Teacher Talking Time: Is it really that bad?
Teacher Talking Time: Is it really that bad?
by Glenn Standish
Initial teacher training courses such as the CELTA teach us many different aspects of teaching English. For many the CELTA is a wonderful foundation to start your English teaching career and as a four-week course it does its job. For sure, the one thing the CELTA does teach us is that Teacher Talking Time (TTT) is frowned upon and should be heavily reduced. Interviewing new candidates for a teaching position here at IH Torun, many recite how often their course tutor had scorned them for overuse of TTT. From a teacher trainer’s point of view one can easily see why this notion is instilled into newly-qualified teachers.
Why is TTT considered bad?
- Excessive amounts of TTT reduces the amount of STT (student talking time)
- A large amount of TTT in one go can be overwhelming for the students, leading to students switching off and not learning as much
- TTT is very teacher-centred and therefore the students are literally ‘passengers’ listening aimlessly to the teacher. In a ‘real’ listening exercise, the students always know what they are listening for. Without this support, the students are liable to become quite lost, and this can have a negative impact on the whole lesson. Once a student is lost, will the teacher be able to find them again?
- A large amount of TTT is often caused by a nervous teacher trying to fill the empty void of silence or by the teacher not knowing how to give clear instructions for a task so they just repeat themselves endlessly
Clearly, there are many justifiable reasons to seek a reduction in TTT. However, after twenty years of teaching English and training teachers, I have come to realise that TTT in the classroom is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I for one use a lot of TTT in the classroom and I like to think that my students are still learning and progressing. So what are the arguments for using TTT in the classroom?
Why can TTT be considered good?
- The content of the lesson can be much more personalized; the target language can be contextualized and presented in a personalized story which becomes far more meaningful for the students than coursebook material.
- The teacher can provide a far more authentic listening resource than those found in a coursebook.
- The teacher can bring in anecdotes and add emergent language into the classroom.
In other words, natural conversation initiated by the teacher can produce a whole array of language from the students, such as questioning, functional language, commenting, etc which is a lot richer than from a coursebook. Harmer (2007) states that ‘it is widely accepted that a vital ingredient in the learning of any language is exposure to it’. Harmer (2007) goes on to state that “the more comprehensible input the students get, the better.” Al-Hejaili (2019) believes that “in order to improve students’ learning ability, the teacher is required to be more interactive, by discussing topics in class, encouraging the students to converse in English.”
Where TTT is well-managed, the questions that the teacher introduces to the lesson should demand at least some response from the students.
Now let’s focus on the last point. Questioning students is indeed a positive approach as it aims to involve the learner. However, it has to be conducted well. A teacher who blithely says, “Can anyone tell me what this word means?” without addressing a particular student - in other words, offering the question to everybody in the class simultaneously - will soon find that anyone is synonymous with no-one. The response to ill-directed questions like this tends to be a wall of silence as the students are afraid to contribute and ‘make a mistake,’ or the stronger or more confident students will simply answer every single time such questions appear. Therefore by asking a question in open class you are only really engaging with a handful of students and only a few of them are actually producing any output.
Therefore, the teacher has to construct their question carefully and avoid using ‘anyone.’ Instead the teacher should ask the question, quickly put the students in pairs (e.g. by saying ‘2,2,2,2’) and then set a time limit. By doing so, you will involve all students in the class instead of only the confident ones. This also increases the STT. As Scrivener (2005) states, “[W]e could maximise learner speaking time at certain points of the lesson by putting them in pairs or small groups and getting them to talk to each other.” Scrivener (2005) goes on to say that by doing this, “instead of two minutes’ speaking time in a whole lesson, they all get a lot of speaking practice within a short space of time.”
From TTT to TTQ
However, it is vital that teachers think about what they are going to say. It’s all very well for them to talk but as Scrivener (2005) suggests we should also focus on the quality of teacher talk, or TTQ (teacher talking quality). It is the content and quality of what the teacher says that is most important.
Also, do bear in mind grading the language. What’s the purpose of using more difficult and challenging lexis when you are trying to elicit a far more simple word? Why risk confusion among lower level learners by saying “If you wouldn’t mind opening your books to page seventy” when you can say “Page seventy, please”? Krashen’s (1985) input plus one theory states that learning is most effective when the teacher meets the learners' current level and then adds one level of difficulty. So it is good to push the students to a certain degree - the key is to understand the effect of the language you use. If it encourages growth, that’s good; if it generates confusion, that’s bad.
In my classroom, you will see a teacher who does indeed use a lot of teacher talking time but there are equal amounts of student talking time and the quality both from the teacher and students are of a high standard. After all, I do like to push my students for their output.
To sum up, I strongly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for TTT to be high as long as the STT is also high. By asking open class questions with ‘2,2,2,2’ you will easily and effectively increase the amount of STT in the classroom. To conclude, TTT is not okay when STT is low but if you find the perfect balance between TTT and STT then it is totally acceptable.
For an example of getting students to talk in pairs and increasing the STT please view a segment of one of my lessons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfX0wMb8Anc
Al-Hejaili, W.M. (2019). The Impact of Teacher Talking Time on the Effectiveness of ELT. Journal of Modern Education Review. Academic Star Publishing
Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching (fourth edition). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited
Krashen, S. (1985). The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. New York: Longman
Scrivener, J. (2005) Learning Teaching (third edition). Oxford: Macmillan Education
Glenn Standish was born in New Zealand but was brought up in Saudi Arabia and the UK. He has been teaching English in Poland for 20 years and is currently the Director of Studies of IH Toruń. He is also a tutor for the IHCYLT and IH CAM courses and an inspector for IH World. He loves presenting on the conference circuit and has given workshops in many countries, including Belarus, Colombia, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Russia.