This post is all about the important issue of communication in the classroom - the first in a three-part series on the topic.
Teacher Talk – The Series:
1. What can we do to make our teacher talk more effective?
2. Teacher Talk - Preferences and Practices.
3. Teacher Talk Time (TTT) – Making Cutbacks.
The reason for writing this post is very simple. I think we all need to consider our communication techniques to ensure we are really helping our students reach their language learning goals.
Today's topic: What can we do to make our teacher talk more effective?
Teachers have many things to consider in relation to teacher talk in the classroom.
E.g. How much? How often? What style? What level? Which question? What purpose?
The list goes on and on.
In this post we are going to briefly examine a few of the ways in which we can improve the quality of our classes through the effective use of teacher talk.
(Check out this guy’s mad teaching skills)
When a teacher talks in class they need to have a purpose, be engaging, and achieve something.
As far as purpose goes, a teacher in the second language classroom often needs to provide knowledge, offer feedback, praise, manage, elicit responses, ask questions, or provide input for students.
- Provide knowledge: A teacher can provide explicit explanations, facts, or rules (e.g. explaining a grammar rule, providing your student with the most appropriate word, etc.). Tip: When providing knowledge it is OK (and advisable) to elicit responses and suggestions from your students. Teacher talk can be collaborative.
- Offer feedback: Feedback does not mean just evaluating every word or utterance as ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It also does not mean explicitly correcting every mistake the student makes. No. Feedback should be used to help your students develop their language skills. It could involve modeling, correction, restructuring, evaluation, clarification, prompting, etc.Tip: When offering feedback it might be a good idea to think about your intentions for doing so before choosing which strategy you will use.
- Praise: Teachers love to give praise – and so we should. Tips: When praising students remember the importance of keeping your praise genuine, praise effort as well as results, and get specific (e.g. great word choice, perfect use of the past tense) so the students know what they are being praised for (just don’t overdo it).
- Manage: One of the most import roles a teacher plays is that of manager. As teachers we need to manage our classrooms (e.g. arrange teams, introduce new activities, settle disputes etc.) in order to provide a great learning environment. Taking time to reflect on your classroom management strategies, especially as they relate to your teacher talk, is of vital importance for the successful running of a great language class. Are you too direct? Are you too vague? Are you speaking too fast? Are you speaking too slowly? Can your students understand you? Tip: Take the time to put your communication style under the microscope in order to improve your classroom management skills.
- Elicit language: As second language teachers we need to really get our students talking (I always tell my students I don’t need to talk as I’m already really good at it.). This is where asking the right type question really helps (see below). However, we also need to consider how teacher talk often gets in the way of promoting student talk. For example, do you complete your students’ sentences for them or offer a small prompt? Do you ask for clarification or just provide explicit corrections? Do you allow (and encourage) your students to go off on tangents (in the target language) or strictly control what they say. Do you wait a sufficient amount of time before offering your students help or do you jump straight in? Do you do all the teaching or let your students help each other? Tip: Talk less and have your students talk more (for more on this please check out the third post in this series: Teacher Talk Time – Making Cutbacks.)
- Ask questions: Teachers ask a lot of questions. Sadly, research often shows our questions are not as effective as we might have hoped. Therefore, it is really important to think about the types of questions we are using in the EFL/ESL classroom.
1. Open/referential questions – require the learner to provide information, give an opinion, explain or clarify (the teacher may or may not be able to anticipate the response).
2. Closed/display questions – are often used to test knowledge or comprehension (and the teacher usually already knows the response).
In regards to teacher talk and questions the main thing to point out is that research often shows that the ‘closed/display’ type of questions occur more frequently in the majority of classroom settings – this also stands true for EFL/ESL (Google it and see for yourself).
Tip: Think about using more open/referential type questions in your class to promote more student talk time.
Note: It is also worth pointing out that when asking questions it is really important to consider the intentions behind them. Why are you asking the questions you are asking? Is there a better alternative? Can your goal be achieved by asking this question?
- Provide input: Teacher talk is also used to provide target language input. This being true, maybe it is worth considering how often you are using new phrases or vocabulary terms in class. Are you ensuring your teacher talk is comprehensible? Do you communicate in such a way that your students have the opportunity to ‘pick things up’ incidentally? Tip: Give examples (and lots of them), be engaging (so your students want to listen when you speak), and provide clues to what your students should be paying attention to when you speak. (If you want to know more on input for second language development then please listen to my lecture.)
Phew, we got there.
Now, although this list is not exhaustive, I hope it has provided you with some food or thought in relation to teacher talk in your classroom.
I hope you join me in my next blog post: Teacher talk - preferences and practices.
Thanks for reading,
Keep English Real