Ideas for Creating and Overcoming Student Silences


  • Donald R. Woods McMaster University
  • Heather Sheardown McMaster University


The key idea is that 50 minutes of teacher talk with passive student listening is relatively ineffective in developing student learning. Teachers can create silences for productive active student learning. Students can also change from passive listeners to active talker-discussers of their learning. Ideas are given about how to overcome silences between students and between students and teachers. In this paper we consider creating and overcoming silences. Ideas are given for creating silences for individual active activities and creating silences, via wait times, to provoke facilitated class discussion. Then suggestions are given on how to overcome student silence via peer discussion and on overcoming the silence between teacher and students. But first consider the research upon which these ideas are based.

Author Biographies

Donald R. Woods, McMaster University

Donald R. Woods is a professor emeritus of chemical engineering at McMaster University. He received his B.Sc. from Queen's University, his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, and worked for a seven different industries before joining McMaster University in 1964. His research interests are in process design, cost estimation, surface phenomena, problem-based learning, assessment, improving student learning, and developing skill in problem solving, troubleshooting, group work and teamwork, self-assessment, change management, and lifetime learning.

Heather Sheardown, McMaster University

Heather Sheardown is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, adjunct professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and holds an adjunct appointment in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Ottawa. She is an expert in polymeric biomaterials, wound healing, and drug delivery, and has a particular interest in the development of biomaterials and delivery systems for ophthalmic and vascular applications.