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