TTT: The art of knowing when to shut up

shut up

Source: GIPHY

Something I’ve been encouraged by observers to work on in my lessons is cutting down on teacher talking time (TTT), particularly the tendency for TTT to increase as the lesson progresses. As Sam Shepherd points out in a great post on TTT, we should strive to minimise TTT not for its own sake but in order to create as many opportunities as possible for our students to speak. Teacher talk, then, is something we ought to use sparingly, skilfully and strategically–to support rather than stifle learning.

Shepherd identifies three main areas where teacher talk gets out of hand–giving explanations, giving instructions, and filling silences in speaking tasks; for each case he suggests why excessive teacher talk is occurring and how we can fix it. (Read his post for the details.) I would add that, were we to think deeply about what we’re doing as teachers throughout a normal lesson, we’d be able to identify many more opportunities where we could yield the floor to students. Here are just a few examples:

  • Error correction: rather than correcting on-the-spot during a speaking activity, collect errors (and samples of good usage) that you hear and whiteboard them, then have students work in pairs or groups to correct them.
  • Setting up a task: rather than giving step-by-step instructions, demonstrate what to do with the first exercise (and get the class to help you). This works especially well with controlled-practice activities, but you can try using it with just about any task.
  • Student-centered feedback on content. This is something I most commonly use with conversation-line or speaking-circle activities: in the last rotation I’ll have the students share with their new partner the information they learned about their previous two speaking partners. That way I only need to deal with errors.
  • Grammar presentations: have students in groups work out the positive, negative and question forms of a model sentence, and then present this to the class.
  • Wait time: after posing a question to the class or an individual student, give them time to process the question and compose an answer. Let them fill the awkward silences!

Where else would you suggest we can turn TTT into STT in our lessons?

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