Group work is great, except for when no one talks.
Often the problem is one of time and pressure: time to work out what the question means, time to sort out thoughts about the topic, time to shape a worthy answer, time to sort out who is going first. There’s nothing worse than that embarrassed silence where everyone is asking themselves “Am I supposed to have thought of something to say? Is it ok for me to speak up here? What was the question again?”
Thinking time in group work is vital for those of us who like to sort out our ideas before contributing. There are very few people who have the confidence to do their thinking out loud, and the response of the rest of the group is predictable: “I wish they wouldn’t just think out loud!” or "Right on cue! Now you’ve started, I can sit back and relax.” Both these responses are counter-productive.
Next time you need a group to contribute ideas, consider using silence proactively.
- Give permission for the silence
- Clarify the purpose of the silent time - thinking, note making
- Restate the question and publish it where people can see it
- State a time limit for that silence - 20-30 seconds is often enough
You’ll be surprised how effective this simple technique is - it really takes away the cringe factor.
Make sure the question is retrievable. Write it up on a whiteboard, or have it prepared on a large card…big writing so everyone can see it and refer to it as often as they need to in the silent thinking time. This keeps everyone accountable to the topic, and allows you to bring everyone back onto topic easily if the conversation veers off onto red herring territory.