In the world of language learning, communication is king.
But in the world of teaching, it is the educator’s role to give information to the students and the students’ role to receive it. All this puts language teachers in a tough place – how do we give our students the information they need without taking away their opportunities to use language communicatively? In other words, how do we let them talk as much as possible when we have to talk to them in order to teach them? The more we talk in class, the less time our students have to use language. But without hearing about the tools they need, they won’t be able to use the language to communicate anyway. Can anyone say a rock and a hard place? So what it boils down to for language teachers is using enough time to impart information to our students and allotting the rest of the time to student communication. We must walk the fine line. Give them what they need then get out of the way. It’s easy to fall off to one side or the other. Most often the teacher falls to the side of talking too much in class, and we struggle to reduce how much of class time we are talking. The time we present information to our classes is generally referred to as TTT (teacher talk time). And there is endless discussion the English learning word on how to reduce TTT and encourage students to talk more. It’s not impossible by any means, but it does take some intentionality. If you find yourself struggling to walk that fine line and would like some ideas on how to decrease your talk time in class, here are some tricks you can try.
Try These 5 Easy Strategies to Get Your Students Talking More (and You Talking Less)
Have Them Talk before You Teach
This is one of the simplest ways you can get your students to talk more in class. Ask them to. Before presenting a lesson to your students, start with a class or small group discussion. Bring up the topic that you will address in the lesson. If you are teaching content, this should be pretty easy. Give yours students three or four discussion questions related to the topic. For example, if you were going to read an article about a successful business person, you might ask your students to talk about jobs they have had (even if it was just setting up a lemonade stand). If you were planning on teaching about sports, let students share their experiences going to a sports game or playing on a team. But even if you are planning on teaching grammar isolated from content, you can still have before lesson discussion. Ask students to talk about a situation in which they will need to use the target structure for their answer. For example, ask students to talk about their plans for next year when you are planning a lesson on the future tense. If you will be teaching conditional structures, ask students to share their dreams and what they will do when they are successful. By having this discussion beforehand, your students will see the need for the structure that you will teach and will be able to apply it immediately. They will be primed for the new information, and they will have time to use their language skills through discussion before you start your talking time.
Try the Discovery Method for Grammar Instruction
The discovery method is a teaching method in which students figure out the target grammar based on real language examples. In this teaching method, the teacher gives students an English passage that uses a target structure and then challenges the students to figure out the rule for the structure. For example, you might give students a paragraph on what you were doing when JFK was assassinated. This paragraph will naturally use the past progressive, so you will encourage your students to figure out the connection and the conjugation pattern by looking at the verbs throughout the passage. You can also use the discovery method by giving students an exercise which practices the past progressive and give them the answers to the questions. Students must then determine what the grammar rule is for the situation. After students have a good idea of how to form the past progressive, give them a lesson in which you spell the grammar rule out.
Encourage Students to Give Their Opinions
Your students are bound to ask your opinion on everything from American food to body language. Instead of answering them right away, ask them to share what they think. You can encourage other members of the class to field opinion and even information questions before you answer them, or turn the questions back on the speaker to get their opinion first. For example, if you were talking about sports and a student asked, “Why do Americans like football even though it is violent?” rather than answer you might say the following. “What do the rest of you think? Why do Americans like football?” or to the speaker “Why do you think they like football?” Give your students a chance to express their own ideas, and then feel free to share your own. You may not decrease the amount of time you would have talked if you just answered, but you would increase student talk time, and at the end of class they will have talked more and you will have talked less.
Include Group Work Daily
When you set students to a task they have to complete with their classmates (and without you) they will have to talk to one another. This is another way you can decrease the amount of time you talk and increase the amount of time your students talk. Have group discussions rather than an entire class discussion. Have two students work together to complete a worksheet rather than students doing in on their own. Include group activities in your lessons like games, interviews, role plays, etc. All of these will give even your shiest students space and time to speak up in class, and your more knowledgeable students will find themselves teaching their struggling classmates without even realizing it which equals more talk time for them and less for you.
Keep Your Mouth Closed
We teachers tend to be fond of our own voices, but sometimes we get so caught up sharing our own ideas, opinions, and information that we forget our students are the ones who need to be speaking in class. Sometimes the best thing we can do to increase the time our students talk and decrease eh time we talk is simply keep our mouths shut. What may seem like an uncomfortable silence may be just what your students need to start talking. Next time you want to jump in and given an answer or an opinion, keep your mouth closed. Count to sixty in your head before you open it again. Odds are that little bit of silence will be just enough to get one or more of your students talking.
If you struggle with walking the line between teacher and student talk time, welcome to the club.
It’s an ongoing balancing act for most of us at the front of the classroom. The good news is that with a little intention on your part, you can have your students talking more and you talking less.