How to manage TTT and increase STT in ESL teaching

The balance between TTT and STT

The balance between TTT and STT

02.02.2024

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A teacher plays a crucial role in passing on knowledge. However, giving lengthy grammar lectures or listing vocabulary in the classroom isn’t the only way to teach languages. 

Think of how much time you spent talking, explaining the rules, and answering students’ questions during the last lesson you taught. Did you talk a lot compared to the students? Could you reduce your talk to give more time for learners to express themselves? 

In this article, we will answer the question of how to make a lesson more learner-centred by exploring a delicate balance between Teacher Talking Time and Student Talking Time.

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TTT vs. STT: what are they?

Teacher talking time (TTT) refers to the time during a lesson when a teacher speaks.

It can be simply giving instructions, asking and answering questions, clarifying some rules, etc.

Meanwhile, student talking time (STT) is the amount of time students spend speaking in class when they practice the language and apply new knowledge in conversations, discussions or other activities.

Why to reduce TTT?

If a teacher talks a lot during the class, there is a good chance that students will stop listening somewhere in the middle of the monologue and won’t absorb the information however useful it is, which in turn leads to the ineffectiveness of the lesson. 

Moreover, even if learners do their best to stay focused, they can just get confused by long explanations that are full of terminology. They’ll start asking more questions, which will cause an even higher level of TTT. 

Sometimes, no or few explanations are needed when it comes to, for example, some grammar rules or the meanings of vocabulary items that students can figure out themselves using the context.

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In addition to this, you can’t be sure that students have understood the rule before they actually start using the target language.

We don’t learn languages from lectures, we learn from practicing, making mistakes, analysing, correcting them on our own and using the language ourselves.

And finally, by speaking more, students will have a sense of achievement that will motivate them to study more. 

Put yourself in your student’s shoes and answer the question: will you be more satisfied with yourself after a lesson with a lot of long and hard-to-follow explanations? Or will you feel true fulfillment after a lesson where you spoke about yourself, expressed your own opinion, thoughts, plans, and wishes, and shared personal experiences with a teacher and other students? I suppose the answer is obvious. 

So, when there is a high level of TTT, the lesson becomes teacher-centred and monotonous with students not being actively engaged or concentrated.

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Appropriate level of TTT / STT

TTT should be significantly lower than STT. Why?

We can’t say that teacher talking time is something completely negative. We still need some time to model accurate language use, provide essential scaffolding, manage the classroom, guide interactions, and give feedback to the learners.

Nevertheless, we need to maximise the time learners spend using the target language and let them speak more in class. That’s why, ideally, a teacher shouldn’t take more than 30% of the lesson time for TTT. The more the teacher talks, the less time remains for students to do so.

How to reduce TTT?

Use different interaction patterns 

The best thing you can do to lower your level of TTT is to make your lesson varied in terms of interaction patterns.

If each of the activities you have prepared is done open-class, your talking time will inevitably grow, and students will spend only a few minutes of the entire class time to express themselves having to do it one by one. 

Many activities can be set up as pair- or group work, so make your lesson more interactive by allowing students to practice and talk with their group mates.

Use peer correction effectively

Clarify new language effectively 

Another way to reduce TTT is to organise work with the target language effectively.

You can use different lesson frameworks such as guided discovery, test-teach-test, task-based learning, etc. in order to avoid over-explaining and talking about the rules for too long. Let students find out the rules themselves by providing an intelligible context and asking Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)

By exploring new concepts themselves, learners will remember them much better.

Example: presenting the structure “used to”: “He used to play football a lot when he was a teenager, but now he doesn’t have time for it.” CCQs:

  • Did he play football in the past or present? (in the past)
  • Did he do it once or many times? (many times)
  • Does he play football now? (no)

Give simple instructions 

When giving instructions, keep them short and clear. The simpler, the better. 

For this, use imperatives and don’t be over-polite exploiting phrases like “I would like you to…”, “Can you please…”, etc. Your students won’t be offended if you don’t use it, but the time you spend on giving instructions will be reduced.

Compare two examples:

“Now, after we discussed how to use Present Perfect Continuous, I would like you to practice more with it using very interesting text, which you will definitely love… When I read it yesterday I was so excited to discuss it with you in class… So, what do we do... You will need to fill in the gaps that you can see in the text with the correct form of the verbs in brackets… Do you see it? Yes, right here….”

“Look at exercise 5. Complete the gaps with the correct form of the verbs. Use Present Perfect Continuous.”

However, remember to include all the necessary information your students need to know to complete the task, demo an activity by doing one example together, and, if needed, check their understanding with ICQs (Instruction Checking Questions). For example: “What tense do you need to use?”.

How to give proper instructions in the class?

Stop echoing

Repeating students’ words may seem quite unnatural compared to the way we speak in real life. 

T: What did you do today?

S: I went to the gym in the morning.

T: Oh, you went to the gym, how interesting…

S: Then I met with my friends.

T: Hmm, you met with your friends…

S: We had coffee and lunch together.

T: Coffee and lunch …

Maybe, you feel like this dialogue isn’t about you and your lessons, but quite a few teachers have this habit to a certain extent. There can be different reasons why you echo your students, such as trying to make learners’ answers audible if it wasn’t said very loudly, filling in awkward silence, trying to react somehow and show that you are listening to the students, etc. Not all of them are entirely negative.

However, echoing takes the precious time of the lesson and is not needed at all in most cases.

A better way to react to your student's responses is simply by asking follow-up questions or using short responses like “that’s right”, “really?”, “absolutely”, “wonderful”, etc.

Get rid of pause-fillers and running commentary

Although silence in class may seem scary as you feel like you are making students wait, they don’t know the answer to the question, they are bored, etc., giving students some thinking time is essential.

Some learners might need time to organise their thoughts, formulate sentences, come up with the correct answer, or just process new information. 

Also, even if you need to spend some time opening your presentation, organising breakout rooms, or finding the right handout, don’t feel pressured to fill every gap with unnecessary comments like “I’m going to share my screen and show you a presentation …”, "We don’t have time to do what we were going to do, but I’m going to give you guys a hand-out...., ‘This question is probably too difficult for you, but let’s think all together…”

Don’t “think out loud” or talk too much without pausing.

Your students will appreciate a few seconds of silence and use them to find the task, look through the rules again, think about the answer, and so on.

Tips and tricks on giving feedback

Give feedback in different ways

Nominating students in open class to give answers to some tasks isn’t always necessary. 

T: Maria, is the second statement true or false? 

S: False.

T: Good. Alex, what about the next one?

S: True.

T: Right. …

What`s the usefulness of a dialogue like this? Who talks more, a student or a teacher? How productive is this speaking? Think of other ways to provide feedback:

  • pair-checking
  • demonstrating the answers on the screen
  • checking it against a key
  • students nominating each other one by one
  • etc. 

Of course, you will still need to discuss some of the trickiest points together with students, asking them to explain their choices. 

However, it can greatly reduce your TTT and save some time for more productive, speaking activities.

Some positive uses of TTT

So, should a teacher mute themselves and give complete control over the lesson to students? Definitely not.

A teacher is a model of correct language use in class.

Your pronunciation, intonation, use of grammar, and vocabulary in context, all of this can help students immerse themselves into the language learning environment and see how they should use the language themselves. 

Moreover, you might want to present the target language in a personalised context.

Tell your students an anecdote, share an experience from your life, or present a story containing the grammar or vocabulary you need and elicit their meaning using the context.

You don’t even need to use a text for reading or listening to teach some language.

Useful techniques for providing feedback!

Sometimes, there might be some students who need more clarification or your help however comprehensible your guided-discovery task or CCQs are. You may have to provide further explanations and answer your students` questions.

A small tip: ask the whole class if they know the answer; maybe a stronger student is willing to show their knowledge. It will boost their confidence.

When practicing, to demonstrate a speaking task you can briefly show it yourself or ask another student to help you role-play a situation together to make sure that the rest of the class understand how the activity should be done. 

And last but not least is maintaining a conversation. During the lesson, you need to ask questions, many questions, be it CCQs, ICQs or personalised and follow-up questions. As well as this, you need to react to responses.

It all takes time, but it’s useful TTT, which encourages students to stay focused and participate in discussions.

Conclusion

Finding the right balance between TTT and STT isn’t easy. It depends on many factors such as the lesson content, student language proficiency levels, etc. 

Let your students explore the language themselves and try to get rid of habits like echoing or running commentary. But remember that you don’t have to mute yourself to reduce your TTT to a bare minimum. 

Just be aware of the quality of your talking time and make students actively participate in class as much as possible.

Does thinking out loud help to reduce TTT?

Article authors & editors
  • Alina Butchak

    Alina Butchak

    Author

    CELTA-certified teacher of General English

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