Stop Talking so Much!

by Jackie Bolen

When many teachers first start off their time in the classroom, they talk a lot (this is one feature of a teacher-centered classroom) and way more than they actually should. If you want your students to get better at speaking in English, they need to be speaking in English for most of the class, ideally at least 90% of it (this is one aspects of a student-centered classroom) if they are at intermediate to high levels of proficiency.

A Better Plan

The best way to make this happen is to put students in pairs or groups of 3, set up an activity or give them a set of conversation questions and let them get to it. Monitor for errors and offer assistance if required, but don't interfere. Some of my favorite activities to encourage more student talking time and less teacher talking time are surveys, role-plays, small group board games or something like running dictation.

What about Lower-Level Students?

If you have lower level students, the teacher-talk time will need to be increased from 10% to 30% or more but you should still try to reduce this percentage as much as possible. This percentage will also need to be increased if you teach young children since they will naturally need far more guidance than adults of a similar level and you will have to be changing activities quite frequently in order to hold their interest.

A Rule of Thumb

This is a good role of thumb for thinking about this topic: if there is ever a time when you are standing at the front of the class lecturing, consider whether or not this is necessary. Lecturing is one of the least effective ways to convey information, especially a language, which is best learned through practice. You could instead have the students do a guided self-discovery or use the test-teach-test approach. Active, engaged students are going to improve their skills, so make them do the hard work--not you!

About Jackie Bolen

Jackie has been in Korea for almost a decade and has taught every age group and level of student. She's currently working at a university in Busan. You can find all the ESL speaking activities mentioned in this article on her website,