Why A Simple Pause Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

One of the most common errors teachers make when presenting lessons, providing directions, or otherwise addressing students is to string sentences together with very little gap between them.

In other words, the teacher will move from one thought, idea, or bit of information to the next without delay—often filling the gaps with ands, ums, likes, and meaningless words.

It’s how most of us speak in our day-to-day life.

But the negative effect it can have on students, and on your ability to keep their attention, is substantial. You see, bridging phrases together without allowing your students time to absorb them makes you uninteresting and difficult to follow.

It causes students to turn their attention away from you and toward the daydreams, distractions, and misbehavior opportunities around them.

A simple way to correct this problem, and at the same time become a more effective teacher, is to include frequent, and at times even lengthy, pauses in your speech.

Here’s why these little gems of silence are so powerful:

They’re predictive.

Anticipating answers and outcomes improves learning, and when you pause, your students will instinctively predict what you’re going to say next. You can use this instinct to your advantage by pausing before revealing important ideas, words, theories, or points of emphasis.

They build suspense.

When used strategically, a pause creates suspense and curiosity in the listener, causing them to sit up straighter and lean in closer. It can make the most mundane information seem interesting and worth listening to—making easier a critical skill many teachers struggle with.

They add depth and drama.

Pausing can be as important as content when presenting lessons. With the right timing and pace—and a bit of attitude—it can infuse your words and the visualizations you create with depth and drama, flair and emotion. It can help bring your curriculum to life, giving it the punch and energy it needs to matter to your students.

They discourage misbehavior.

Speaking without intentional pausing sounds like droning to students, who are quick to lose interest, grow bored, and misbehave. An occasional two or three second pause breaks up the familiar tone of your voice, keeps students on their toes, and helps them stay checked in and on task.

They allow you to adjust.

A pause gives you a moment to quickly assess your students’ understanding. It allows you to make eye contact, stay in touch, and make adjustments to your teaching along the way. It trains you to be sensitive to their needs and attuned to their nonverbal reactions to your lessons.

They help your students retain information.

An occasional pause, if for only a second or two, breaks ideas, theories, and directives into chunks, allowing them to sink in before your students are rushed along to the next thing. This improves memory and understanding and gives your students a framework from which to build upon more learning.

It’s The Simple Things

There are no hard and fast rules about when, how often, or how long you should pause. You learn and become better and nimbler at using them through experience.

At first, pausing just a couple of seconds may seem like a long time. It may feel strange and uncomfortable—even for your students.

But in time, you’ll love the impact it has on your teaching.

You’ll find yourself speaking with more confidence—using your body and facial expressions more, becoming more dynamic and more willing to take chances with storytelling, playacting, and the like.

Your words will have more power. Your lessons will prove more effective. Your students will be more attentive and more interested in you—and less interested in misbehaving.

Like much of classroom management, it is the simple things—the tried and true—when applied consistently, day after day, and perfected over time . . .

That add up to great teaching.

Note: We’ll be taking next week off to enjoy the holiday here in the states with friends and family, but will be back with a rockin’ new article on December 1st.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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9 Responses to Why A Simple Pause Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

  1. Julie November 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    Michael, I have been following your blog for a year now and can attest to the fact that a dream class IS possible! After reading your blog, and buying your book, I was convinced through hard work and determination I was going to create my dream class year after year, regardless of demographics. With explicit instruction, unwavering expectations and a strong desire to build relationships, any teacher can create the most engaged, passionate, mindful, and respectful students in the entire building. Thank you for your incredibly honest, sincere and spot on advice. I’ve shared this link with many colleagues in hopes that they too can create their dream class.

    • Michael Linsin November 18, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks for your kind and eloquent words, Julie! And congratulations on creating your dream class. 🙂


  2. Lawrence Brennan November 19, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

    • Michael Linsin November 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks Lawrence!


  3. Cheryl December 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    This is my fortieth year of teaching – wow! However, each year I begin I feel like a brand new teacher. I am always looking for innovative techniques and strategies. I live in Texas where we are under unbelievable pressure to teach to the test. I have found your articles absolutely inspiring and so true. By nature I’m not the most patient person, but you are helping both me and my students. I have a question about your target teachers. I have the impression you are addressing elementary to middle school. I teach 7th and 8th grade reading/language arts, and would like to know if you would tweak some of your articles for upper class students. Thank you very much,
    A Texas Teacher

    • Michael Linsin December 30, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      Hi Cheryl,

      Yes, my articles address primarily elementary and middle school students. And yes, sometimes you need to make small tweaks depending on grade level. However, they should be obvious and minor.


  4. margaret January 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I am always inspired, empowered, and sometimes validated after I read your articles. Thank you so much for sharing your insight on a professional, and not condescending, level.

    • Michael Linsin January 12, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      You’re welcome, Margaret! Thank you for your kind words.


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