I hope you are looking forward to the final installment (unless I do a prequel - Star Wars style) in my three-part series on teacher talk.
Today’s topic is entitled: Teacher Talk Time – Making Cutbacks.
In this post we are going to be making some suggestions on how we can minimize teacher talk time in order to provide our students with more opportunities to be active participants in class.
To begin with, let me ask you a question: Who needs to practice speaking and communicating the most in an EFL/ESL class?
If you answered “the student” then you would be correct. Well done. Advance to Go and collect $200.
Sadly, however, in many situations it is the teacher who does all the talking – reducing the amount of time that students have available to practice. It is this phenomenon that EFL/ESL teachers need to be aware of.
Now, before getting into my tips about reducing teacher talk time, let’s take a look at the following clip and see if you agree or disagree with what James has to say.
In relation to ‘echoing’, as mentioned by James, I think it is important to know the difference between ‘echoing’ as a means of teaching (e.g. to increase input, as positive feedback if the student used the phrase for the first time, etc.) and ‘echoing’ as just an annoying teacher habit.
Got it? Great! Let’s move on to my thoughts on the subject of cutting back on teacher talk.
First, you might be wondering why we need to cut back on teacher talk. Well, the simple fact of the matter is that the more time a teacher talks the less time a student has to talk. And in an EFL class, especially one that is supposed to be communicative or aimed at developing speaking skills, having a teacher talk more than a student is a complete travesty (I like the word travesty).
Second, in many cases our students have very few opportunities to communicate in English outside of the classroom. This means that the classroom environment itself needs to provide as many opportunities as possible for our students to speak in English.
Finally, in many cases teachers are blissfully unaware of the positive benefits that reducing teacher talk time can bestow upon our students. All too often teachers believe that they need to be talking to be teaching – and this is just not the case (actually one of my professors gave me this exact feedback while I was studying for my MA in Applied Linguistics). Absolutely not! Honestly, I have enough to do in class without having to talk as well. I need to listen, prompt, collaborate with students, have students collaborate with each other, provide materials, facilitate discussion, offer feedback and advice, motivate, innovate, mark homework, cultivate a positive learning environment, and think of new ways to make learning enjoyable. You tell me – how can I do all of that if I am constantly talking? That’s right. I can’t. So that’s why I try to remain as quiet as possible and let my students talk. After all, they are the ones here to practice.
Josh’s Tips for Reducing Teacher Talk Time!
Right, now we understand some of the most important reasons for reducing teacher talk time, let’s take a quick look at ten ways this can be achieved.
- Teachers need to ask more challenging (especially open/referential) questions as a way of promoting higher order thinking skills within their students. Tips: Think about the way you phrase your questions. Think about the purpose of your questions. Ask questions that require the student to give an opinion or expand on an idea etc.
- Teachers need to help students learn how to be active participants in group discussions. All too often teachers tell students to get into groups and discuss a topic without realizing that in many situations this does not increase talk time at all. All it really does is ensure the more confident or vocal students talk, while the shy and/or less advanced students just listen. Tips: Teach your students how to have a discussion and the importance of having everyone involved. Make sure each student I encouraged to be an active participant.
- Teachers need to ensure that they are allowing sufficient time for students to gather their thoughts before jumping in to offer assistance or complete a student’s sentence. Tips: Wait. Keep waiting – but give a small hint. Wait – give another hint (better still, get another student to help). Have the students offer support – why should a teacher do all the teaching?
- Understand your talking habits in the classroom. Do you have a point? Are you talking because you think talking and teaching are the same things? Are you stuck in the IRF mode of communication? Tips: Check out part one and part two of this series. Record your class and then watch it to see how you can improve your communication skills and reduce your talk time (if needed).
- Teachers need to do things that encourage real communication and interaction between students. Tips: Implement meaningful tasks in order to encourage productive student talk. If a student finds meaning or value in a task then they will probably be more willing to get involved and communicate.
- Teachers need to empower students to communicate with each other. Tip: Encourage students to ask each other questions and initiate conversations. Just make sure they do it in the target language.
- The teacher can use pair or group work to enhance student-to-student learning. This is very useful in large classes to ensure all students are getting a chance to talk. Students are often very good at helping each other learn. Although teachers still need to remain active and spend time with each group listening in and offering advice/feedback etc. Tips: Have students create their own dialogues. Teach students how to communicate in groups and pairs – don’t just instruct them to do so. Teach students how to help each other.
- Teachers need to make sure that students know it is OK to make mistakes. If a student knows there are no negative repercussions for making mistakes they might be willing to talk more. Tips: Praise effort. View ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities.
- When it comes to student talk time it is really important that teachers not only listen to what the students are saying, but also how they are saying it. Letting your students talk in long-winded monologues just to increase their talk time is probably not ideal. Tips: Make sure your students are learning how to speak in socially appropriate ways. (For more on this please check out my lecture - QASI(R).)
- Your students’ ages and ability levels will greatly impact the ratio of talk time in your classes. Usually older and/or more advanced level learners need less teacher-centered instruction. Tip: Make sure you monitor your teacher talk to suit the students’ needs, levels, and ages.
And there you have it – ten ways to increase student talk time in class. Woohoo!!!
I trust you will find the above list useful and hope that you will be able to implement some of the ideas in your next class.
Thanks for joining me in this post and remember to get involved by leaving a comment or feedback. You can even leave some of your own tips for increasing student talk time.
Have a great day,
Keep English Real!