How To Improve Listening With Strategic Pausing

Smart Classroom Management: How To Improve Listening With Strategic PausingDo you ever get the feeling your students aren’t hearing a word you say?

They may be quiet.

They may be looking at you.

But you know they’re not actually listening.

Maybe it’s the blank expressions. Maybe it’s the sighs and yawns.

Maybe it’s the agonizing boredom etched on their faces.

But you just know. You just know that if you were to send them off to work independently or in groups, they’d be lost.

Hands would go up all over the room. Heads would swivel. They wouldn’t know where to begin.

Many teachers experience this frustration every day and for every lesson. In an effort to combat it, they talk louder. They become more animated.

They move around the room, wave their hands around, and repeat themselves again and again.

But it never seems to get any better, and they can’t help feeling like a comedian dying on stage. “Is this thing on?”

One common denominator among those who struggle with getting students to listen is that they talk too fast. They string their sentences together with little break in between.

This can be a tough problem to fix because most teachers don’t realize they’re doing it. In fact, they’ll look you in the eye and tell you that they believe they speak very slowly.

But there is a difference between how you speak in day-to-day life and how best to speak to a room full of students.

Nearly all teachers would benefit from slowing down and inserting lengthier pauses between sentences.

Pausing, in fact, is one of the most important skills for capturing and keeping attention. It can also improve behavior, eliminate boredom, and make your instruction more interesting.

The biggest benefit, however, is that when you give the signal to begin work or follow a direction, your students will know what to do.

There are three strategic ways you can apply pausing to your teaching practice and see immediate, and often dramatic, results.

The first is to make a conscious effort to pause a beat between each sentence. This will force you to slow your rate of speech.

It will make you more thoughtful and more efficient in your word selection, which will result in a more impactful message.

It will also curb any tendency to ramble and think out loud, which are two surefire ways to bore your students.

The second strategy is to occasionally pause right in the middle of a sentence. This too will result in the same benefits as above, but will also help students concentrate on what you’re saying.

It breaks up the rhythm of your speech, which can quickly grow monotonous. It brings students back into the fold whose minds have started to wander.

The third and final strategy is to periodically insert lengthy, even awkward, pauses into your instruction.

This is best done right after an important point.

It gives students a chance to download the information, reflect on it, and consider how it pertains to them. It tells them, without you saying so, that what you just said is especially worthy of their attention.

It also causes students to anticipate and make predictions about what’s coming next—which not only improves learning and retention but also grooves a habit good students do naturally.

Furthermore, a lengthy pause gives you a chance to assess how well your students are following along.

It lets you know when or if to adjust your message, support it, or move on. It gives you the ability to keep your students guessing, off balance, locked in, and on their toes.

A long pause also adds drama and intrigue to even the most mundane topics. It’s a critical element of effective storytelling and can help make your subject come alive for your students.

The Space Between

Using these three pausing strategies will make you a better teacher.

They’ll make you more interesting and likable. They’ll make your words more meaningful and pull your students deeper into whatever you’re teaching.

You’ll lose that nagging, demoralizing feeling that no one is listening.

Curiosity will replace boredom and your students will have the room they need to breathe and think, to reflect and predict.

Instead of slouching down and away in their seats, they’ll lean toward you.

Like a field of daisies reaching for the sun.

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19 Responses to How To Improve Listening With Strategic Pausing

  1. Emily January 14, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    Thanks for the specifics!

    • Michael Linsin January 14, 2017 at 11:53 am #

      You’re most welcome, Emily!


  2. Marta M. January 14, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    I cannot tell you how much I enjoy receiving your words of wisdom. As a “seasoned” teacher, and a lifetime learner, your sensible advice serves to renew me and remind me of the techniques that are highly effective in the classroom.
    I share them regularly with many of my colleagues.

    • Michael Linsin January 14, 2017 at 11:53 am #

      Excellent! Great to hear, Marta.


    • Davina January 20, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      I feel the same way.

  3. ron January 14, 2017 at 12:05 pm #


    Pausing while speaking is a great tip to improve retention. I often struggle with breaking up my sentences while addressing the students. The impact on retention is incredible. Thank you for reminding your readers about this often overlooked strategy.



    • Michael Linsin January 14, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

      You’re welcome, Ron. Good to hear from you. Thanks for sharing.


    • Ernest Efa January 16, 2017 at 7:09 am #

      This was very useful for me as a teacher.

      • Michael Linsin January 16, 2017 at 8:17 am #

        Glad to hear it, Ernest.


  4. Pablo January 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

    Thanks…..refreshing read for sure!

    • Michael Linsin January 14, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

      You’re welcome, Pablo.


  5. Barbara Fabius Jean-Pierre January 14, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

    This was wonderful reminder…I know i speak fast. But most times I forget……and continue rambling…thank you for list.

    • Michael Linsin January 15, 2017 at 8:53 am #

      Glad to help, Barbara.


  6. Tadd January 15, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    Do advocate recording yourself? It really works for me. In the past I’ve used video to record my lessons, now I just use a simple recorder on my phone. I’ll listen back and compare what I hear with what I experienced. Sometimes the two line up, but when they don’t, I can take steps to correct poor instructional practices.

    • Michael Linsin January 16, 2017 at 8:22 am #

      Hi Tadd,

      It can be a challenge to be objective. Few of us like how we look and sound on video, but yes, I think it can be valuable.


  7. Jodi January 16, 2017 at 11:36 am #

    This was another great and timely strategy. My teaching methods have changed and improved this year with your wisdom and guidance. Thank you so much for sharing what works!

    • Michael Linsin January 16, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Jodi! Thanks for being a regular reader.


  8. Debbie January 17, 2017 at 6:01 am #

    Thanks so much. After I had a student record a lesson I gave,I indeed was speaking way to fast. It is difficult, but I am working on slowing down.

    • Michael Linsin January 17, 2017 at 9:23 am #

      Hi Debbie,

      Just a little slower (though not sleepy) can make a big difference.


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