Teach English in Huolong Zhen - Nantong Shi

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(Q139. How to decrease teacher speaking time) In language lessons, there needs to be a good balance between Teacher Talking Time (TTT) and Student Talking Time (STT). This is not to suggest that having a lot of TTT during lessons is undesirable – in fact, as language teachers and models of natural and correct English, the time we spend talking as teachers provides students with valuable exposure to the language, and TTT is thus still crucial for lessons. Rather, good teachers should understand when they should be speaking more than the students, and when to employ methods to reduce the amount of time they spend explaining things so that students will have more opportunity to speak. Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to learn a new language is to speak (or practice speaking) it. The reason, then, why we should avoid unnecessary TTT, is because any amount of time the teacher spends talking in the class reduces the amount of time students are given to practice the language themselves and participate in activities. When teaching young children, long explanations also tend to confuse them and one may risk losing their attention and motivation in the process. Therefore, teachers should be aware of when more TTT is needed, and when it can be avoided to allow students more opportunities to practice what they have learned. Teacher Talking Time should be used, understandably, for things such as modelling correct pronunciation, presenting the language point, establishing rapport, giving instructions for games and activities, and so on. However, while these are all necessary in lessons, there may be a tendency for us to over-elaborate and give too much explanation – I myself have sometimes gotten carried away trying to explain games to my students. The rule of thumb to avoid doing this is to demonstrate instead of explain. By demonstrating something, we avoid having to rely on students’ native language for explanation and/or lengthy explanations which may require language beyond our students’ current level of comprehension. Demonstrations for most games can usually be carried out with simple English and the use of miming and/or gestures, so that even young children can understand instructions easily. At times, prior to conducting a game or activity in class, I would also get a student volunteer (or a group of students, depending on the activity) to repeat the demonstration for their classmates in order to ensure that everyone has understood the instructions, as opposed to asking the students if they have understood what they are supposed to do. For the study phase of lessons, e.g. a worksheet activity, the need for explanation can be avoided by replicating the first one or two questions on the board and eliciting the correct answer from students. Instead of asking students if they have understood, teachers can then ask students to complete the next question to see if they have correctly understood what is required of them for the activity. Another rule of thumb when trying to avoid unnecessary TTT is to use elicitation in place of “teacher telling”. For instance, as opposed to simply holding up a picture and telling students what it is, elicitation allows students to respond – thus giving them the opportunity to speak and subsequently also reinforcing the word or language point as the students are allowed to “discover” it for themselves (Unit 3, p. 4). Depending on what one is trying to teach, there are several elicitation techniques available, from flashcards and pictures, to drawing on the board, miming, or bringing the actual object to class – anything that would allow students to guess the word or phrase in question. For learners who are not at the beginner level, it is also possible to use gap-fills or to write down an answer on the board and ask students for a possible “question” that would have led to that answer. (Unit 3, p. 5). Other ways to avoid unnecessary TTT and also give students more opportunity to speak in lessons include using pair work and/or groupwork, such as role-plays and other communication games and activities. Of course, plenty of controlled practice such as drilling should be conducted prior to such pair or group activities, so that students will feel comfortable enough to attempt the activity, and not be afraid to make mistakes – drilling itself increases student talk time, too. Pair and group work could be even more effective in multilingual classes, whereby English becomes the lingua franca and students must use their current knowledge of English communicate with one another. As I currently teach monolingual classes, I ensure that my students are still utilizing the English needed for the activity by walking around when they are given pair or group work, to encourage them to use English and remind them not to fall back onto their mother tongue. Good teachers should be able to determine when they need to talk and when to avoid “telling” students too much. By using demonstrations and elicitation instead of overexplaining, to show instead of tell, and by always being careful to use clear English that is at or below the level being taught, we can reduce the amount of unnecessary Teacher Talking Time in classes, thus striking a good balance between TTT and STT, and giving our students more opportunities to practice and discover the language for themselves.