One of the biggest obstacles in ESL coaching is Teacher Talk Time (TTT). Teacher speaking time is the time a teacher spends speaking in class. Since a traditional English lesson for English-speaking students is often dominated by teacher explanations, many teachers think that this should also be the case in an ESL classroom. However, the opposite is true. The less a teacher normally speaks, the more effective the teacher will be in an ESL class.
Let’s examine how an ESL student hears English. First the student hears the English. There is a mental process involved in translating English into the listener’s native language. If he can translate it correctly, then he will understand. Then an answer has to be formed. Usually the answer is formed in the mother tongue and then mentally translated into English. This ongoing process is mentally draining.
Below are some guidelines to help minimize TTT in the classroom.
- Give simple and clear instructions.
There should be a separation between ESL lessons and ESL lessons. The purpose of the class is to impart knowledge and the purpose of the instructions is to help students learn the knowledge. Both can be difficult for the ESL student. The ESL teacher must be careful not to mix up new knowledge with new instructions. Here is an example.
“Okay, let’s repeat a word we learned last week. We discussed the word “persecution” yesterday, and I know you will remember the meaning, but I just want you to share the meaning with me. You remember the meaning of word chasing as we discussed it last week, don’t you? “
This is a classic example of way too much teacher talk time. There’s a good chance the ESL learner doesn’t even know what the teacher is asking. The teacher will get a strange blank look from the student thinking that his teaching skills have failed. Instead, this dialogue could be a lot simpler.
“Let’s look back again. What is chase? “
This is simple and easy to understand. It focuses on the knowledge, not the instructions. Here is another example during an online lesson.
“I want you to put your cursor over the red hat, please.”
Yes, it’s still easy, but it could be a lot easier. Instead, consider the following:
“Where’s the red hat?”
Instinctively, the student uses his mouse to find the red hat and point to it. The less TTT, the better.
- Follow your instructions.
Consistency will also help the student focus on the knowledge rather than the instructions. It is imperative for young learners to develop a list of instructions that can be used in the classroom.
Turn to page…
Point to the …
Read with me.
Read after me.
This list is just a few of the many simple commands that can be used during class. Using the same command over and over increases the student’s ability to respond properly. There are many ways to say, “Please get up.”
Great, I want everyone to stand up.
It’s time to get up on your feet.
Please get up from your seats.
Everyone stand up!
Each of the above sentences is differently difficult for students to understand. Instead, simple commands with consistency help students follow the flow of the lesson. It is not the ESL teacher’s job to impress the students with incredible command of English. A disciplined teacher will strive to be consistent with simple, easy-to-understand instructions.
- Do not have an ongoing conversation about events that are happening in the class.
Sometimes an inexperienced ESL teacher says, “Okay, class, we’re playing a game. The game is called Simon Says and it’s a very fun game.” Instead of telling students what you are going to do, just do it. The ESL teacher should avoid commenting on any event that happens in the class. Dead times during class are perfectly acceptable. These pauses allow the student’s mind to rest and focus back on the main material that is being taught. Consider the following ongoing dialog during an online class.
“Okay, I think our connection could be cut a little. So where have I put the document that I wanted to show you? Oh yes, here it is. Just a second while I pull it up. It is loading. Sometimes it takes a while, but we should be able to move on in a second or two. Okay, let’s go.