Richard McCully

Teacher talk time

What do the students really want?


Teacher Talk Time (TTT) is the ultimate evil in a classroom according to every TEFL trainer in the world. It’s something observers comment on after every lesson. If you can make a five word sentence into four words or come up with a system of winks, nods and shakes to cut down on words that’s great. 

The problem is, I think, within reason, TTT isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Eliciting

One of my favorite elicitation techniques is through story-telling.  I enjoy either sharing my experiences or making up crazy stories at the start of a lesson or when introducing a new point. If I take 60 seconds to tell a story then I don’t think it’ll ruin the class. Sure I could probably find a way to cut the story down but in the end I’m not a Tweet with a limited number of characters. 

Often I’ll find telling stories or sharing experiences will lead to others sharing too. I know the key is to vary how to begin classes and TTT can be positive rather than just saying today we will talk about cars, here are three questions about cars, discuss with your partner. 

Listening

With the greatest respect to the voice actors, writers and publishers who come up with audio for the TEFL classroom, most of these listening activities aren’t up to much. It seems the idea for more advanced students is to make the listening files as long and boring as possible to challenge them. When it comes to beginners a lot of the audio is either condescendingly easy or pretty pointless. 

Also, on a side note, why are so many TEFL audio files recorded in such a low quality? The sound quality is like when I used Windows 95 with the free microphone and my mum running the vacuum cleaner through the room. Perhaps spend a little more money on editing and mixing audio files and they’ll be more useful. 

Anyway, if I have to sit through another six minute audio where Jane, Federico and Ping discuss the benefits and drawbacks of manual and automatic cars I’ll go crazy. I’m thinking my students can benefit from listening to me speak every so often and also their classmates. It’s a view shared with a couple of teachers I work with. 

For younger students a couple of my colleagues are doing more reading activities rather than focusing on audio files. I’ve experimented with printing off different audio file transcripts and getting students to  read them out / act them. They’ve taken turns so everyone gets to practice listening to others speak. 

Encouraging

I can only imagine that learners pick up that some teachers are trying not to talk. Whilst some students find it funny that their teacher acts out rather than says “yes” or “no” others must find the teacher a bit stupid. 

If I was in a class and I could see a teacher was actively avoiding speaking I would be a little de-motivated. I might even think that my teacher couldn’t be bothered to talk to me. 

However, on the flip side if my teacher talked solidly the whole class I’d be pissed off.

Sharing the load

Most of my classes last 90 minutes. For lower level students or young students, this can be difficult. If, as the teacher, I’m cutting down my words in every sentence I feel that my students will either do the same or won’t get a chance to take a little rest. 

We are preparing students to have real conversations, why should I reduce TTT to a bear minimum when it doesn’t really mimic real life. 

Edutainment

I previously wrote about how I actually quite like edutainment. If you’re the teacher who sits behind a desk just pressing the buttons on a computer to teach then your students probably wont be too happy.

You don’t need to be a clown but I genuinely think that students are quite interested in hearing the teacher talk. Not solidly for the whole lesson but at least to share their opinions or provide information. 

You’d be hard pressed to find students here who don’t have interests outside of the classroom that they’d like to hear about from the teacher. In the first three weeks of this year I’ve had lots of students wanting to know more about Brexit, whether I think Liverpool will win the league (I hope not!), how my trip to England was for Christmas, if I think the new sky train system will be a success and how they can apply to study a degree in the UK. If I stuck to the principal of reducing TTT I’d either have to  tell that student to come back later after class to talk or give short, unnatural answers.

Let’s take the example of the student who asked me about Liverpool’s title hopes. If I answered “I hope they don’t win” then it’s an answer but the student (and other classmates) will benefit more if I give two or three sentences. “I hope they don’t as my brother in law is a Liverpool fan and I don’t think he’ll stop speaking about it for years. Also I think Manchester City will get better and I can see them just winning the league.” Sure not everyone in the class is interested in football but it provides a lot of natural language. By speaking for 20 seconds on something relevant to the class or current news I can see benefits for the students. The key is not too be caught in too many of these conversations each class as that is when you could waste too much time.

The internet will take over!

During a conversation at the pub at the end of last year I was talking with three of my colleagues about the future of TEFL. One was adamant that computers would eventually take over the vast majority of classes. Whilst I can see that computer learning offers a lot of benefits such as systems to reduce TTT to a minimum, I feel a lot of those students would miss that personal touch. Would they really want to speak to an optimized computer?

Let’s say that computer learning does become the norm in the next 20 years then there are a lot of teachers who’ll have to find a niche to keep work. I feel by offering good, natural conversation could be a way to do this. 

TTT

So in the end I think a bit of TTT isn’t a bad thing. It can bring benefits if used correctly. Students don’t want a teacher who chats all class but neither do they want someone talking unnaturally for the sake of saving the odd word here and there. 


 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  


Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

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Comments

TTT should usually be for about 10-15 mins at the start of a class. Re-cap of the previous lesson taught, an explanation of what is being taught today and expectations.

Lessons also benefit from 'brain breaks'.........a quick 2-4 minute activity when you notice the students 'switching off' in the middle of a lesson. Activities such as Kung Fu Punctuation as an example. Or throw a ball to each other.

By Steven Middleton, Myanmar (24th January 2019)

Listening is a great learning tool. The gripe I have is when teachers use extraneous verbiage to pad out the silence. The problem isn't that teachers talk too much, it's that teachers say too many words!

Almost all of my observation classes have been manned by teachers saying things that mislead or confuse students because they are unnecessary or just fill up gaps in the air.

Teachers... stop using interjections completely. 'Eh?', I hear you say? Allow for silence in the classroom and don't be tempted to fill it with unnecessary words.

Record yourself and play it back. You'll be surprised at how you sound.

By Mark, The Land of Barely Concealed Rage. (23rd January 2019)

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