Teaching Tips 153
One of our main teaching tools is the use we make of teacher talk. It is one of the main sources of exposure to oral English, & in some classrooms the teacher's voice might be the only English that the students hear. Teachers on entry level training courses are encouraged to reduce teacher talk to a minimum & then as more experience is gained, they are in a better position to use teacher talk more effectively. Here are a few of the major uses for teacher talk:
|- giving instructions, setting up tasks, organising the students
- responding to the students
- explaining & clarifying skills & language
- giving feedback - on the content of tasks, on the language used
- maintaining the social rapport of the classroom
- providing 'live listening' - telling stories & anecdotes
- being involved as another member of the group eg. in discussions
- previewing & reviewing the lesson
The above can be delivered in a planned, focussed & efficient manner or be unplanned, unfocussed & rambling. Effective teacher talk depends on how principled it is. A teacher needs to knows why they are talking & try to make it as efficient as possible, moving from the unprincipled to the principled.
Teacher talk can reflect a teacher's view of how language learning should take place. For example, a teacher who feels that they are the best person to explain new language will use more teacher talk, while a teacher who feels the learners can work it out together will use less teacher talk.
A common reaction to students' responses is for the teacher to repeat what they have said, echoing them. If all can hear & it is correct then there is no need to echo. By echoing unnecesarily the student might be unsure if the utterence was correct, the echoing devaluing the utterence.
Here are a few ways to help you become more aware of your teacher talk:
- consider teacher talk in lesson planning - write out your complicated instructions.
- with live listenings write out notes, not a script, so that when you tell it, it comes out naturally.
For an excellent book on storytelling in the classroom see 'Once Upon A Time' by Morgan & Rinvolucri (CUP).
- monitor yourself, take notes in a teaching diary
- get a colleague to observe one of your lessons & give you feedback on your teacher talk
- get feedback from your students on your teacher talk
- audio/video record yourself & analyse it to see how more efficient it could have been
Skillful & principled use of teacher talk can make all the difference to the students & their learning.
To get hold of 'Once Upon A Time':
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It's also how
you say it
Have you thought how monotone & boring your students sound when they are involved in pair & group work? This could be for a
variety of reasons: the activity might not be particularly
interesting, there is no genuine communication happening, the
students are tired, the activity is too difficult or they might be
concentrating on saying the right words & forgetting about how
they are saying it - the intonation.
A simple way to help them with this is to focus on pitch
(sometimes called key). This is the height of the voice & can be
high (for interest, surprise, shock etc.), mid (for information,
neutral) or low (for boredom, disinterest etc.) - it's all to do
with how you feel about what you're talking about.
Here are some ways of encouraging your students to sound more
1. Explain that they sound uninteresting & ask them how they
would react to a speaker like that. If they don't believe you
then tape them & play it back to them.
2. Talk to your students in the same monotone way & they'll soon get
3. As you monitor mimic them & tell them to sound more
4. Tape several short conversations & the students identify whether
the speakers are using a high, mid or low pitch. Then in threes,
two students read two line dialogues & the third student identifies the
pitch they are using - rotate speakers & identifier to give all a
5. In listening activities focus on the feelings of the speakers.
A classic extensive task is; how many speakers are there & what's
the relationship between them/how do they feel?
6. Put a sentence on the board & students say it together in
different ways; surprised, bored, astonished, impressed...
7. Compare the pitch of your students native language with English.
If they use a narrow range in their own language then make them
aware of the difference with English.
8. Give out roleplays & not only give the role but also how they
9. Mime roleplays - give students rolecards with a scene on it &
three adjectives to incorporate into the given scene - the students
practise & then mime the scene in front of the class who try &
guess the three adjectives.
10. Give an 'opposite mood' roleplay: one student is happy about a
few things & the other is unhappy about the same things so they
have to convince each other to change to their mood. This is
similar to the activity 'Moaning Minnies' in Communication Games
- Advanced by Hadfield (Longman).
11. Informal/formal language - play two conversations, one
informal (usually higher pitch) & the other formal (usually lower
pitch) but the pitch is wrong - students discuss the differences -
then they can have the conversation with the script using the
right pitch & carry on the dialogues.
So it's not only what you say but how you say it as well!
Do you have any more ideas? If you do, please post for all in
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It's Burns Night on 25th January, so for some lesson material:
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Keep on moving
Great Curtis Mayfield song. What about your
students - do you get them up out of their chairs at least
once in most lessons? It can make a big difference to the
general atmosphere of the lesson, helps them take a physical
break from some intense tasks, gets the blood circulating
again, makes the lesson more dynamic & can be lots of
fun. Most students can see this but you do get the odd one
who groans when you ask them to stand up. Sometimes they might
refuse to get up. As with most things, the more you do it
the easier it is. So if you don't regularly get them up, start
incorporating it into each lesson.
Here are a few activities when students get
up out of their chairs:
- mingle activities - for example
a Find Someone Who activity - students mingle, talking to
everyone in order to find a person that matches the information
that is asked for on their sheets.
Another example, a very light-hearted 'conference
advice sessions' are lots of fun - e.g.. a group of phobics,
each with a different wacky phobia, mingle & discuss their
problems, giving & getting advice to help. A group of
travel agents on the verge of a breakdown, each having different
customer experiences which drove them to despair, again mingle
& discuss their problems, giving & getting advice
- students using the board - filling
in timelines, writing vocabulary, drawing etc.. When planning
to use the board in a lesson, think if you can get the students
to do it for you. Takes more time but can be interesting.
- roleplay to add more realism &
paralinguistics to the activity. Before the roleplay the students
discuss where they'll be standing, what (invisible) props
there will be, & how they will act. They act out the roleplay
several times, trying to make it as real as possible.
- total physical response activities - see the Tip 'Action'
- running dictations - see the Tip 'Running Around'
- viewing texts that you have put on the
walls of the classroom - a convenient way to view a lot
of texts - this could be an information gathering task or
just looking at examples.
For the younger learner you could put pictures
of objects on the walls or colours & when you say the
object/colour they run & touch it.
- viewing other students' work on the
walls - either just looking or correcting written work
of others or deciding which is the best letter, advice written
- warmer, coolers & games......see the
list of warmers
A game for the younger learner - Mr Wolf
- assign a student to be Mr Wolf & stand her at one side
of the room. The others are at the other side & ask the
question, 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?' who might reply 'It's
one o'clock' & the students all move one step towards
Mr Wolf. When Mr Wolf decides that it's time, she might say
'It's time to eat you/for pizza' & tries to catch as many
students as she can before they manage to run back to their
side. The ones she catches joins her on the other side. The
object is for Mr Wolf & caught partners to catch the rest
of the class.
- drama activities - for example, here's a very nice
activity called 'Dramatic Moving'. Clear the room of chairs & desks & get the students at one side of the room.
You then give them instructions on how they should move to
the other side of the room & back. For example:
- you are really happy with life & you going to an important
& exciting meeting.
- you are on a beach & have to get to the water, 50 metres
away, but the sand is blistering hot.
- you are carrying two heavy suitcases up a steep hill, the
sun is beating down & you're wearing a heavy overcoat.
- you're on a tightrope, 50 metres in the air with no safety
net, you need to get to the other side. There are occasional
breezes that make balancing difficult.
Lots of fun.
It can be awkward asking small groups & one-to-one classes to stand up & move around
but it is still very useful for the reasons mentioned at the
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