Remember the rule of 25% TTT and 75% STT
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, it means that a teacher should talk only 25% of the time during a good ESL lesson. TTT = Teacher Talk Time, and STT = Student Talk Time. In the early days of my ESL teaching career, I found this impossible to achieve, in fact I found it really difficult to get students to speak for 25% of the time! Have you found the same problem? Do you have a solution? Maybe this is one that will work for you.
This was discovered by accident one day teaching with a severe cold and a sore throat which stopped me from being able to speak at all. It’s not known if yelling a lot in order to be heard over the top of the students for several weeks had anything to do with having sore throat, but that’s beside the point.
This technique can even create an environment where students are talking 99% of the time. A huge claim! You don’t believe me do you? Well read on to see how you can do it, and how effective this technique really is.
Getting noticed when you enter the classroom without raising you voice or slamming books on the desk, 101. You need to create the situation where students actually see you coming down the hall and prepare themselves for your appearance. (ESL time is Showtime!) This can be achieved through the method explained in my article “ESL, Chanting for Classroom Management”, but don’t worry, you can start this without having implemented doing that first. Building a harmonious learning environment takes time and can’t be established in a linear sequential process. Like everything in life, it’s usually a series of overlapping circles.
Here’s one place to start:
One or two of your students have to be able to read one or two simple instructions, in order to start here, so if they can’t, you’ll have to go right back to basics and battle your way through teaching simple instructions like, open your book to page ….. Now, assuming some amount of reading ability, say, false beginner, or pre intermediate level, we can start to have some fun!
You will run an entire class without saying one single word, so tell yourself that you can’t speak. Walk into the room, and go straight to the board while making eye contact with whoever is interested, and mime having a sore throat. Write something on the board like, ‘I can’t speak’, now wait for some indication of some students comprehension, then write, ‘I have a sore throat’. Wait for more confirmation. Next, write something unexpected, like, ‘stand on one leg’, (TPR is a great attention getter). Continue with a few more TPR (Total Physical Response) exercises. Then explain (in writing) that you can’t talk and that they will have to read everything you write.
Using ‘a sore throat’ is a great way to get started if your lesson is about illness related vocabulary, or body parts, but if your lesson is on another subject use your imagination to incorporate some vocabulary, or structures as you see fit.
Now that you have the full attention of your students, deliver your lesson as you would normally, but you have to write ALL your instructions on the board.
You want them talking? OK, here’s how, start by asking simple yes – no questions, and use your hand to ear body language to indicate that you require students to say ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Once you’ve established this, you can start to include some concept questions, always showing the need for speech from them (mime being deaf as well).
To clearly show that speech is required, it’s fun to draw a stick figure of yourself and one of the students, then use a speech bubble to give instructions and a speech bubble to show that the students have to respond. If you want them to write something, simply use the speech bubble to give directions and write the gap fill or whatever exercise on the board in a designated area. If you want to include listening, use the tapes or CDs, that’s what they are for! You’ll find that this will become a guessing game and students will love it, while also feeling sorry for you because you’re not well, so now you have started to ‘connect’. You may also notice the natural ‘pecking order’ of the group, because a few will start to take control and tell the others what to do in their first language, that’s cool, because when these other students understand what to do, they will start to learn English.
So now you have your students using their eyes to understand English, and speaking or writing in English in order to solve a problem (your sore throat, and hearing disability) both by reading and paying attention to your body language. This is “pay dirt” for you, you haven’t said a word and the students have done all the work. Isn’t teaching ESL fun?
With this technique you can have students, chanting, oral reading, answering questions, asking questions, telling stories, playing games, and any language skill in any subject area you choose. ALL WITHOUT SAYING A WORD, and that’s the first time you try it! On top of that you have also run a valuable reading for comprehension lesson! Don’t work against your students, work with them and show them respect. It will come back ten fold.
Obviously you can’t fake a sore throat for ever, but you can use this “ESL, the silent way, 99%STT” technique as part of your overall teaching methodology. For example you can start a lesson by writing, ‘this is a reading lesson’, so I will not talk, and you must read everything’. Or not even mention the nature of the lesson, just start writing.
Use your imagination and remember: “If you enjoy what you’re doing you never have to work a day in your life.”