Trained Teachers Maximize Student Talking Time

Teacher Talk Time vs Student Talk Time:  Teacher vs Student Centered Time in the Classroom

Trained teachers realize that the classroom is often the ONLY place their EFL students have an opportunity to speak in English and thus make provision for as much student talk time as possible.

Untrained teachers still often believe they are the center for the classroom and should bring photos of their family and home town and talk about that.  They assume that students will find them fascinating as the center of conversation.

Students will be polite and listen, but they aren’t learning much and they aren’t getting much speaking practice.

I read a LOT of lesson plans and one of the first mistakes newbie and untrained teachers make is believing that each student must talk directly with the teacher.   But in a sixty-minute class with twenty students that means, at a maximum, each student will be able to converse for only three minutes.

If you put them in pairs the maximum jumps to the full sixty minutes.  Both examples are extremes, but if we accept that they don’t get much opportunity to practice speaking and listening, we can see that pair work offers a huge advantage.

Of course students need to hear your natural speech, but that can happen in the presentation/engagement portion of the lesson, during the warm-up, wrap up and also incidentally at other times.

Try to organize your lessons to maximize the amount of actual speaking practice for your students.  Keep your lesson targeted on the students and what they need to learn.  A student centered classroom is a much more effective learning environment.  And take those pictures of your family back to your apartment!  Unless, of course, you are talking about families and the students will soon be talking about theirs.

TED’s Tips™ #1:    Keep your class focused on the target language and get your students talking.  Learning speaking skills is a lot like riding a bicycle.  You have to actually do it to get good at it.  The best way to maximize student talk time is with pair work – early and often in the lesson.

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Using L2 Outside the Classroom

Have a Relaxed Chat Outside the Classroom

A lot has been written about using a students’ first language (L1) in the EFL (L2) classroom, but almost nothing has been reviewed about using English (L2 – the second language) OUTSIDE the L2 classroom.

I really don’t know why.

We have written previously here about using L1 in the L2 classroom and I tend to use the L1 almost not at all and I have tried to make a strong case for that approach.

Across four countries in 15 years, I’ve somehow been able to conduct my classes from start to finish with rarely a use of the L1.

Many teachers though are worried about excluding the L1 and also want to use it to warm up to the students.  Okay.  That might make the teacher feel better, but I am not sure how much benefit is there for the student.

OUTSIDE the Classroom

So I see the L1 trying to sneak its way in the L2 classroom, what about sneaking the L2 into the student’s L1 environment outside the classroom?

I’ve always felt that if a school hired me as a native speaker EFL teacher that they should get what they are paying for from the time I step on campus until I go home.   When I meet my students in the hallway or in my office – I use English.   If I meet my students in town or other places it doesn’t hurt to get a bit of relaxed L2 practice going with the students.

I could be selfish and practice the local language with my students or I can help them learn what a relaxed and casual conversation might really be like.  Without much correction.  Let’s just chat.

Let’s have a Chat

Just how often have they had that opportunity?  To just chat?  No examination, no review of how you have done, no grades, no nothing – just pure and simple and enjoyable (!) communication.  In English.  Maybe never?!  Probably never!

Isn’t or wasn’t that the real goal anyway?  Why are we teaching them English if not to learn how to communicate in English in natural situations?  Well . . . here is one now – don’t pass it up – talk to your students in English!

It seems some teachers almost want to apologize for “forcing” English on their students.  Take the pressure off the whole thing and just have a nice casual conversation – in English.  Doing so is a very good way to know if you are succeeding in the classroom or what might be missing from what you are teaching that you should add.

Really, if you meet your students on the street and they can’t have a simple little Hi, how ya doing?  Where ya going?  See ya later? kind of conversation – have you been doing your job?  Why not find out?

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Be a real English teacher and help your students get a handle on English every opportunity you have.  Outside the classroom is a great place for them to get some relaxed, non-evaluated practice and maybe to get to know you as a human – in English!

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TEFL Training for a Career Change

A reader recently asked:

I would like to become a TEFL or ESL certified teacher. Is this certificate necessary to teach abroad for an educated American?

If so, where is the best place online to study and affordable?

I was laid off so I don’t have extra income, but this is my dream to stop working for corporations and do something I’ve always wanted to do.  I enjoy helping people.

A TEFL certification is not a requirement to teach English in many countries, but knowing HOW to teach well is a nice idea.   It is only fair to your students who are spending money to sit in a classrrom with you.

You asked about an online course and you’ll find that China, Korea and Japan – three of the world’s four largest EFL employers accept them – so you will be in good shape.   I am a fan of the TEFL Boot Camp course, but that’s my bias.  I wrote it.  Fair warning!

There is a good amount of free information about teaching and how to teach on that website.  Give it a read even if you don’t wish to sign up.

I quite understand that the price of in-classroom courses can be prohibitive when you are first starting out and some colleges and universities do offer such courses, but they are often as costly as the commercially priced TEFL training schools that can run about US$1500-2500.  Add in the cost of not working for four to six weeks and room and board and it can begin to get expensive.

That is not always true though – so keep your eyes open!

Taking a course just for the certificate is not a bad thing. It does helps fluff up the resume and says you are at least interested enough to learn more and spend a  bit of money to do so.

Why not consider teaching in Korea, where you can save some serious money or even China where you will work a bit less, can have a university position and see a bit more of  the world?

Saying that, I am assuming you have a BA/BS degree? Lots of options are out there for you, take a look at:  TEFL Jobs in Korea and: TEFL jobs in China.

If you want a certification with a guaranteed placement offer – try TEFL Internships for a placement in China.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   It can be a lot easier than you think to actually get started teaching English abroad.  The most difficult part is making the decision to do it.

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Teaching Functions Lessons in EFL

Our Monthly Featured Comment/Question – from a reader of our blog:

About a year ago, I took the highly-regarded [name deleted] TEFL training course which turned out as rewarding as it was cultivating.

However, I have come to realise that I am in desperate need of learning to plan functions lessons because what was offered on the course was minimal at best.

I can choose target language well and I can certainly clarify items, introduce topics, prolong a section, and conclude it smoothly.

My problem is in two areas:

1. How to clearly and quickly set up the functions task
2. How to manipulate students into producing the exact target language without resorting to audiolingual approach.

Please advise a plan sequence or recommend a book (or both) because my whole confidence is kind of hanging by a thread.

My response was as follows:

I am not sure that you are perhaps making it more difficult than it needs to be. But – my first question would be: for whom are you creating these lessons?

Your students will most likely determine how you would organize and create and structure your functions lessons.

Certainly if you are teaching Business English or Hospitality English (as examples) in work settings, the language is going to come right from their work place.

You can easily ask people what they are having trouble with or for what type of interactions do they use English – and build your lessons from there.

But even for kids, a functional lesson like – Asking and Answering Questions about your Favorite Video Game – would not be difficult to get going quickly, no?

Some good resources for getting a better handle on functions lessons?  Try these . . .

Check out the website at Business English Ebook.  There you will find quite a few functions lessons and in the ebook (found at TEFL eBooks).

The Hotel and Resort English eBook is also functions based.  Check out that website at:

Between those two websites you can get a good feel for what a tightly focused functions lesson is all about.  There are lots of examples right on the websites and many are organized such that it would be easy to transfer them right into the classroom, including activities and worksheets.

TED’s Tips™ #1:   You might also check out a previous post here called: Don’t Teach Grammar:Teach Functions

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