Teacher Talking Time in the TEFL Classroom

How To Teach English, Language Skills

Teacher Talking Time (TTT) is the amount of time the teacher talks in the classroom. It pays to make this as little as possible.

Look at this typical TEFL classroom dialog:

Teacher: Jimal, what’s your favorite TV show?
Jimal: Er…
Teacher: Baywatch? American Idol? Top Gear?
Jimal: Baywatch.
Teacher: Great! [teacher writes up Baywatch on the board] Now, the rest of you, what are your favorite TV shows?
Students: Er…
Teacher: Well who likes watching football on television? Louie?
Louie: Yes.
Teacher: Ok, that’s on the list. What about you Marie?
Marie: Er…
Teacher: Well, do you like to watch Dr Who?
Marie: Yes
Teacher: Great, we’ll add Dr Who to the list.

In this example the teacher is speaking about 90% of the time. The students are just occasionally agreeing or muttering one word answers.

There are a couple of interesting points about this example:

  • The teacher speaks English perfectly. The students don’t. But the one person who doesn’t need to practice their English is doing most of the talking whilst those who need most practice rarely speak a word.
  • Meanwhile the students don’t need to listen to each other; they know that the teacher will do all the work for them.

Oh, and if you think that you speak far less in class, why not take a tape recorder in next time and record a typical lesson. When you play it back to yourself later you may well be surprised at how often you are speaking instead of a student and also how little work the students have to do!

Reducing TTT

It can take a little patience, but the rewards are great. The first thing you need to do to reduce TTT is to simply wait for an answer.

Teacher: Jimal, what’s your favorite TV show?
Jimal: Er…
Teacher: [waits expectantly]
Jimal: Er…
Teacher: [still waiting expectantly]
Jimal: Baywatch.
Teacher: [nods and smiles then writes it on the board; goes to Marie and gestures to her for an answer]
Marie: Er…
Teacher: [waits expectantly]
Marie: Dr Who.

Essentially you as a teacher are leaving a space; the students will eventually fill that space and in time the class will get into the habit that they are responsible for filling the spaces and they know that their teacher will stand there for fifteen minutes if need be waiting for an answer.

It can be difficult for teachers (and all people for that matter) to just wait in silence for a response but it is worth developing this habit in the classroom!

More Strategies to Reduce TTT

Don’t Repeat

If a student says something then you can correct it if need be, but don’t repeat it (after all, how often would you do that while speaking with another native speaker?).

Then, if a student on the other side of the class doesn’t understand or didn’t hear and asks you, gesture to the first student to repeat rather than repeat it yourself. Remember, you don’t need practice talking but your students do.

Open-Ended Questions

This is a closed question:

Teacher: Did you go to the zoo yesterday?
Student: Yes.

No conversation and precious little talking there by the student. Compare that to this open question:

Teacher: What did you do yesterday?
Student: I went to the zoo.

This simple ploy means the student speaks some 400% more than with a closed question.

Wait Some More

But it doesn’t end there. Don’t speak and wait some more:

Teacher: What did you do yesterday?
Student: I went to the zoo.
Teacher: [waits expectantly, looking at the student]
Student: We saw some… some lions.
Teacher: [waits expectantly some more]
Student: From Australia.
Teacher: [puts on a very puzzled face and waits expectantly for clarification]
Second student: From Africa!
Teacher: [smiles and nods]

How much has the student spoken now?

Useful Links

Open-Ended Questions‏‎ – helping your students speak more

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