Five Second Rule

19th December 2019

Five Second Rule

by Briana Rogers

Associate ELT-Consultant

This summer, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks doing teacher training with primary school teachers in Tunisia, and in a few days, I will be heading back to continue with the training. As always, training not only allows you to share and facilitate the professional development of teachers but provide opportunities for your own growth. Looking back on those six weeks, the biggest lesson I learned was taking time to think before you speak.  A simple idea that we often hear and just as often ignore.


The road to this realization, there was windy. One of the first things I noticed was that many of the teachers would often talk over each other. They had the compulsion to react to whatever was happening around them, whether it be a correcting someone’s error or to making sure their opinion was heard. It seemed to me everyone spoke over everyone else, and I am sure this is mainly to do with culture, but what I really wanted to address was the need to correct everything. As soon as a mistake was made, it was pointed out and corrected.  It seemed they couldn’t let one little error go without remark. Importance seemed to be placed on how things were said rather than what was being said. Often the reaction came so fast I knew there was no time for them to think about the feedback they gave.  Also, that this type of response can be demoralizing to students. Over the next few weeks, I continued to observe this behavior, and no amount of coaxing seemed to help


 Active listening was definitely not a concept that was widely practiced. Having such a tight schedule for training made it hard to fit in a way to address the concept of effective feedback and the use active listening to do so.  Still, I wanted to add an activity that would help with identifying active listening and actually waiting before responding to a student’s mistakes.  I reviewed an older training I had given on active listening and found an activity that I thought would address the situation and build awareness, so the teachers could use active listening with their classes.  The activity is called 5 Count (and I apologize here as I hadn’t noted where I had seen it on the internet, so have no clue whom to acknowledge and thank for this great activity).


In 5 Count, you divide the class into groups of three. Two people will do the talking the other will monitor.  The trainer gives a topic for the pair to discuss. Person A will start with a sentence or two about the subject. Person B must count to 5 before they can respond. The idea is that while they count, they are thinking about what was said and working on formulating a good response.  Once person B has counted to 5, they can respond with a few sentences.  Person A must now count to five before responding. The monitor is responsible for monitoring that the 5 count is equal to is 5 seconds and not rushed. They are also to provide feedback on what they observed at the end.  After a few minutes of conversation, the roles are switched, and the conversation continues until each person has monitored. I gave the teachers 5 topics to discuss, which had them reflect on what they had done so far in training.  I couldn’t have imagined how hard this would be and, surprisingly, not for the pair in discussion but for the monitor. I had to add in a rule that the monitor could only help with the timing. They were not allowed to give feedback or break into the conversation until the end. Once the activity had finished, we lively feedback session on the activity.  Many were aware of why we had done it and were surprised how hard it was to follow. That said, they also felt that the feedback they were giving in the conversation was much more useful and considerate then when they just corrected right away.


The next day, I had the opportunity to practice it myself. I had given the teachers a handwriting activity in which they were given squares and rectangles to help with visualizing the letters of the alphabet and their position (ascending /descending/middle) in a word. I also was using the activity to help with remembering sight words.  The activity was for the teachers to create a visual of the word with the shapes representing the letters.  I gave the group the word “key” to represent.  One teacher created this strange shape with the squares and rectangles.  I almost corrected him right away to get him to do what I wanted. But following my own advice from the day before, I waited 5 seconds during that time, I thought hmm … Why didn’t he follow my instructions? Why did he make this shape?  So instead of correcting him and say that is not right.  I asked about the shape he made. He pulled out a key and said, “See, it is key!” He had used the rectangles and squares to create the shape of a key.   I congratulated him on thinking creatively and that yes, it definitely was a key.  I then asked him to think about if the shape he made looked like a key, how might each shape reflect the look of a letter. The five seconds allowed me to engage better with the teacher and appreciate the activity from his viewpoint.   Rather than squash creativity and get the response I wanted, I was able to reward his vision and then ask questions that would help him take what he had done and apply it to the original objective of the activity.   


A colleague also played the five second game with his teachers. He found it to be quite successful.  In addition, he used it throughout the training when teachers were having discussions and participants started to correct or talk over someone.  He held up five fingers, as a sign to actively listen before speaking. He said he and the participants noted how much richer the discussions were because of 5 small seconds.


It is incredible what five seconds can do!

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