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12 Ways To Encourage STT

There is often fierce debate about the relative merits of Teacher Talking Time (TTT) and Student Talking Time (STT) in the classroom. Although TTT has its place in providing a model for students, it is clear that the principal objective of most students is to be able to use English verbally, ie talk as well […]

There is often fierce debate about the relative merits of Teacher Talking Time (TTT) and Student Talking Time (STT) in the classroom. Although TTT has its place in providing a model for students, it is clear that the principal objective of most students is to be able to use English verbally, ie talk as well as listen. And it is equally clear that without the opportunity to practise unaided talking, a student can make little progress in this area. But even when a teacher is determined to maximise STT, getting students to talk is not always easy. So how can we encourage an activity in English which in the student’s own language we might find difficult to stop?!

One of the most important things is that students should understand that they are “allowed” to make mistakes. That mistakes are, indeed, an essential part of the learning process. That it is not always necessary for mistakes to be systematically corrected by the teacher. And that students very often recognise their own mistakes – whether it be seconds, minutes, hours or even days after making them – and that such recognition is infinitely more valuable than teacher correction.

Admittedly, it is not always easy to convince students of the value of mistakes and some nationalities have more of a “blockage” in this respect than others. Try reminding them of how they learned their own language. Ask them if their children – if they have any – speak or spoke their language faultlessly at first.

The following speaking activities can promote STT and, incidentally, significantly enhance motivation.

Spot The Difference (elementary +)

Pairwork. The students each have similar but not identical pictures. Their task is to discover the differences without looking at each other’s pictures.

Information Gap (elementary +)

In information gap activities, two speakers are each given different parts of the same information. Since each speaker does not have all the information, there is a “gap” that they need to bridge. A typical information gap activity is where student A has a picture and student B has to recreate it by asking questions and following A’s instructions. Other examples would be incomplete airline schedules, town plans and user guides.

Clap! (elementary/intermediate +)

The teacher starts telling a story. After a few sentences, she claps her hands and asks a student to continue the story. After a few more sentences, the teacher claps hands again and asks another student to continue. Repeat as necessary.

Surveys (elementary/intermediate +)

Surveys and questionnaires on any subject (transport, taste in films, smoking, eating…) can be given to students or, better, prepared by students themselves. Students should then walk around the class, interviewing each other and getting the answers to their questions. If they are in an English-speaking country, and have a good enough level, they can even conduct “real” surveys in the street.

Getting To Know You (elementary/intermediate +)

This classic first-lesson activity will get students off their feet and working together. Students have to find someone in the class who “has lived in a foreign country”, who likes “spiders”, “who is going to…” etc. You can find a prepared handout for this activity in ESL Worksheets (but watch out for the trick questions).

Discussion (intermediate +)

Successful discussion needs some preparation since we all find it difficult to pronounce on a given subject without time for reflection. Students can be warmed up with simple questions from you as teacher leading finally to the subject that you want to discuss. They can then be divided into groups, each discussing separate – and perhaps conflicting – areas of the topic. Finally the groups can be brought together into a more general class discussion. But don’t flog a dead horse! Better have a gap-filler or alternative activity up your sleeve in case the discussion dries up.

Roleplay (intermediate +)

In roleplay activities, students in pairs or groups are given specific identities in a particular situation and asked to act accordingly. They are usually given quite detailed written instructions. Many course books contain photocopiable roleplay instructions for a variety of situations. And with a little imagination you can easily prepare your own. Try to given participants conflicting objectives.

Competition Judges (intermediate +)

Groupwork. The students form a panel of judges who have to decide the winner of a competition. Give each group five or six short poems or photographs to judge. Then let all the groups come to a unanimous decision.

Talks And Presentations (intermediate +)

Although sometimes daunted at first, students usually find presentations highly rewarding. A presentation can be anything between five and fifty minutes (though fifteen is probably a better limit) and followed by questions and answers. It needs careful preparation. This online tutorial on presentations also leads to a free, downloadable Teacher Presentation Kit in the Teachers’ Download Area.

Balloon Debate (intermediate +)

Classic activity for group discussion. Five people (can be celebrities like the pope, US president etc) are in a balloon that is rapidly losing height over the Atlantic. Only one of them can stay in the balloon. Each has to make a case for staying.

Radio News Recording (intermediate +)

Groupwork. Members collaborate to create today’s radio news programme. They need a presenter, several reporters, witnesses and perhaps a politician or film star for interview. All discussion for preparation of the news should be in English, and of course the rehearsal(s) and final recording. Depending on sensitivities, analysis of the final recording can provide useful feedback.

Improvisations (intermediate +)

Unlike roleplays, in which students are given clear instructions, improvisations plunge students into different situations with no time for preparation. You may be surprised at how imaginatively they respond. Such activity calls for students to think on their feet and encourages them to think in English. Warm up with pairs and conclude with groups. Here’s a ready-made selection of improvisations for pairs (Small Ads, the Hypochondriac etc) and groups (the Hold-up, Extra- terrestrials etc).

Written by Josef Essberger for TEFL.net
February 2004 | Filed under Speaking
Josef started teaching English in 1991 and founded the popular website EnglishClub for learners and teachers in 1997, followed by TEFL.net for teachers in 1998. He is author of several ebooks including "English Prepositions List".

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