Like, So, Basically

Those little words that pepper the speech of many children, and actually many adults I work with. We call these words fillers, because they fill a silence while the speaker finds their words. The trouble is these words undermine the meaning and emphasis of what is being said, they destroy the rhythm and flow of the speech and become a distraction to the listener.

When a speaker uses silence, a pause, in place of these fillers the meaning, the engagement, the persuasiveness of their words is heightened. But a moment of silence is hard to master; speakers generally and children in particular find it difficult to judge how long a pause is, how long it can be and how long is too long. They perceive that by pausing they are ‘stopping’ and they are going to look silly, as if they have forgotten what it is they want to say. We have to encourage them that, while it might not seem so, using silence makes it easier for them: it gives them time to really think about what they are saying to stay focussed and calm, and importantly, a thoughtful delivery, far from making them look silly, has more credibility, it is meaningful and enjoyable to listen to, it is engaging. But we have to help them to feel comfortable with the silence, because it takes confidence to use pause. Here are two games I use:

  • Ask a child to stand in front of the class for a minute without saying anything, looking at their audience and keeping calm whatever is going on (there are likely to be a lot of giggles and attempts to distract them from their friends, allow this to happen without it getting too out of hand!).

  • Ask your pupils to talk for a minute on any subject of their choice and have the class score them: minus a point for every filler, and plus a point for every good pause.

Reading aloud is also a very good for helping children to judge the length of pauses in line with the punctuation of the text. Get them to experiment with different lengths of pause to alter the meaning, atmosphere and emotion drawn out of the piece. Ask the class to critique each other and explore together different ways of reading the piece. You could perhaps ask a capable reader to lead the class, or a small group in a ‘choral’ reading of the piece, getting every child to ‘feel’ the length of the pauses as they read along together.