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English Teaching Info
  Black Hole, Anyone?
by Richard Bienvenu

If you teach ESL long enough you will most likely come across a type of classroom I've entitled The Black Hole. This is a group that has one or more introverted persons that seem to create a vortex of introversion into which the entire class gets sucked.

The person doesn't do anything but sit there and either doesn't want to contribute to the class because they feel they are "too good for this" or they are too shy to contribute. Or when they speak it is so soft that you constantly have to ask them to repeat what they say.

This kind of person literally sucks the energy out of the room. And believe me one introverted person with a strong enough personality can do this.

As an ESL teacher your first inclination is to blame yourself and to think your classes aren't interesting enough and that the students don't like you, and blah, blah, blah. But usually it's not you. (Confer with the other ESL teachers. If they aren't having an attitude problem with a particular class and you are, then it is you.)

And you'll notice that when the introverted person is absent for a day the chemistry of the class shifts and things feel better.

And what do you do when you have a class in which for some inexplicable random reason most of the people in it are in some way, shape or form introverted? Well, as I write this I right now have a class exactly like this.

At first I was thinking that it was me. But when the other ESL teachers complained about the same class, about its "black holiness", I was relieved to know that I wasn't to blame.

What to do when you have a Black Hole? Well, I usually like to engage my classes in conversation. But with The Black Hole this is next to impossible.

One tactic I use is to make the class harder than normal and more challenging. I have them do more composition. If they ain't gonna talk then they're at least gonna write and read their compositions in class while I orally correct them.

Another tactic is to switch classrooms to a smaller cozier space and set the class up in a circle or square so the students have to look at each other. This actually works for some strange reason.

If none of the above tactics work keep trying different things. Above all don't give up. It's important too to not bury being upset at this. Get together with the other ESL teachers or with the director of the school if the situation gets unbearable.

There's always a solution. Be patient. Sometimes is just takes time for things to work out.

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