My linguistics professor once posed the question, “What is an idea?” I must admit that I am still unsure. There is a complex process which occurs between thinking something and speaking or writing it. When we speak, we have not taken the time to figure out exactly what we think beforehand. The American Heritage Dictionary defines an idea as “That which exists in the mind, potentially or actually, as a product of mental activity…” Pretty vague, right?

There are ways we can sort out the thinking process, and tools to sharpen it.  Meditation is one.

Exercise:  Introduce a subject (methods of parental discipline, 9/11, Queen Elizabeth, my favorite meal, or something else) and ask students to meditate on it in class. They should sit quietly, without reading, writing, or looking around, possibly with their eyes closed, and think about the subject for five minutes.  (This is a very long time for some people.) Afterwards, ask them to write a paragraph on the subject.

This could be paired with another short exercise where you provide the subject and ask them to freewrite about it, just putting down everything they are thinking.

After having the two experiences, ask the students to discuss the difference. Can they identify the worth of  silent reflection?

In my classes the result is always a great variety of responses. Some people find meditation extremely helpful, others find it annoying. Most find it an interesting experience if nothing else.

3 Responses to “Thinking”

  • Bekah Palmer says:

    I just finished writing a short intro article on language learning strategies (see here if you are interested:, and now reading this post, I wonder if the students who don’t enjoy/benefit from the exercise would feel any differently after receiving training in affective strategies (meditation is one of these). What do you find that your students feel about the direct strategy activity (like you mentioned, writing a paragraph, or other language practice)? Do they think it makes the exercise seem more “useful” or “classroom-y”?

    • ann says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am delighted to learn about your blog and will visit it regularly. There need to be some basic changes in how language is taught (including our own), and I enjoy contacting other teachers who are thinking along the same lines.

      In my classes, the meditation period is used so students can access different areas of their brain while preparing to begin writing. Each student’s reaction was different. I used to be part of a meditation group, and I was always fascinated by the reflection period afterwards – -the brains in the room were functioning very differently, not only from person to person, but in the same person from day to day. In the classes where I have asked them to meditate, only one student that I can recall did not enjoy it. When meditating, the idea is to take the pressure off, so I would not ask them to write a public paragraph afterwards, just something for themselves, so that they could see how different it felt to write after meditation.

      Anything that helps students to flex their brains, including training in various methods of thought and writing, is far more interesting than rote learning. Your blog post pointed to a book with further information on this, and that would be interesting to read. I often each Chinese students, and I will keep in mind the observation that they respond to “compensation,” by which I suppose the author means some form of gainful recognition, through grades, or in-class acknowledgment of some accomplishment, something they can see and hang onto. Interesting thought.

      • Bekah Palmer says:

        It is fascinating how stress puts up that wall in the brain and blocks access to what we want to say! I wonder how much of the effect of the meditation on writing is the stress-reducing properties of meditation and how much is the time to plan. It would be an interesting study.

        Also,I have Oxford’s book with me right now. With the compensation strategies, she is referring to compensating for areas/skills/vocabulary that the student is missing. Her chart organizes it like this:

        A. Guessing Intelligently
        i. using linguistic cues
        ii. using other clues

        B. Overcoming limitations in speaking and writing
        i. switching to the NL
        ii. getting help
        iii. using mime or gesture
        iv. avoiding communication partially or totally
        v. selecting the topic
        vi. adjusting of approximating the message
        vii. coining words
        viii. using a circumlocution or synonym

        I highly recommend the book. It was one of my texts from my MA program, and it has a lot of practical advice for incorporating the strategies into teaching. I will be writing a little more in-depth about the strategies in the future.

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