Putting our words to work: rethinking Teacher Talking Time

English Language Teaching loves a good acronym. There’s ELT to begin with and then, of course, there’s EFL – English as a Foreign Language – ESL, English as a Second Language and EIL – English as an International Language. There’s OHE – Observe, Hypothesise and Experiment and there’s PPP – Present, Practise, and then Pray! But the acronym in TEFL jargon that has attracted the most hatred and vitriol is undoubtedly the dreaded TTT – Teacher Talking Time.

Since the Communicative Language Teaching (or CLT) revolution of the 1970s and 80s, TTT has generally had a pretty hard time of it. On my own four-week CELTA course back in 1993, I was told the same kinds of things many EFL teachers of my era were told – “Keep TTT to a minimum”, “Don’t tell your students what they could tell you” and ‘The less time YOU spend talking, the more time your students will have to talk’. This advice is echoed in a lot of the literature of the field. For instance, in the Jim Scrivener book, ‘Learning Teaching’, recommended on many initial preparatory courses, potential teachers are told to ‘ask questions rather than give explanations’, to ‘increase opportunities for Student Talking Time (STT)’ and to ‘use gestures to replace unnecessary TTT’. The basic thrust of the argument has long been that TTT and STT exist in a kind of see-saw relationship – if the seesaw swings towards one, it will inevitably swing away from the other. TTT and STT are depicted as existing in opposition and any more complex relationship between them is generally glossed over.

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Of course, to begin with, in my own teaching, I followed the advice I’d been given. My students were subjected to lots of miming, plenty of elicitation, a fairly relentless barrage of closed Yes / No questions which I believed allowed me to check concepts, questions about texts, questions which allowed me to get at answers and so on. If you envisage classroom interaction as an eternal love triangle between a teacher, some students and material, at this stage of my teaching career, the material was very much the dominant force in the relationship! Most talking that I did was a result of activities in the books I was using and most talking the students did was to practise language – usually grammar – that came up in these books. The materials were the filter through which any Teacher-Student communication tended to occur. I relied on the coursebooks to bring changes of pace to the lesson, to bring interesting texts and interesting people into the classroom and to thus encourage my students to talk and I relied on it to get me through my day’s lessons. I was being, I believed, a student-centred teacher.

Obviously, carried to its logical extreme, this particular construct of what it means to be student-centred leads to some pretty mad situations, three of which I’d like to briefly tell you about. The first, I’m ashamed to say, was brought about by me. Once I was teaching an Upper-Intermediate class and the coursebook had a discussion point on life in big cities. Most of the class were busy chatting away and I was feeling successful. There was, however, one Czech student, who persistently refused to grab this opportunity to engage in STT and sat in stony silence. I rounded up the slot by asking her for her ideas. She resisted. I pushed . . . .  she burst into tears and ran out of the room! One problem with the notion of maximising STT is the underlying assumption that all students WANT to be chatting as often as they can. We need to accept that some students are just naturally quiet, shy or reticent and let them speak as and when they feel like it!

Secondly, a trainee on one of my CELTA courses had read some literature beforehand and had come in convinced he shouldn’t tell students what he could get them to tell him. He spent the first ten minutes of a 40-minute lesson eliciting answers to the question ‘What’s the difference between working in a mine and working in a hotel?’ before finally giving in and telling students ‘No, the answer I was looking for was THE SERVICE INDUSTRY’.

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Thirdly, there’s a (hopefully apocryphal) story about a one-time EFL luminary who was so keen to let his students be the centre of the class and to avoid intervention that he hid in a cupboard and tried to issue instructions from there. Of course, rather than facilitate mass STT, he simply turned the class into a farcical ‘Find the teacher’ episode!

For myself, when I look back at my earlier incarnations, I realise that I never really asked my students questions I didn’t know the answer to and I never really found out that much about them – about their lives, their loves, their hates, their experiences, their opinions, their worlds. Nevertheless, students seemed to respond to my youthful enthusiasm and the feedback I got was sufficiently complimentary to keep me in a job. Sometimes, though, I’d have a particularly late night and not have time for much preparation and thus end up in class a bit the worse for wear, lapsing into exactly the kind of TTT I’d been warned against. I’d tell my students all about myself, I’d talk about my life in London and my family and my ex-girlfriends and so on – and, amazingly, my students seemed even happier than they had done before. I started to realise that TTT could be a force for the good, but I had no idea how to harness it.

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Now, before anyone points out the bleeding obvious, I’d be the first to admit that in many many classrooms, TTT still prevails. Far too many teachers either indulge in the kind of back-packer chit-chat I’ve just confessed to myself or else fall back on the professorial approach and lecture at great – and often tedious – length about the beauty of the English grammar, the complexities of its grammar system and the derivation and etymology of its lexicon. It’d be foolish to deny that TTT is alive and well and either boring many students to death or else simply entertaining them without even remotely educating them. My point today is certainly not simply that more TTT is good and I think it’s worth spending a minute or two making it clear what I’m NOT suggesting today before I move on. I’m NOT suggesting that simply chatting to our students is a desirable end in itself and I’m certainly NOT suggesting that we return to the classrooms of the past where teachers simply pour forth in a stream of one-way conversational traffic.

To illustrate where I DON’T think we should be going, a couple of shameful stories. Sadly, in the first, I was the villain of the piece: a year or so into my own teaching career, and with the help of numerous grammar books, I thought I’d finally cracked The Present Simple. Enthused by this revelation, I came into class early one day, wrote fourteen sentences up on the board – all of them exemplifying different uses of said tense. When my class came in, I proceeded to talk them through them all, explaining as I went. Fifteen minutes went past and rapture turned to boredom turned to a glazing of the eyes. Finally, I finished and an Italian student raised his hand. “Yes, Francisco?” I enquired. “This is all very interesting”, he said, before delivering the killer blow. “But what exactly are we supposed to do with all of this?”. A brilliant question and one we all need to bear in mind before launching into yet another lengthy, tedious grammar explanation. I realised in a flash my only answer was a ridiculous one – ‘Umm . . . well, remember it, learn it – and don’t make mistakes with this structure ever again!”.

The second was one passed onto me unwittingly by someone who once attended a session I gave. The teacher told me how he’d been teaching an Elementary coursebook and had hit a text about dolphins. Now, for some crazed reason, this text contained the lexical item ‘search and destroy’. The teacher, apparently, was asked about this and proceeded to explain – I quote – ‘heat-seeking missiles and scuds and commando missions and the like’. God knows how many minutes – or hours – this took or what the class went away from this, but this seems to me a TTT-fest way too far!

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So, I hope that makes it clear that I’m certainly NOT advocating more TTT at any costs! However, what I AM saying is that talking is something that language teachers spend a large proportion of their working lives doing and is also something that has a profound impact on both the classroom dynamics we teach in and also on the kind of learning experiences we provide for our students. Twenty-something years after my initial teacher training experience, I now find myself believing that actually, far from being something best avoided, TTT – and, more particularly, WHAT we say during it – is really at the heart of good teaching. I also believe that if we are serious about improving the quality – and, I’d venture, QUANTITY of our students’ talking – then TTT has a  central role to play. OK, I’d now like to go on to consider some different kinds of good TTT in more detail.

Those of you who attend a lot of conferences may well have come across the legendary story of the BAD TEACHER who has a student whose mother has broken her leg. I’ve seen this story presented in several very similar ways as an example of how NOT to teach and – by extension – how not to TALK to our students. The offending conversation goes something like this:

Ss:  Sorry I no come class. My mum she breaked the leg.

T:   Breaked?

Ss:  Yes, breaked.

T:   No, it’s broke. It’s irregular.

Ss:  Oh, yes. My mum, she broke the leg.

T:   Good.

This delightful little exchange is presumably followed by ‘Now open your books at Page 41 and try Exercise Two”. Obviously this kind of teaching is mad, bad and sad – and not something to be encouraged. However, the problem I’ve always had when I’ve heard this story told is that very little alternative is ever offered. It seems that to many of the CLT / touchy-feely generation, the solution is simply this:

Ss:  Sorry I no come class. My mum she breaked the leg.

T:   Oh no! That’s awful. I’m so sorry to hear that. Anyway, open your books at page forty-one. Let’s look at some grammar, shall we?

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It seems to me that simply being nice to our students doesn’t really get us that much further. Sure, it might make those in our classrooms less likely to hate us, but it certainly doesn’t mean we’re teaching them anything. I’ve had my own bad experience of being on the end of pleasant teacher chat. I took some Advanced Indonesian classes a long time ago and much of our time was spent chatting in small groups about topics we’d been set by our teacher – a very personable young guy who came round, chipped in, helped out and sometimes even corrected on the spot. However, nothing was ever put up on the board and we were left with no record either of the kinds of mistakes we were making or of the language we’d been edging our way towards and that our teacher had sometimes offered us on the spot. The new language and the corrections came – and went – on the wind!

Personally, I think we need to work far more on finding a balance between a humanistic focusing on our learners as real people and a pragmatic language-oriented TEACHING focus and below you can see how I think this can be realised in the classroom through TTT.

Ss:   Sorry I no come class. My mum she breaked the leg.

T:   Oh no! Your mum BROKE her leg!

Ss:   Yes.

T:   Is she all right?

Ss:   Mmm . . . er . . . no good. They put . . . er . . . er . . . band . . .

T:   They put a bandage on?

Ss:   Yes, bandage.

T:   Is it hard, like this?

Ss:   Yes, yes.

T:   Oh right, so that’s not a bandage, then. They PUT IT IN PLASTER. How long has she got to have it on for?

Ss:   Sorry?

T:   How long has she got to have it on for? (writes this question on the board). Two weeks? Three weeks? What?

Ss:   Six weeks.

T:   Six weeks! What a pain! Can she walk?

Ss:   Now no. Two weeks in bed.

T:   Oh, right. She’s GOT TO SPEND TWO WEEKS IN BED! What a drag. Well, if you need to take more time off, don’t worry, yeah?

Ss:   OK, thank you. What did you say this was? (demonstrates)

T:   Plaster. THEY PUT IT IN PLASTER. SHE HAS TO HAVE IT IN PLASTER FOR SIX WEEKS. (writes this on the board).

S2: And the other – bandage?

T:   BANdage (T drills this). And what’s the difference between a bandage and in plaster?

S2: Hard.

T:   Yeah, OK. Which one?

Ss:   Plaster.

T:   So why would you put on a bandage?

S3: Cut.

T:   Yeah, OK. THAT’S A REALLY NASTY CUT – YOU’D BETTER PUT A BANDAGE ON IT. (Writes both sentences on the board). Any other reasons?

S4: Play football (points to knee)

T:   Oh, yeah. That’s happened to me, actually. I injured my knee a few years ago, so now I wear a bandage on my knee when I play – just to support it.

S5: My dictionary says plaster is this (points to a picture of a band-aid in the dictionary)

T:   Oh right, yeah, OK. Well, if you PUT A PLASTER ON, then you mean that kind of plaster, but if they PUT IT IN PLASTER – not A plaster – then it means you broke a bone. (T points to the expression written on the board). In this sentence here, who’s THEY?

S7: Doctors

T:   Exactly. Actually, with plaster, you’re most likely to say ‘HAVE YOU GOT A PLASTER? I’VE CUT MYSELF.’  (writes this on the board). What would the other person say?

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I think there are several interesting things going on in this extract. Firstly, the teacher is working from chatting and empathy towards language teaching – and back again. The teacher repeatedly switches from asking about the student’s mother to looking at language. Secondly, the teacher just doesn’t TELL the student – or the class – information about the language looked at. Rather, the teacher manages to work outwards from one student’s concerns into areas which reap rewards for all the students in the class. By asking questions like ‘What’s the difference between a bandage and in plaster? and ‘Why would you put on a bandage?’ the teacher is not only getting at connected language and other useful expressions around the subject, but is also bringing the whole group into the conversation and pooling their knowledge. There are other things going on here too – having elicited language from the students, the teacher expertly reformulates their utterances – thus covertly correcting and encouraging the students to keep listening as they’ll get to hear how to say what they’re trying to say in better English. So, for instance, right at the beginning of the exchange, when the student reveals “My mum she breaked the leg”, the teacher responds in a very humane, sympathetic way, but also – through stressing the voice – makes it clear that while the message has been received and responded to, the linguistic wrapper has been retouched and given a make-over. On top of all this, the teacher is also using the board to give students a record of how they can use these lexical items in future, how they’re commonly used.

In the Koran, there’s a profound line I’ve always loved that has serious implications for language teaching: ‘We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another!’ When I first started language teaching, I was young – 23 – and had always previously believed that I could never have a conversation with anyone who owned a Phil Collins LP! Teaching has been a real education for me in this respect as I’ve come to realise that I can actually talk to anyone about almost anything. Being nosy (as I am) also has real advantages in the language classroom and means that while my classes are filling up in the mornings or during coffee breaks or simply when things come up, I’m comfortable chatting and asking questions and learning about my learners’ lives and loves and interests, but am now also able to turn these conversations inwards towards language. So the first kind of useful TTT I think we can all benefit from is this chatting with a purpose. Ideally, I’d like to see teacher training and development courses taking this on board more and encouraging those on the courses to travel without the map of materials more often, to teach some new language that they hadn’t planned to, but which arises organically from their conversations with their learners.

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OK, onwards. I think as classroom practitioners, we’d do well to consider what exactly it is that classrooms can offer the language learner that other modes of learning can’t. One of the primary things that can happen in classrooms that can’t happen outside is that students can ask questions about language. I think one of the reasons students pay for the privilege of having teachers is so that they have someone with more knowledge of the language than they have there that they can ask questions about language. Obviously, as teachers, we should welcome these questions and answer them to the best of our abilities. However, I think we may all also on occasion be guilty of expecting out students to come to class not just being ready to learn, but also somehow miraculously knowing what they don’t know and knowing what to ask us about this. Like many teachers, I started my teaching career believing one of my roles was to be a walking dictionary, and I spent a lot of my time simply trying to explain the meaning of new words that students encountered, or – in monolingual classes – translating them. This is all well and good, but only gives learners part of what they need to know about new words. I’d like to suggest that well-guided TTT can help model for students the kinds of questions they need to ask themselves when learning language and yet can also at the same time use the class to get at knowledge about usage that’s beneficial for all. So my second kind of good TTT is what I call the Triple X skill – Explaining, Exemplifying and getting the class to Expand.

To give you an idea of what I mean here, the word instructor came up recently as an answer to a question about a text my students had been reading. Rather than just telling my class ‘an instructor is a person who teaches practical skills for a living’ or something like that, or – even worse in my opinion, but supposedly more STT-focussed – asking my class ‘What does instructor mean?’, I pointed out that this was a sailing instructor and said that this is someone who teaches other people to sail. I then wrote a little substitution table on the board, like this :

sailing

a      d…….        instructor

s…….

d…….

and  elicited the missing words – driving, skiing and diving. I then said that all of these people teach other people to sail, drive, ski or dive, and that an instructor is basically like a teacher, but that it collocates with these four words mostly. Next, I asked  the class what they thought the difference was between an instructor and a coach. From this, we established that they’re very similar, but that usually you say a tennis coach, a football coach or a swimming coach. I then wrote these three up on the board.

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Similarly, one of my students recently asked me what ‘guilty’ means. I started saying it was what juries often decide people are in court cases, but was stopped short by the student who said “No, no. I mean, FEEL guilty”. I then said “Oh, right. Well, usually you feel guilty because you didn’t do something you know you should’ve done, like buy your mum a birthday present” and I then wrote up on the board ‘I feel really guilty about . . . forgetting my mum’s birthday. I wish I hadn’t done it!” and asked the class what else you could feel really guilty about. From this, and with some reformulation involved, I added to the above ‘. . . what I said to my boss / losing my temper with her / eating that chocolate cake this morning’. I also dealt with some offered contributions from students which didn’t sound like things you’d feel guilty about, but were rather things you might regret, and ended up with another example table on the board :

I really regret . . . . .      losing his phone number. Now I’ll never see him again!

missing the game. I wish I’d seen it. It sounded great.

Asking students for examples of their own not only helps give them the words they want to say the things they want, but also serves as a kind of concept check – perhaps the best kind. Furthermore, the I-centred examples that end up on the board are the kinds of things students themselves might really want to say. When I’ve spoken about this kind of thing at conferences before, I’ve sometimes had teachers coming up to me afterwards saying how creative this approach is. Well, much as I love a bit of post-match praise, I want to get rid of the belief that there’s any great mystery to this kind of TTT. Basically, there’s a small, limited set of questions that teachers can ask their classes when going though answers to exercises, when checking homeworks, when dealing with vocabulary that’s come up in texts and so on that get consistent results – and that also model for learners the kinds of things they themselves need to learn how to ask YOU. Here’s a little check-list for you all:

Verbs:

– What does x-ing involve?

– Where would you x?

– Is it good or bad to x? Why?

– What’s the opposite of x in this situation?

– What kind of things can you x?

– Why do you x?

– What happens if you x?

– Has anyone here ever x-ed?

Adjectives:

– Is x positive or negative or can it be both depending on the context?

– Which nouns can be x?

– What’s the opposite of x in this situation?

– Have you ever been x? When?

Nouns:

– What can you do with x?

– What things can you do to x?

– Is x a good thing or a bad thing? Why?

– Which adjectives can describe x?

– Have you got an x? / Have you ever used an x? Have you ever been to an x?

Whilst I don’t think there’s any great mystery to these kinds of questions, there is something interesting about many of them. In the vast majority of literature about the kinds of questions that teachers ask students, a dichotomy has been set up between Display questions – usually closed Yes / No questions and definitely questions which the teacher already knows the answers to and is asking simply to get students to ‘display’ their knowledge . . . and there’s open questions – questions the teacher asks out of genuine interest and which aren’t usually intended to have any linguistic end point. I’ve already discussed ways in which I think this latter kind of personal question can lead to great ad-hoc teaching of language, but I’d also like to suggest that this stark dichotomy is misleading. I think there’s a third kind of question we need to think about asking far more frequently and it’s one that lies somewhere between display and open questions. It’s what I call ‘questions about language which generate language’. We all know that if students are going to learn to actually USE the language we teach them, they need to do than simply understand the meaning. They need to know something about collocation, typical usage, contexts of use and so on. Here’s one key way we can ensure they get closer to this. Again, perhaps an example will illustrate what I mean here.

Usually when I’m going through exercises, checking answers, I ask the kinds of questions we’ve looked at above. Obviously, there’s no point asking all of them all the time for each item and some proffer more fruit than others. Let’s consider this exercise below. It’s from one of the coursebooks I’ve co-authored, Innovations Upper-Intermediate:

PHRASAL VERBS WITH OUT

In this unit, we met sell out of and turn out to be. Use the following verbs in the gaps.

kicked      fell              sold            stands         make           tired            turned worn

1 I’m sorry. There’s none left. We’ve completely . . . . . . . . out of the small ones.

2 I didn’t like Molly at first, but she . . . . . . out to be one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

3 These boots are . . . . . . . . out. I’ll need to get a new pair before we go on holiday.

4 Joe and I used to be really good friends, but we . . . . . . . . out a few years ago after he never paid me               back the £250 I lent him to buy  car!

5 I need a rest! All this walking has really . . . . . . . . me out.

6 Could you speak up a bit, please? I can’t quite . . . . . . . . out what you’re saying.

7 Alan was . . . . . . . . out of the team. He was always late for training.

8 Bergkamp . . . . . . . . out as the best player in the team. He’s head and shoulders above everyone else.

Let’s just consider one of these lexical items – number 7. As I check the answers, I ask the following questions :

Anything else you can be kicked out of?

Who by?

Why?

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Now, the first two of these questions, I think I know the answers to – class, a bar or club, a political party / a teacher, a bouncer, the party leader – but the last one, I only suspect I know what the answers might be – for instance, I imagine the answers might be because you’re rude to your teacher or because you’re not good enough for the team. However, the thing with questions like these is that you can never be 100% sure of how your students will answer. The last time I did this particular exercise, one Swedish student of mine, Henrik, said ‘You can get kicked out of a club for throwing up in the middle of the dancefloor”. When pressed about the specificity of this, he confessed to a particularly grim first night in London! What’s interesting for me about the emergence of this anecdote is the fact that a lovely bit of STT actually emerged from some very specific, very language-focused TTT.

Two more examples of good TTT stem from how exercises like these can be exploited in class. Once I’ve gone through the answers and explored some of the usages with the class, got some new language up on the board – generally in whole sentences as students themselves would probably say them – I then want the class to do a bit of practice, some speaking using these words. The easiest way to get them to do this, I find, is to simply write a bunch of questions using the target lexis and asking the students about their own life experiences. I usually opt for the following:

Discuss these questions with a partner:

  • Have you ever been kicked out of a class / a club or a bar / a team? Why?
  • Have you ever fallen out with anybody? Why? Did you make up in the end?
  • Who was the last person you saw who really stood out in a crowd?
  • Have you ever misjudged somebody? In what way?       [They turned out to be . . . . ]

The first example of TTT that I think can be very useful here is modelling as a lead-in to the Student Talking Time. To these ends, I often tell the class my own story about how I first met one of my oldest friends. We used to work together and to begin with, I thought he was an idiot and we didn’t really talk for six months. After a while, though, we were put on the same class and shared that for three months and during that time, I got to know him better and he turned out to be a really great bloke. Simple stuff, you might think, but vital, I think, for three reasons. Firstly, it gives students an idea of exactly what kind of turn you expect them to now take when they attempt to relate tales from their lives. Secondly, it exposes them to useful lexis and grammar that they might now be more able to use themselves in their own STT.

I’m sure most of you are aware of Krashen’s acquisition hypothesis, where he puts forward the theory that students need to be fairly consistently be exposed to what he terms i + 1. Well, cunningly, he never really goes into much detail about what the i might involve. I’d like to suggest that this kind of TTT – where you take language just studied and explored and use it to tell an anecdote of a very similar kind to the one you’re then asking students to tell – might well constitute something approaching this formulation. Thirdly, this kind of TTT helps position you as a human being – a real-life person – in the classroom, rather than simply as a teacher. Yet it does so in a far more focused way than my early naive attempts at hung-over chit-chat ever did!

OK, so the students then talk, the teacher zaps around, listening in, maybe chipping in, helping out, correcting, but also – crucially – I think, getting some things up on the board. Once students have finished, I think they need some more input to show them how to say what they’ve been trying to say BETTER, to have a record of what they were corrected on or given as the teacher was listening in. The last time I taught this lexis, for example, we ended up with the following on the board:

The coach b . . . . . .  me for it, but it wasn’t my f. . . . . .  .

Whoever did it should’ve ad . . . . . . it / o . . . . . .   up.

We’re still not s. . . . . . . . to each other. I want him to a . . . . . . . first.

He was c. . . . . . . . . in tattoos and he had loads of p . . . . . . . . on his face.

In order to elicit the missing words – and they are just words, notice, not whole phrases, but also not just ISOLATED words either; they’re words in the context of the utterances students themselves were trying to make – I retold three stories I’d hear around the room – a Swedish woman who was kicked out of her hockey team in high school, because someone had stolen the coach’s whistle and she’d taken the blame for it – she remains angry about the injustice to this day!; a Moroccan student who’d fallen out with his brother about an unpaid debt and an incredulous Korean student who’d moved to Camden Town and seen her first cartoon London punk – complete with piercings and tattoos!

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Obviously, what’s going on here is not simply an elicitation of the missing words – although that is happening too, of course. Rather, there are three or four other things as well. The retelling is a form of inclusion. It’s a way of bringing the quieter and weaker students’ stories to the front of the class, of making them feel they have something worth saying – and letting the other students know they also have something worth listening to; it’s also basically reformulating things the students themselves have said. As such, the content is already understood, thereby hopefully leaving students more time and brain space to pay attention to the language and the forms. On top of this, it’s yet more input-rich talk and – due to the use of the board – it also gives the class something to go home with. They have a clear record of what they’ve now learned how to say. As such, the STT has NOT just been talking for talking’s sake. We cannot expect students to get better at speaking JUST by speaking. We need to take them further. Finally, for those of you in the audience who feel uncertain of your own ability to come up with this kind of language as you’re monitoring, well, why not simply cheat! Predict what you think students are likely to say – or what you yourself might say – and then round up by saying “OK. I heard someone talking about . . “. It fools them every time.

One final kind of good TTT that I’ve already briefly touched on is the art of elicitation. As well as eliciting missing words up on to the board, whilst reformulating students’ output, I think TTT is also very useful when re-eliciting texts – either reading texts or listening texts. One way into a morning that I often opt for is to put students in pairs and ask them what they remember about the reading or listening from the previous day or previous lesson. Students usually remember the main content – the meanings – but have often forgotten much of the linguistic package, the lexical wrapping. After a couple of minutes, I ask what the group remembers and re-tell the whole story, reformulating where necessary and dangling half-finished chunks before them, for them to finish off. For example, when recalling a text about a couple, the class perhaps suggest that ‘The woman’s parents didn’t like him’. I say “OK, so her parents didn’t . . . . ? Didn’t app . . . . ? Yeah, didn’t approve of him. Can you remember why?”

Now, if we want our classes to benefit from this kind of inter-related TTT and STT and if we want our own TTT to be more focused and more useful, we need to also think about the kind of material we are bringing into the classroom. One point that needs making is that is we follow a very grammar-dominated syllabus, the chances for us to ask many of the kinds of questions I’ve been suggesting we need to are by necessity very limited. There’s a lot more human connection possible to lexical items than there is to structures. Imagine how much easier it’d be for you to tell me something about yourself using kicked out of or fell out with than it would be if you had to use the future continuous! As such, we need material which is lexically-rich. Similarly, we need texts which are rich in useful language we won’t be wasting our time on if we stop to explain, exemplify and expand. Finally, we need material which offers students the chance to practise new language in a personal, meaningful way. Obviously. as a coursebook writer, I’d like to imagine that what we’ve managed to achieve with things like the Outcomes series facilitates this.

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10 Responses

  1. Crislei says:

    What a great text! Hugh I can’t thank you enough for being my tutor and helping me on my career. How much I learn from you! Thanks!

  2. Very interesting and full of useful insights, some of which we might have there, at the back of our minds, but have never actually put into words. Thank you.

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      You’re welcome Iryna.
      Glad it struck a chord and that you found it useful.

  3. Tom C says:

    What a fantastic read with really bisexual and practicle tips. Thank you.

  4. Tom C says:

    That should not read *bisexual* but useful¡! Oops

  5. Ivana says:

    Very useful and interesting. Actually, I often ask students about their own lives and know a lot about them. It is easier for them to talk about something they know and far more interesting thanks just focus on the textbook.

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      Yeah, these kinds of questions and sidetracks help to root the language of the coursebook in their own realities.
      And, as you say, help all concerned to learn more about each other.

  6. Irene says:

    Great article! Something that’s been on my mind for quite a while but how do you question the “conventional wisdom” of TTT?!
    Hugh, I agree with every point that you’ve mentioned. TTT has dozens of useful purposes and if used wisely can help bridge the gap between the student and the teacher, promote cooperation in a group, make students interested in each other and eventually in the course itself. The lessons, where a teacher is a human being rather than just someone “who knows best” are more memorable and meaningful. And how do you do that? Through TTT!
    Once again, thanks a lot for backing me up on what I do in class!

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      Glad it struck a chord with you Irene. I think lots of people reach similar conclusions, yet haven’t been encouraged via their training to think about TTT in constructive ways, so good to have contributed a bit to the debate on this area – and to have stuck a little knife in the sacred cow!


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