One of the most frequent questions I get from new teachers is “What can I do to get my students to talk more?”

The frustration is always obvious and relatable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of a class, sweat dripping from my forehead, thinking “If I just quietly walk out of the room, would anyone notice?”

This is especially defeating when teachers take a long time to prepare their class, have fun activities planned, and then their students just won’t speak! Keep reading to find out what you can do to increase your students’ talking time (STT).

Reduce Your Teacher Talk Time (TTT)

This one seems pretty obvious but sometimes we don’t really know how. Here are a couple of ways to minimize how much you talk in order to get your students to produce:

  1. Keep instructions short and sweet. Model when you can and get to the fun part (doing the activity) as quickly as possible.
  2. Show rather than tell when setting context.
  3. Plan your class with STT in mind.
  4. Try and make production activities with student-to-student interaction as much as possible.

A lot of these boil down to how you plan your class. It is obvious that when you are setting the context and presenting the new target language your TTT will be higher. However, remember to plan in advance activities in your practice and production stages of the class that maximize STT. Such activities should be focused on student-to-student interaction either in a group setting or one-on-one. Make sure that by the end of the class you are just observing, monitoring, and helping to facilitate the activity as opposed to being involved directly.

Don’t Pick Favorites

We all are happy when we have a student that speaks often, well, and actively. Avoid falling into the trap of only calling on them to participate. Make sure that you’re giving all of your students a chance and plan the class activities accordingly. If other students need some more time to share their ideas or speak, let them have that time. If someone else raises their hand but might be wrong, let them try and reward effort over ability!

Elicit When Presenting New Language

To use a fancy TEFL term “activating schema”, pulling from prior experience or involvement with a topic in order to better understand a new subject, is a great habit to have in class.

When presenting target language elicit as much as you can from your students. See what they have already learned that might help them relate to this lesson’s content. Maybe they’ve done a field trip to a farm with their kindergarten and they learned some words in English. It is possible that their parents let them watch cartoons in English and they’ve heard some of the transportation vocabulary you’re going to teach.

Instead of going straight into telling the students what the new words are, check and see what they might know already. This will also help you gauge what new content you might need to focus on more and pay extra attention to. The students sharing what they know not only raises their STT significantly but also boosts their motivation to participate and pay attention to the teacher.

Use Instruction Checking Questions (ICQ)

Nothing is more trying than just having explained what students should do in a game, and having to repeat it multiple times because they’re just not getting it. You have to start again, explain it slowly, and see if they get it the next time.

Avoid this by using ICQ. This technique helps teachers to really gauge if students are understanding what is expected of them and avoids the teacher having to repeat instructions multiple times. It gives way for students to produce language faster and more confidently because they’re not worried about how to play the game.

Example: You’re playing class “get-to-know-you bingo” where students have to find friends in the classroom that match the descriptions in the boxes, (e.g. someone who has been to America). They find their friend by asking them questions. If they found a friend that matches the description, they can mark an ‘X’ in that box. They can only ask the same friend up to 3 questions. The first student to make a straight line across 5 boxes horizontally, diagonally, or vertically shouts “Bingo!” and they are the winner. To make sure your students understand the game and what they have to do, ask them these ICQs:

  1. Do we need to ask our friends questions? Yes.
  2. Can we just write ‘X’ in a box without asking questions? No.
  3. If we found a friend that matches the description, what do we write in the box? An X.
  4. Can I ask the same friend more than 3 questions? No.
  5. How many boxes in a row do we need to win? 5

Although asking these questions might take some extra time, in the long run, it will help with ensuring you don’t need to restart or reexplain later.

While these suggestions might seem quite simple, it is always important to pay attention to STT and TTT in your classes. Only when your students have every opportunity to practice what they have learned in their speech, you will see the results of your efforts.

By: Christian Lopez