A site to share and exchange ideas about English – teaching or enjoying it.

“Yes, I agree, and there was a time when I…” Shut up!

“Really?  Me too. Let me tell you what happened…” Sush! Don’t say another word!

“Sure I can tell you. Once I… “ Zip it!

Teachers talk. Isn’t talking part of their job?

Sure! Nevertheless, modern teachers face a Shakesperean dilemma: “To talk or not to talk?” and engage in mental debates with themselves during classes as for whether to talk or not and often end up breaking a sentence in the middle because they remembered they should keep their teacher talking time to a minimum.

Teachers sometimes talk too much, I admit, but if you’re in a classroom to learn and the person at the front knows more than you, a natural way to gather knowledge is they talk, you listen. However, when it comes to learning another language, ‘teacher talking’ per se may not be the safest bet.

Much has been said about TTT (teacher talking time) and STT (student talking time). I myself have been to innumerous lectures and seminars and workshops where this was a very hot topic and subject to controversial strong opinions.  

I believe TTT is needed and acceptable to a certain extent. Here are a few arguments:

  • Students need a model – you are their teacher and a reliable source, so YOU model THEY repeat and learn;
  • You have to explain what you’re teaching;
  • You have to interact with students, they’re not robots;
  • TTT is used when you correct exercises or students’ production;
  • Negotiations with students have to be talked through (discipline issues, classroom rules, etc.);
  • Instructions must be given, for learning purposes and others…

The list can go on, but I see the above as the main reasons, and even these can be minimised if you aim at increasing STT and carefully plan your lesson, as you will see below.

 TTT is NOT necessary or can be substituted by other means, OR, most importantly, you can transform it in STT! A few suggestions:

  • When giving instructions, you may use flashcards with simple instructions written on them instead of talking – when you finish ask them to report the instructions back to you to check understanding. Gestures are also a good alternative for groups, and after a few times students will know what you mean without a word coming out of your mouth. Another idea is make students guess the instructions after you give them a hint – STT increased here!
  • During homework checking, you may ask a good student to ‘play teacher’ and conduct the correction, you can ask students to compare their work in pairs before you check doubts, or you may invite students to check their answers on a written ‘answer sheet’ you write/project on the board. Again, you’ll only have to deal with doubts, thus reducing TTT and forcing students to ask questions, increasing STT and students’ autonomy;
  • Modelling – if you have a computer in your classroom, there are dictionaries online you can resort to for pronunciation models;
  • Error Correction – at the end a conversation activity, for example, you can write a list of ‘most common mistakes’ (which you’re noted down while the activity was happening) on the board and ask students themselves to correct them, in pairs, with your intervention here and there – STT going up again;
  • Explaining grammar topics – why not let students find out for themselves what it is you’re teaching?  You can ask them lead-in questions and conduct their ‘discovery’, hence making the learning more enjoyable and meaningful, using less TTT;
  • Repeating explanations/instructions – if a student asks you to repeat something, you can ask one or more people from the class to do it for you.

The list above comprises only a few ideas of how STT can be increased – if your aim is developing speaking skills. I strongly believe in the power of TTT, if used appropriately and in a good balance with STT, which should be the teacher’s focus. After all, pupils are there to learn the language.

I’m very aware of the attraction for the limelight we teachers feel in our stage when eager students look at us. Yet, a good professional should know when to yield the floor and let the audience take over. This moment is crucial, because although you may remain in the shadows, what will shine is the result of your coaching. So, let your students take the microphone and sing!


Comments on: "The TTT dilemma – “to talk or not to talk?”" (19)

  1. Chris Dupont said:

    My dearest Bete,

    I’m a talker. Nevertheless, believe it or not, I’m a listener (and a VERY good one at that).
    I’m fully convinced that my students want/need/expect me to listen to them, and I do. Really. No wonder we’ve developed such strong bonds through the years.

    But (and that’s a big BUT, too) I want my students to listen to me when I feel that I have something to contribute that’s worth listening to. Really.

  2. Dear Chris,
    Spot on! We always have a heartfelt contribution, and students DO want to listen to us. The big question is deciding when to open our little mouths and when not to! 🙂
    Thank you!

  3. Dear,

    This is really a difficult task for us teachears! I try hard to reduce TTT but sometimes I can’t help talking! I’m trying to improve each day using different techniques, but don’t you agree we are teachers because we like talking?!!!
    That’s why most teachers are women…kkk

    • Dear Si,
      Never questioned it! You’ve got a point. We LOVE to talk, and reducing TTT is sometimes equal to sacrifice. But students are worth it!
      Take care,

  4. Knock! Knock!
    Hello ladies,
    I got all excited ticking off all the items (or most of them) when trying to reduce TTT. One thing that did pop to my mind though was the strange reactions I get from a large number of students when they ask me to repeat something, of even to give them vocab and I delegate the duty to another student. Some of them will look at me as though I was lazy to do that, or, worst than that, not willing to do anything for them. I even remember an extreme case, when a student stated very clearly, after asking me for a piece of vocab, that she wanted ME to do it, and not the others. I had to talk to her at the end of the lesson to say why things happened that way…
    My point is – is it not accecptable to, say, sort of control them by keeping the stick in your hand? In very specific situations, I mean.

  5. Correction: “when they ask me to repeat something, OR even to give them vocab, and I delegate the duty to another student.”

    • Hi, Alan.
      You certainly have a point here. Although students are in a group, they expect to get exclusive attention from the teacher, and the model will always be you. They doubt others and worship YOU. In order to avoid their dissatisfaction in situations like the one you described, I have an open conversation with them explaining 1 – how the method works 2 – what they need to do to make it work 3 – what I will do to make it work. I guess that my answer to your question falls under the 3rd category, because I would definitely explain to students that part of their learning will come from their peers, and they should know it. There may be some resistance from a few individuals to that strategy, but over the years it proved to work to my and to their advantage. Bottomline: you’re right. 🙂

  6. Although it’s a hard task, I feel like I’m much better today in balacing STT and TTT than I was when I started teaching. However, when teaching begginers, I know my TTT is very high, and sometimes I can’t figure out how to cope with that.
    Loved the tips, and I’ll try to implement them with my begginers.

    • Hey, Mary.
      Yes, that’s the way. As for your TTT with beginners, I feel we sometimes overexplain itens that do not need so much explaining. One thing you can do is use pics or cards with key words on them to give instructions, for example. Words like MATCH, LINK, REPEAT, LOOK AT ME, LISTEN, can be easily taught and later used in cards. How about that? You can try this: for a certain activity, before saying anything, you can show students such cards blu-tacked in order on the board. Ask them to read and work out the steps of the exercise in pairs. They then tell you what the instructions are. Increased STT, making students think. Let me know what happened in case you use it.
      Take care,

  7. Odete Souza said:

    I couldn’t agree more! We’re just facilitators. However, we have to be reminded of that from time to time.

    • You can say that again. And again. And again. This is one of the reasons why I value class observation so much, especially peer observation, when the only goal is sharing leading to growth and development.

  8. Danuza Gontijo said:

    First thing we must bear in mind is that we are not teaching; students are learning! That may sound like a reversed perspective on teacher-student interaction. However, focus on sts is what we aim at. Thus the more talking they do, the more they will have a chance to incorporate language. How can one get good at scoring goals in football? By listening to someone tell them how to or by in fact doing it many times? We can definitely agree that they must be coached on how-to “briefly” and then it’s time to get down to the real thing. Learning a language is not that different, is it??? Maximizing STT is crucial yet there must be apropriate previous modelling/coaching. Sounds so easy….. But when it takes teachers not talking much, might turn out somehow different from one’s actual intentions!!! Practice makes perfect! Let’s keep at it. Great tips, Bete.

    • Danuza,
      I too believe in the hands-on, no-frills approach. And let us give students practice aplenty!
      Thanks for the lovely comment!

  9. Hello again
    I can’t seem to get tired of this topic – it’s one thing I dare say I have my reasons to support my standpoint. And you touched it, Danuza: it’s all about boosting STT isn’t it? What seems to be the case here is that we’re always afraid of speaking, or at least it feels like we should be afraid of talking to students. If they’ll have had their 10-minute debate going wonderfully, why not come at the end and put your views forward? A couple of minutes of TTT in a situation like this doesn’t feel wrong for me. I feel that it adds up to rapport and gives students the feeling that you belong with them. My feeling is that, at times, we are supposed to be totally out of sight and sound.
    I don’t know, but I remember when I had my teachers in class. If I knew they had something intelligent to say, I’d love to hear that. (not gonna flatter anyone who’s already posted on this thread, btw 😉 – this thought includes teachers and professors I’ve had at uni in my German lessons).

    • My dear Alan,
      I agree with you partially. We shouldn’t be afraid of speaking, and we shouldn’t refrain from saying something meaningful which will enrich a discussion and act as incentive to students. Quite on the contrary, we should know when NOT to speak…

      I totally agree with you we teachers/educators/facilitators have the right to use the one cherished ability we achieved as speakers of English as a foreign language – that of speaking the language well. And these moments should be well used, since we work at an institution which aims at giving students as many speaking opportunities as can be. That’s what our model teachers charmingly did to us and consenquently conquered our admiration and respect.

      The issue then is one of balance and common sense: you know they (students) ought to speak for more (way more) time than you during a lesson, yet you need make a vow of silence. Never. The world would be a very sad place if teachers weren’t allowed to talk! 😉 After all, that’s one of our best assets.



  10. Rosa Coelho said:

    Hi, Bete!
    This is a very interesting discussion. I agree when you say that ‘the issue then is one of balance and common sense’.
    Let’s take for example the issue of echoing. I don’t subscribe to the view that echoing always obstructs sts’ participation. Echoes are used in NS-NS interaction as indicators of comprehension and may thus actually encourage the interlocutor to continue talking. In the classroom, what is often disapprovingly referred to as ‘echoing’ may also have a discoursal function. It often serves as a way of acknowledging what a st is saying, inviting further contributions and extending a discussion.
    So I think we should be on our guard to avoid simplistic generalisations of the type ‘never echo sts’.

    Cullen, R. 2002. Supportive teacher talk: the importance of the F-move. ELT Journal 56/2

    • Hey, Rosa.
      Excellent point, especially because generalisations don’t cater for everyone, and in a classroom, every individual counts. Your well chosen example of ‘echoing’ students takes me back to the idea of ‘quality TTT’. We should be very selective, and if used well, our ‘percentage’ of talking time will do wonders for our learners.

  11. iSPEAK IDIOMAS said:

    Well, when learning a second language TTT really needs to be diminished. AFter all we want our students TO SPEAK the language. Listening can be done at home by watching movies, listening to music etc. I´m not saying TTT should not happen but DIMINISHED. STT should be around 70 to 80%. I do make my students talk even beginners.

    • I couldn’t agree more! Speaking a language is a skill which is better acquired gradually and, as you put it, from the beginning.
      Thanks for the comment. It’s good to know more people think along the same line. 😉

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