TTT (Teacher Talking Time) is the time a teacher spends talking in the classroom. It can be in the form of instructions, questions, explanations, lecturing or otherwise.

It is a fact that students improve fluency in speech when they have enough exposure to the language in the form of discussions, speaking activities, dialogues and more interaction in general. However, we all have heard the feedback; “You do not allocate enough student-talking time” in class. It is quite hard to control our TTT in the first years of teaching when we are just trying to get used to the class environment and where there are so many things to take into account (students’ involvement, learning goals, appropriate material and more). TTT kind of stays out of our attention span.

This is not to suggest that TTT is all very bad. It is important that the students listen to the right pronunciation of the word, the right intonation, correct sentence structure, etc. Hence, if done moderately, TTT can be quite useful.

Why to cut TTT and how it will improve the class

As mentioned, cutting TTT will give the students time to talk more and work on their fluency. Also, it will help the learners to become more independent and autonomous through not relying on the teacher in every case.

Excessive TTT can make the class boring and students will get tired of listening to our voice however pleasant it may sound 🙂 We should not forget that the class is for the students and not the other way round.

Students are very resourceful and thinking they don’t have enough knowledge about a specific topic means we are underestimating them. They might pleasantly surprise us with insightful and thoughtful opinions and the ability to think critically.

Now, let’s look at some tips of how we can reduce our TTT and make the learning process more productive and result oriented.

Give clear instructions

Instructions are known to be one of the worst time killers if not appropriately staged. Failing to give clear instructions results in confusion among the students of what they are supposed to do, make the teacher repeat and reformulate the instruction, thus wasting a good amount of class time.

To avoid this, we need to consider the competency level of the learners and adapt the instruction accordingly. For instance, we can break down an instruction into several parts. Instead of saying:

“Read the text, answer the questions below and discuss ex. 3 with your partner.”

We can say:

“Read the text and answer the questions below.”

The next instruction can be:

“Comment on ex. 3 with your partner.”

In this case, students will need to remember one thing at a time and it makes everyone’s lives easier.

It is a good idea to use ICQs (Instruction checking questions) to make sure the students are clear of what they need to do. ICQs also allow the teacher not to repeat the same instruction, but rather ask one of the students to repeat what the task is.

E.g. “What are you going to do now?” — “Read the text”

“What will you do when you finish reading the text?” — “Answer the questions below”

You can read more on ICQs here

In case the instruction is a bit complicated such as “Use the words in the box and make a dialogue with your partner ticking the phrases you use in your speech”, you can simply demonstrate it with a stronger student for the rest of the class to follow your example. This eliminates a lot of questions on the part of the students.

— NO to echoing

It is quite common among us-teachers, to repeat what the students say when they answer to our question, when we want to draw their attention to a mistake they made in their speech, when we want to confirm some information etc. We do this instinctively, as it gives us some time to think and also fills the silent gap in class which sometimes can be awkward.

However, this adds up to our TTT a lot and is of no use altogether. Instead of this, we can try not to rush with responding to the students’ comments verbally, but nod, shake our heads, show a thumbs up instead.

Body language can also be very helpful here. It may seem strange in the beginning and will take a bit of getting-used-to by the students, but it serves the purpose of reducing TTT greatly.

In my CELTA practice course one of my lecturers gave instructions for a full activity by just miming and gesturing. The activity was about the students running to the board and writing several words under a certain category like “Food”. The rule of the game was that each student had to write one word, run back to their group, give the marker to another player and repeat the circle. This was all mimed and there was no student in the classroom left unclear of what the task was.

— Grading the language

Adapting the language we use in class is also very important if we want our students to feel confident in the language they know and use and to cut down on our TTT.

This takes some practice and experience as it can be hard to determine what words and phrases to use for different levels of learners when we are just starting our career.

An example for A2 level instruction can be something like this: “Read the text and answer the questions in exercise 2”. This instruction should be accompanied by gesturing and showing the text and the exercise to the students in our book to visually boost the understanding.

This can be staged a bit differently for B2 language competency: “Read the highlighted text and comment on the points in task 2”.

— Don’t take all the questions to yourself

Trying to make sure that all the student questions are answered, we tend to comment on every single question and try to give a full explanation.

A way to avoid this is firstly to ask the other students if they can answer the question their peer had just asked by gesturing to the class and inviting to comment. This happens a lot when students want to know the meaning of a word, to check an instruction, to ask which page the task is on, etc. Mostly, several students in the classroom are quite competent to answer these questions.

Hence, eliciting the information from the students can help us to avoid lecturing and giving long talks.

Similarly, if the question does not refer to the topic under discussion, ask the students politely to leave it to the end of the class. Encourage them to put it down, so they don’t forget it. Do come back to this question, so that the students feel acknowledged.

This saves a lot of trouble of class interruption and TTT.

— Use group work

Needless to say that group work is the best way to avoid T-centred classes and hence to reduce TTT. When students rely on the teacher a lot, they tend to ask all the questions to the teacher, clarify things only with the teacher and report the results of a task again to the teacher.

If we want to develop some independence in students, we need to teach them to work together. This can be done by asking them to work on a specific exercise in groups and forget that the teacher is in the classroom. They will need to figure it out on their own. Similarly, in group presentations students need to keep eye contact with the teacher. The best solution here is either to go and stand behind the students, so they don’t look for us, or hint the students to involve their peers in the audience.

— Create a detailed LP

Preparing a detailed LP can be something that we wouldn’t like to do every day. We do it for observed lessons and professional development courses, but in everyday teaching it takes a lot of time.

Nevertheless, thinking over the key things we are going to cover during the class is a must. Preparing instructions in advance by jotting them down for us is a great tool not to get confused in class especially if that is the first time we are teaching the course, or we are new in teaching in general.

A carefully planned lesson also ensures the smooth flow of the class where we don’t run out of activities or overload the students with routine tasks and exercises.

— Get rid of extra words in speech

We also tend to use quite a lot of extra words like time fillers. They make our speech overloaded and cast a shade on the main message. An example of this is: “To begin with, I would like to ask you to read the text you see on p. 6 in your book and proceed by commenting on the questions with your partner.

The bold words are extra. This instruction is redundant and has no communicative value.

This is not to suggest that natural speech should be avoided and replaced by robotic instructions, but it definitely should be kept for role plays, class outings, free practice slots, etc.

— Reflect on your class

Finally, reflecting on our class is a must if we want to grow as professionals.

There are things we do in class that instantly feel not right, we get the feeling that it would have worked better if staged differently and this is all cool as teaching implies learning as well.

If we are beginners in teaching, keeping a file of “Lessons learned” can prove to be very useful as writing down our experience can help us reflect deeper and not to do the same again.

Reflections are the first things professional development courses ask us to do before giving feedback to our class. It can be very useful if done consistently as no one is perfect.

And one more thing, learning from our mistakes is not a must while learning from others’ while observing peers can be very educational.

Here we invite you to share your experience and success stories on reducing TTT and any other means you have found useful to try

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