“Developing Teacher Talk” is the title of a presentation that I gave at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow earlier this month.
After the session, I became aware of a bit of confusion that I may have caused. One teacher that I spoke with thought that I was encouraging teachers to talk as much as possible in class. I certainly wasn’t!
Anyway, in order to clarify things a little bit, here are 8 thoughts about teacher talk:
1. Teacher talk has to be defined
On many courses, teacher talk is seen in terms of quantity. It is often referred to as TTT (Teacher Talking Time). Perhaps this assumes that we are dealing with blocks of teacher talk – measurable monologues perhaps?
But good teacher talk involves one voice and two ears. It can and should be interactive. When we speak about teacher talk, we can be referring to any / all of the following:
- Bringing our own personalities into the group
- Asking questions and responding to answer
- Giving instructions
- Giving explanations
- Making conversation with students
- Using our own stories as texts for language input / language study
- Using our own stories to get students speaking and writing
- Creating learning affordances, recognizing them, and working with them effectively
2. Teacher talk has an image problem
Teacher talk is often considered to be an inherently bad thing. The idea of it seems to connect instantly with images of teacher-centredness.
This is a problem because no one has a very good definition of what teacher-centredness is. It is the perfect example of a vague term which is open to personal interpretation.
As my friend and mentor Rod Bolitho taught me, it is more important to consider what is learning centered. In other words, if you can justify it pedagogically, then what’s the problem?
3. Teacher Talk is inevitable, expected and 100% essential
We all have to speak in the classroom. So doesn’t it make sense to develop and improve our teacher talk rather than feel bad or guilty about it?
4. Teacher talk techniques
In order to develop our teacher talk, there are many skills, techniques, and classroom activities that we can make use of. These include:
- Grading your language
- Making use of space (also called silence)
- Making use of gesture to reinforce meaning
- Reading a text aloud (well)
- Using dictation
- Using your voice sparingly
Note that my book Videotelling includes a description of about 20 such techniques. In the book, these are referred to as “Storytelling Techniques”.
5. It’s not just about comprehension
When considering the function of teacher talk, we should remember that the teacher’s voice is an incredibly important source of language input for language learners – perhaps the most important source of all.
Every time you open your mouth, you provide your students with an opportunity to take away a new piece of language or to consolidate something that they are already in the process of learning.
Imagine, for example, that you have introduced your students to the phrasal verb ‘to find out’. In order to make it more memorable, why not try to use this phrase yourself as many times as possible throughout the lesson.
“So, the answer to number 8. Let’s find out what Juan thinks …”
6. The TTT mantra should be given out with a postscript
We all do it. From time to time, each of us is guilty of talking too much in the classroom. And this can especially be true for trainee teachers.
The TTT mantra (“Always keep your teacher talking time to a minimum”) can serve as a practical rule of thumb in some cases. But it should be given out with the following post script:
Teacher talk is not actually bad. But it is a good skill to be able to use it sparingly. When you finish your teacher training course, you will have years to work on your classroom communicative skills and hone the effectiveness of your voice.
7. Teaching a language is reassuringly difficult
Somewhere along the way, many of us were led to believe that teaching English is easy. Many of us were trained to be technicians who distribute texts, press play buttons, or ask students to open their books at page …
In this way, we were led to believe that the materials – rather than the teacher – should do the work.
Teaching English is actually very difficult. It takes years to become a good classroom communicator; to develop an awareness of what works and what doesn’t; to be able to recognize learning opportunities and work with them.
All of this involves developing teacher talk.
8. Storytelling is an excellent way of developing teacher talk
Storytelling is not for everyone. I know plenty of teachers who do not feel comfortable with it. However, for those of us who do enjoy telling a story, it can be a great way to develop our classroom communicative skills. This is what my book Videotelling is all about.