Classes that Refuse to Talk: What to Do

classroom lecture
Classes that won’t talk? Go Robot-Teacher Style

What I was Teaching

A few years ago, I was teaching in an extra program that had 45-50 minutes classes and I had to cover 2-3 pages of the Smart Choice: Level 2 textbook. I taught 5 of these classes in a row and the difference between them was pretty stark.

My Normal Teaching Style

My style of teaching is totally interactive and student-centered. I will never lecture with the exceptions of the first day syllabus explanation and when I talk about the tests or homework assignments. Even with the grammar lessons, I will always leave lots of gaps on the board and work together with their students to get them to help me fill it in. When I’m explaining a game or activity, I try to do it by example instead of just telling the students what to do.

Some Classes Love It

The first 4 classes loved this style–they were all participating, giving me some answers and feedback. Everyone seemed happy and was learning something–the classes just worked and I felt really good about them.

Some Classes Hate It

However, the last class was a nightmare and was mostly characterized by dead silence. It was a perfect storm of quiet, low-level, unmotivated students with not a single bright light mixed in to spice things up a bit. I soldiered on with my normal style of interactive for the first few classes with terrible results. This class just refused to talk and gave me absolutely nothing in response to the olive branch that I kept extending, again, and again, and again.

Head Banging Against Brick Wall?

When I had enough and felt like I was going to have to start banging my head against a brick wall to feel better about the situation, I switched it up and went into Robo-Teacher mode. This involves no interaction and I just lecture, kind of like the standard Korean style.

I would ask my normal questions but then just answer them myself. Then, I handed out worksheets for the students to do based on the lecture. The students seemed to love it–Like they were all smiles and thank-you’s at the end of class. I guess they were happy because they were back into their comfort zone of what they’ve had their whole lives in language classes in Korea.

Classes that Refuse to Talk: Serenity Now!

Anyway, what I’m saying is this: do whatever it takes. If you have a “dead-class” don’t stress yourself out trying to force interaction because it’s just not worth the aggravation. Just lecture, as per the standard Korean way. Remember this saying, “Serenity now” and do whatever it takes to maintain your mental health despite some pretty terrible classes.

Of course, you should try interactive style first for at least a few classes, until it’s 100% clear that it won’t work. An excellent place to start in your lesson planning is this book: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adults

Remember this above all else!

Students have to meet you 1/2 way. You are a guide, or a facilitator in their language learning efforts and while you can help them along the path, it’s ultimately their responsibility, ESPECIALLY since university students are not children.

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