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Teacher Talking Time: How can we reduce it?

Updated: Jan 18


Teacher Talking Time: How can we reduce it?
Can our voice be a vice?

For many new trainee teachers on their first CELTA course, one of the first and most frequent action points that they get told to work on in teaching practice is to reduce their TTT (Teacher Talking Time). Of course, the first question we have to ask ourselves is whether teacher talk is actually a bad thing. Of course, it isn't always. Sometimes, we need to speak. Some good examples of teacher talk include: telling students an anecdote to contextualise new grammar or vocabulary, asking students questions to check understanding or to elicit, modelling correct pronunciation of language, correcting errors, asking questions to establish and maintain rapport. These are just a few examples and there are many more.


However, teacher talk is often a problem. A new teacher, when they are nervous, can have a tendency to babble. This can result in meaningless strings of language that students don't understand. And student comprehension is an important thing to focus on. If students don't understand what we're saying, should we really be saying it?


Another issue, and possibly a more important one, is the amount of time available for students to practise. If we have high TTT, this will inevitably mean that there won't be as much time for STT - student talking time. And students won't learn if they don't practise! When I was studying Spanish in secondary school, I didn't make progress very quickly. And I'm not surprised that I didn't. In a typical week, I don't think I spoke Spanish for more than two or three minutes. The only way we can ensure our students get plenty of speaking practice in class is for us to give them the time to do that, and if we spend most of the lesson addressing the class from the board, then the students aren't speaking.


So how do we do it? Here are some tips for reducing your TTT:

  • Avoid running commentary - some teachers will commentate on what they're doing while they're doing it, justifying their thought processes and telling students their reasoning behind everything. Very little of this is likely to be helfpul to learners.

  • Avoid echoing what students say - if a student gives you the answer to a question, it can be tempting for you to repeat it louder so the whole class hears the right answer, but it's better if the student themselves repeats it and the students can learn from each other.

  • Avoid hypothetical language and conditionals - long and complex sentences can be hard to understand and you can express yourself more directly.

  • Avoid overly formal and polite language - this can go against our instincts, but again, if we keep things simple, we're more likely to be understood.

  • Use student-centred techniques approaches like guided discovery and task based learning that will almost inevitably lead to higher STT and lower TTT.

  • Examine your own TTT critically - you can have a colleague note the proportion of time you spend speaking versus how long students spend speaking while they observe your lesson. You can even record yourself. If you do this, you'll be able to get a much more realistic reflection of the amount of teacher talk in your lesson and how necessary it is.

  • Finally, relax - a stressed teacher is likely to speak more, to speak faster and less likely to be understood.



Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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