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The Importance of Silence in the Classroom

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Here is a music video to play in the background while you read this post:

I love the rare moments where the whole class has been working in small groups or partners, and at some point, everyone miraculously ends their sentence at the same time and there is the most beautiful quiet that pervades the room. Everyone notices, and then inevitably, someone will say, “Why is it so quiet?”, giggles ensue, and then people return to what they were saying.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, but I love and crave silence, and I try to have it as often as I can. I feel like good, healthy doses of silence can provide a calm foundation for the class and are an important component of classroom management. If kids are silent, there is a better chance that they can be present and listen or just think (or…fall asleep).

Of course, with middle school, or really any age, this is easier said than done. Moments of silence almost have to be deliberately pursued by the teacher in order to work, or there will just be accidental times of quiet that will be over before you can enjoy it. Here are different ways to incorporate silence into the daily routine:

1. Meditation/Prayer

I wrote about this in the post 7 Routines for the Middle School Classroom, but starting with some kind of meditation or prayer is such a powerful way to start class. It gets everyone focused and quiet, and moments of quiet punctuate the beginning and end of the words. Sometimes I let the silence seep into the air for a bit at the end. It gives everyone a chance to collect themselves and be mindful.

2. After Asking a Question

When I first started teaching, I would get nervous when I would ask a question and there would be:

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So I would quickly answer myself, or rephrase the question, or call on someone who didn’t know the answer and then still jump in myself.

Now I don’t care how long it’s quiet. We’re not moving on with class until someone answers. At the beginning of the year, I might prompt them to look in their notes or book, or maybe chat with their group, but a majority of the time, I think they know the answer — they’re just in the grips of that “question shyness” that strikes even the most dedicated of pupils.

I am ok with awkward silence. I am probably the most awkward person in the room, and I accept and embrace that. Eventually, we will get to a point where someone will feel like they need to break it. In the meantime, I will enjoy the silence.

3. Waiting for Everyone’s Attention

I do not yell in my classroom, and I don’t really like to talk loudly, either. I am naturally a soft-spoken person, so it makes me feel stressed if I have to talk over people. When I want to get my students’ attention, I usually clap out a rhythm that they have to repeat after me. If once isn’t enough, I repeat until it’s silent — absolutely no talking. I always wait for that beat of silence to make sure everyone’s making eye contact, and then I say what I need to in my regular voice.

4. Journaling

It’s important for students to do their journaling silently. Usually, I give a prompt that requires a personal response, so I don’t want them getting ideas from their classmates or feeling like they need to write something in particular to impress someone else. This time for self-reflection is of course giving them writing practice, but it also lets them know themselves better, and lets their future selves have snapshots of how they used to be. Intrapersonal intelligence isn’t something that’s always emphasized these days, especially compared to the interpersonal/social type, so journaling gives a needed opportunity to grow their self-awareness.

5. After Something Especially Powerful and Moving

Sometimes there are just no words that can be said. For example, when the students learn about the Holocaust, we have moments of silence all the time. Some of them are spontaneous — I want to give the students time to process the heavy information. Some I give deliberately — it is important to give your whole self to thinking about things and remembering people who need to be honored just by virtue of the humanity we all share.

Teenagers feel emotions deeply. I can remember, as a teen, going from the end of the world to walking on sunshine and rainbows. Language arts is a fantastic subject to show how these emotions enhance our interpretation of our reading, and inspire our creativity in writing. Part of how this is possible is by giving students the space and silence to feel their emotions as much as they can.

How do you use silence in your classroom?