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Teaching English Communicatively -  ‘teacher talking’ and ‘student talking’in the classroom

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 10 years, 4 months ago



The aim of this unit is to


  • look at the balance between the teacher and the students talking in English during lessons
  • suggest some ways you can get your students to practice English in the classroom



Think About It


Who does the Talking – Teacher or Students?

We’re going to look at who does the talking in the classroom, so who is actually using English – is it you, the teacher, or your students?

Think about a lesson you have given recently. How much did you talk, and how much did the students talk? 50:50? 80:20: 20:80?

There is a general theory on what the most effective ratio of ‘Teacher Talking Time’ (TTT) to ‘Student Talking Time’ (STT) is. However, before we come to that, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of both teachers and students doing the talking.

1.    State 3 positive things about Teacher Talking










Some of our ideas here are:


  • The teacher can explain things to the whole class at once
  • Students can learn useful things from the language used by a teacher
  • The teacher is a good model for pronunciation
  • The teacher can give clear instructions for activities
  • The teacher can ask questions to make students think about their English


2.    State 3 negative things about Teacher Talking





Some of our ideas here are:


  • The teacher knows the language – it’s the students who need to practise it!
  • Too much teacher talking means students only have one main source of listening - the reality of using English is very different
  • If a teacher talks to a classroom of students, it doesn’t mean the students are actually learning anything. In fact, they may not be doing much at all and may have switched off from the lesson.


Now, let’s look at Student Talking Time

3.    State 3 positive things about Student Talking







Some of our ideas here are:


  • Students learn by using the language
  • Students get to articulate ideas to themselves, and can see whether they can use a certain piece of language or not
  • Talking together is a great way of sharing ideas and learning from each other – it’s also fun and motivating
  • By listening to the students, a teacher can see which students can use the language, which areas of language are causing problems, and therefore what areas may need covering again in future lessons


4.    State 3 negative things about Student Talking







Some of our ideas here are:

  • The classroom can get noisy
  • It’s difficult for a teacher to hear what everyone is saying
  • A teacher is a better model of language than another student




So, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both ‘Teacher Talking Time’ (TTT) and Student Talking Time (STT). The teacher, for example, is obviously an important source of language for the class – as a model, to give instructions, to explain something, to correct mistakes, to make the occasional joke, and so on.

However, in practice, many English teachers have found that by encouraging a high level of Student Talking, their classes are more interesting, motivating and fun. Also, students seem to learn more and do it quickly. By actively practising English, it seems that they are establishing it in their long-term memory. Great for end of year exams!




Practical Examples


 Question: Can you think of 3 ways you can encourage your students to communicate in English in your classroom?








Here are some things we think you can do regularly:


  • Divide your students into pairs and groups so they can work together to do tasks and activities - this is more interesting than doing it alone, and students can learn from each other. Make sure they know they have to discuss in English!


  • When a student asks a question, don’t just give the answer. Ask him a question or give him a clue to help him think of the answer. Let him work his way towards the answer and get him to talk about what he thinks.


  • Ask other students to give explanations or definitions rather than you – see what others know before you tell them. We're always amazed at how much a group of students knows between them.


  • Ask open questions requiring longer answers, not just Yes/No answers - so questions with 'what', 'why', 'when', 'how', and so on.


  • Give your students time to think about an answer - don't be afraid of silence and jump in.


  • Don't finish student answers/sentences for them – allow them to think things through, even if they're finding it tough.


  • Listen to a student’s answers and ask the other students if they agree and why.


  • If a student makes a mistake, ask the class if they know the correct answer – don’t give it until you feel no-one else can.


  • Try and arrange seating so students can see and talk to each other – if this is not possible, ask students to turn round and talk to each other.


 Throughout  this course, you will look at how to get your students using English. These ideas – group work, sharing ideas, asking questions rather than giving answers - will come up later in the course, and in more detail. We believe that they are vital to the success of your English classroom.




In general, whether it be mending a bicycle, cooking a new recipe, or learning how to use a new phone, it seems that people learn more by actively engaging with an activity - so actually doing it - rather than listening to someone tell them how to do it. Learning English is no exception.

Most English teaching professionals now feel that the ideal ratio of Talking Time should be around 30% for the teacher, 70% for the students. This will vary from one lesson to another, so sometimes more, sometimes less, but is always worth bearing in mind.


So, next time you notice yourself talking a lot in class and your students not saying much, stop! Ask them some questions, ask them how the topic relates to their lives, and get them talking to each other.


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