When is it good to talk?

I was doing a CELTA course assessment last month and observing the post-lesson feedback with the tutor and the trainees when an interesting issue arose. The tutor asked one of the trainees to comment on the amount of teacher talking time (TTT) which had occurred during her lesson. The trainee agreed that there had been quite a lot of TTT. Indeed, a whole 10 minute chunk of the initial part of the lesson had been devoted to the teacher telling a story to the group of elementary students about her last holiday, not once but three times. However, the trainee then went on to justify her high TTT in terms of providing useful and relevant comprehensible input for the learners, without which the learners would not have been able to produce similar personalized stories by the end of the lesson.

So, this raises an interesting question about TTT. In a lot of teacher training and development programs high TTT has been one of the big no-nos, along with no translating and not presenting the written form of new language before the spoken form, amongst others . Indeed, the issue of TTT is one of the most common issues raised during post lesson discussions and evaluations of lessons. Observers, trainees and teachers will confirm that TTT was high and by implication, this was a bad thing. However, what we don’t often see is an analysis of the type of TTT which was occurring during a lesson, for in my opinion, there are good and bad types of TTT, and that sometimes high TTT can be completely justifiable.

This attitude of ‘all TTT is bad’ is probably one of the products of the so-called communicative approach with its onus on getting learners to communicate meaningfully. Therefore, any time spent on not getting students to practice communicatively is more often than not seen as being detrimental to learning.

However, such an attitude runs counter to all language acquisition research, and hence most language teaching methodologies, which identify a learner’s need for exposure to the target language as being fundamental to the language learning process. This is particularly important when we consider that the classroom teacher is often the only occasion when the learners get live comprehensible input.

We therefore need to make a distinction between what is ‘good TTT’ and what is ‘bad’, or what is Productive teacher talking time (PTTT) and what is Unproductive (UTTT). Above all else, PTTT needs to be planned, in the sense that the teacher needs to carefully consider what he or she is going to say and how he or she is going to say it. This could be considered at the planning stage or spontaneously in the classroom. TTT needs to be planned to ensure that it is comprehensible to students and graded at an appropriate level.  I would also argue that it needs to be relevant in the eyes of the learners, either in the context of the lesson or to their lives.

So, when we talk about TTT, we need to establish what type of TTT we are discussing. Was it PTTT or UTTT? If it was PTTT, then I think we can begin to justify it in terms of teaching and learning.

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Dominic Walters

I am CELTA and DELTA qualified and have an MA in Educational Psychology. I have been teaching English since 1991, working in Brazil, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Portugual, Egypt and the UK. I am a DELTA, ICELT, CELTA, FTBE assessor and tutor as well as a CELTA online course tutor. I am also an examiner for the Cambridge, IELTS, Trinity exams.

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