smartie game. I use this one for beginners but the idea can be adapted to any level and for any language really. When I teach colours, I drill the colours with any number of flaschard listening games so that children become familiar with the sounds of the colours. Once this is done we move on to play the smartie game.

I open a box of smarties and put a smartie on the table. The child who can tell me the colour gets the smartie. If no-one knows then I get the smartie and I say "hmm, blue, yummy" as it goes in my mouth. You can make this more difficult by asking children to say "one blue smartie" or "two green smarties" if they know their numbers. You can also get them to say sentences like "I like green smarties" or "yesterday I ate a green smartie" if you are teaching them the past tense. There are endless possibilities. But in the end, the students are speaking because they are being given a reason to do so and they are having fun while learning.

I hope this helps!

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Re: Encouraging a silent class to talk?

Unread postby comesmile » 03 Jul 2011, 03:43


Students will always talk about subjects that they enjoy.

The suggestions to introduce yourself and the other students is a good start, and continue to work on this.

Children will learn and particpate much easier if the topic is fun, and, as I said earlier, is around a subject that they enjoy.

Why not introduce a subject that will cause some argument? Maybe suggest something that you know your class will disagree with.

Just some thoughts.

Good luck


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Re: Encouraging a silent class to talk?

Unread postby Alex Case » 04 Jul 2011, 08:42

I'm imagining they just want to fit into Swedish society and find their connection to English to be an embarrassment. Many bilingual kids reject one of their two languages at some point, even without issues like an absent parent.

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