The benefits of silence and whispering in lessons


A few weeks ago I asked a class to sit still and do or say absolutely nothing for 5 minutes. I was trying to teach them about the concept of mindfulness and used this as an example of how to have some “time out” or ” me time”.

It was hard for them. Some smiled and made gestures while others put their heads in their hands so that they would not be distracted. They admitted that it was something that they rarely do and needed some practice.

This got me thinking about making more time in my lessons for ” silent working”.

So today, I changed my seating plan around and ask my pupils to work in silence for 40 minutes to complete some type ups for their coursework. They were astonished at my requests, with sighs of ” no, please don’t move us” and ” what have we done wrong “.I explained to them that research has shown that pupils who do not sit beside the person they choose to sit beside have better attainment and make better progress. I also reminded them that as it was independent work there was no need for them to talk and if they worked more productively they would have more time to relax at the weekend. I asked them to imagine that they were in the silent carriage of a train and that they would be kicked off the train by the conductor if they made noise.

Guess what, apart from a few whispers at the beginning, they settled down and did indeed make more progress than usual. Result.

Later, prior to teaching a lesson on nutrition, I discovered some word cards at the bottom of a drawer. Normally, I would ask pupils to study a word while they wait for the rest of the class to arrive. Today I put four words on each table face down and put the group into random seats. I asked pupils to pick a card without speaking and to try to memorise as much of the information on the card as they could in five minutes.


I then asked them to stand in lines of 4, like a caterpillar. The person at the front of the line had to turn to the next person and whisper what they remembered and so on and so on until the last person spoke to explain the word. In most cases, the pupils remembered at least 2 points of information or more. At the end of each word, I read out the full sentence to reiterate. In the end, we reflected on the activity.

The pupils concluded that it was a useful activity because it was:

  • Fun
  • Helpful in practising listening skills – had to really concentrate.
  • Teamwork was important as they did not went to letter others down by getting the information wrong.
  • They had the opportunity to explain the sentences in their own words or in “pupil friendly” terms.

The parts they found difficult :

  • Difficult if you have a poor memory.
  • Difficult to remember the detail.
  • If you have a tendency to think you are not going to remember the word you get a bit distracted.

So it was quite a simple activity but it seemed to be useful as when I checked learning and the end of the lesson the pupils and remember quite a bit of the content. So I guess I will use this again at some point in the future. I think it would be especially useful for auditory learners or kinaesthetic learners who may need to improve their listening skills but perhaps not ideal for pupils who learn best visually.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Sam_Oldale and published with kind permission.

 Image credit: By Jemma D on Flickr under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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