“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!