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The Importance of Silence: Teaching Sensitive Topics in the Secondary Classroom

Each year in my secondary classroom, no matter the subject I was teaching, I took the time to teach about the Holocaust.  My Holocaust unit usually fell into the month of March, and with testing on the horizon, it was sometimes a challenge to make the make the content connections both in my lesson plans for my administration and for my students who were often at the point of burnout.  That realization helped me to create the silent teaching method.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

While my typical classroom was far from silent, it became very apparent to me that silence can be golden.  Not only does it help students focus, but it also demands their respect to the topic at hand, and helps them to process the information more deeply and more emotionally.

And really, the use of this method is quite simple.  Just follow these vital steps:
  1. Create a classroom climate where respect is commonplace.
  2. Set up the activity ahead of time and explain the importance of silence.
  3. Arrange "escapes" for those who cannot remain silent.
  4. Encourage conversation in written form.
  5. Allow time for processing of information.
And when the activity is over, take time to wrap it all up.  Discuss the topic, the specific content that needs to be addressed, and the emotions.  Allow your students to debrief. Allow them to be angry. Allow them to cry.  In fact, I often cried with my students when teaching topics such as the Holocaust, 9/11, or the Rwandan Genocide.  These topics are real, they are recent, and they need to be taught with the silence they deserve. 

Finally, remember the following tips when teaching with the silent method in your classes:

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Tips for teaching sensitive topics, such as the Holocaust, in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

And one last point - after the lesson is over, let your students know that they should NEVER be silent about these topics again.  Silence can be deadly! 

Please take a look in my TpT Store for great response group activities that work well with the silent teaching method.

Happy Teaching!