At a recent talk at Sacramento State University, Dr. Corrine Lardy advocated for incorporating Sustained Silent Thinking into science lessons. While its literary counterpart Sustained Silent Reading is more well known, this teaching technique is a great tool for leading students through difficult concepts or inquiry-based lessons.
Why do students need Sustained Silent Thinking? During Headwaters programs, we bring in Ph.D candidates to supplement our instructional staff. While these experts provide students with expert knowledge and exposure to scientific careers, they occasionally describe concepts above the level of the middle or high school students they are working with. We use Sustained Silent Thinking as a strategy for students to reset, consider what they have learned, and crystalize the questions they still have. Although not every student group is asked to understand Ph.D-level science, in any learning situation, students of all abilities and learning styles benefit from time to reflect on and process new information.
Sustained Silent Thinking works for every student in the classroom. Some students may use the time to figure out what they do and don’t understand, while others may think creatively and let their minds explore. All students, no matter their ability, can participate. Best of all, it only takes a couple minutes of class time.
Tips for using Sustained Silent Thinking
- Give students an open-ended prompt, such as, “How do you think competition for sunlight could affect plant populations in the park behind our school?”
- “Sustained” doesn’t need to be that long—ninety seconds to three minutes is plenty.
- Offer students opportunities to articulate their thoughts in a low-stakes setting before sharing to the class. Try these exercises:
- Write down what you came up with in your science notebook.
- Share your thoughts with your table group or elbow partner.
- Repetition. Like any new skill, Sustained Silent Thinking requires practice. Try using it twice in the first lesson and a few more times during the following week.