Most teachers readily agree that the students should receive as much opportunity to speak as is possible when learning English as a foreign language. This idea is especially true in the EFL classroom, where students don't live in an English-speaking country. In such cases, the students may only have the chance to practice English as a conversational tool during the sixty or ninety minutes of the lesson. But whatever the situation, the more students speak in English, the better English speakers they become.
It's best to consider talk time in the following percentages. Students should speak for 70% of the lesson. Teachers should speak for 30% of the time. Of course, some lessons may require longer explanations on the part of the teacher. Or other lessons may only require a minimal amount of explanation, and 90% or more may be devoted to conversational activities. But this 70/30 figure works well as a goal in most classroom situations. Consider the following positive and negative examples as well:
1. The teacher praises students.
2. The teacher provides feedback, correction, and possible guidance.
3. The teacher presents information or gives instructions.
4. The teacher sets up and/or demonstrates activities.
1. The teacher offers personal anecdotes that don't connect to the lesson.
2. The teacher speaks too quickly (or slowly) for the level of students.
3. The teacher offers too much correction.
4. The teacher explains the target language for too much.
5. The teacher excessively uses slang and fillers.
Listening activities, examples from the teacher, demonstrating an activity... all can affect talk time. Let's look at some of the following examples to better highlight good use of talk time.
1. The teacher reads a paragraph as part of a listening activity. The teacher speaks most of this time, as he reads the monologue several times and asks comprehension questions. However, his talk time can be deemed effective because the students get to practice their listening and comprehension skills. To increase the effectiveness, though, the listening activity could segue into another activity. Maybe the students could pick out idioms and try to use them in subsequent conversations. Maybe the students could imagine subsequent events from the monologue, or rewrite it as a dialogue. Maybe the students could summarize the monologue in their own words.
2. The teacher provides examples before eliciting a few more sentences from the class on a particularly difficult grammar point. Although his talk time is quite high here, the class can better use the form and function of the language. In other words, they know the structure of the target language, how to use it, and why to use it. This translates into better and more accurate usage both later in the lesson and out in the real world.
3. The teacher explains an activity's directions step by step, then demonstrates the activity with a student. Last, he checks confirmation with a few questions, such as "What will you do first?" and "How about after that?" Again, the talk time is high, but students can immediately begin the activity without confusion.
A lot has been said so far regarding the teacher's talk time. For students, the most effective use of their time occurs when they are actively using the target language. This can come in the form of drills early in the lesson or as part of a meaningful conversational activity later. Be careful of the following negatives, though.
1. Students drill the target language throughout much of the lesson, and don't have the chance to use the new grammar or vocabulary with previously studied material. Drills are great to set the pattern of the target language, but students won't know how to use the language outside of these narrowly defined parameters. If students are still practicing with drills towards the end of the class, then the teacher may have introduced too much in the lesson. Retention will drop, and talk time will be rendered ineffective.
2. Students don't practice the target language enough in drills, and so make numerous mistakes with the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and so on. If this continues during the whole class, then students may not understand how to correctly use the target language. They will continue to make the same mistakes outside of the class. Although the students may have spoken a lot during the lesson, they used the target language incorrectly. Again, this translates into ineffective talk time.
3. The teacher talks or calls on students one at a time. Although the talk time for the class may be roughly 70%, individual talk time is quite low. In a class of ten during a one-hour session, answering questions one by one translates to six minutes of talk time for each student. This isn't enough of an opportunity to speak and practice the material! A better course of action would be to pair up the students, have them practice in drills and free(r) activities throughout the lesson. Two students speaking in pairs for one hour would mean roughly thirty minutes each of talk time, which is a huge difference!