The CELTA Trainer’s Diary Part 6 – Increasing Student Talking Time

In the first week of the CELTA, trainees were told to generate as much student talking time as possible by playing the role of the dinner party host or facilitator, asking genuine questions and handing over to students to work in pairs/groups as often as possible, while trainees listened and took notes of the language students produced.

After all, interaction is the key to language acquisition.

As the first session of the second week, I timetabled the second tutor to conduct a session called ‘Personalisation and Promoting Genuine Interaction’, looking further into ways trainees can get students talking.

In Güven’s weekend posts, ‘Extra Teaching Tips’ and ‘More Tips for the Weekend’, he lists some of the lessons he has learnt from the feedback given to his TP (Teaching Practice) Group’s first two Practice Lessons.

Amongst Güven’s tips are ‘Remember to sit on the chair’, ‘Be careful with the use of Powerpoint slides’, ‘Ask students genuine questions (and not just display questions) in open class discussions’, and ‘Remember to give feedback on content following pair/group speaking activities’ – and as his tutor, I must say I am absolutely over the moon that he has taken these tips seriously enough to blog about them.

As the observer of these practice lessons, it is evident how trainees applying those tips can dramatically change the atmosphere in the classroom and the behaviour of the learners. Let me explain.

‘Remember to sit on the chair’

Don’t stand on ceremony!
Photo by @acliltoclimb from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

When teachers use the chair more, instead of standing authoritatively hovering over students, they instantly put themselves on par with the students and this changes the dynamics of their relationship.

In open class stages, teachers must remember to stay centralized (assuming students are seated in a horseshoe position) and avoid hiding behind or leaning on tables or desks that serve as a barrier between teacher and students.

When monitoring, chairs on wheels enable teachers to ‘roll’ around the classroom checking if students are on task, supporting and helping students and feeding in language they need, and taking notes of the language that emerges for a delayed language feedback stage.

The only occasion that I believe calls for the teacher to stand is when drilling students. The ‘Model – Choral Drill – Individual Drill’ sequence is more effective when the teacher is standing as it focuses the attention on the teacher when he/she is modeling the pronunciation of the target language, and it keeps the drill pacey and snappy.

Of course, the use of the chair is made easier by the fact that we have about 20 students in the classroom and not 50…

Click here to see Naomi Epstein’s response to this blogpost regarding the use of the chair and class size.

‘Be careful with the use of Powerpoint slides’

But if you use Powerpoint slides with a guitar in hand…maybe you’re okay…
Photo by Mike Hogan at http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh

An overdependence on Powerpoint can turn the lesson into a teacher-centred slide-centred presentation, rather than a student-centred class in which plenty of speaking practice and student involvement is prioritized.

Think ‘workshop’, rather than ‘speech’.

‘Ask students genuine questions (and not just display questions) in open class discussions’

Photo from allenkleinedeters.wordpress.com

A genuine question is one where the teacher shows real interest in what the student is saying and is asking a follow-up question to find out more.

Here are some examples of display questions:

Student A: I take my camera to Madam Tussauds yesterday.’

“Did you take your camera to Madam Tussauds?’

“So what is the past of ‘take’?”

“And Student B? Where did you take your camera to yesterday?”

Here are some examples of genuine questions:

Student A: I take my camera to Madam Tussauds yesterday.’

“Did you take lots of photos when you were there?”

“Really? And which celebrity did you want to take photos of?”

“Madam Tussauds? Did you like it?”

The result – the student talks more and gets more speaking practice, and because the teacher and the student is communicating real meaning, the other students are more likely to join in and respond to what is being said. Cross-classroom interaction is fostered.

‘Remember to give feedback on content following pair/group speaking activities’

After a freer speaking activity where students have talked or done a task in pairs/groups, ensure you conduct an open class feedback to the content of what was discussed or done. Say, if they were talking about their ideal job, ensure you leave time at the end of this stage to ask them questions like ‘So what was your partner’s ideal job?’ and ‘What criteria did he use to make that decision?’ in open class. React with genuine questions (see above).

Avoid jumping straight to feedback on language (also known as Delayed Correction) before focusing on content. It is feedback on content that makes the task meaningful for students, and the chance to retell what was discussed/done is invaluable speaking practice.

Allow me to add a couple more.

Make it personal, make it intimate.
Photo by @dfogarty from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics

“Personalise and make the topic/subject relevant to the students’ lives’

Ask the learners questions or give them tasks that relate to their lives and their opinions. In other words, don’t just ask them which type of holidays John and Mary in the listening text of Headway Intermediate like. Ask them which type of holidays the learners like.

But personalisation is a two-way game.

If you want learners to reveal something of themselves, it is important that you are willing to reveal something of yourself too.

Tell your learners about the type of holidays that you like and the ones that you don’t. Not only does this personalize the topic, it also acts as a model that helps clarify instructions and show learners how much depth you want them to go into.

But don’t get carried away and end up giving a 10-minute speech about your holiday.

It’s the learners that need practice of their English, not you.

“Ensure that the topic/task are engaging and can indeed generate discussion”

Sometimes, speaking activities fall flat on their faces and we teachers wonder why the students just weren’t talking.

A trainee once tried to implement a freer speaking activity that involved learners talking about the merits of Beethoven versus Mozart for 10 minutes in pairs. No one spoke because no one knew very much about or were interested in classical music.

I’m in no way trying to say that Beethoven or Mozart are not engaging. But consider the interests (and needs) of learners and be careful of creating tasks that reflect your own interests.

In another situation, the trainee asked the learners the controversial question “Do you think that the death penalty should be brought back?” and was surprised that the discussion only lasted for 1 minute or so.

It was a difficult question that when sprung on the students could only elicit responses like, ‘No. I think the death penalty is bad.’

Try out the tasks you are about to give students on your friends, colleagues or family. Ask them the questions you are going to ask students and see how easily and to what extent they would respond.

If the questions are not generating enough discussion, ask yourself if the questions need to be rephrased or supplemented with further questions that can help scaffold the thought process.

And now that Week 1 is over and the trainees have learnt to be the star facilitator, it’s time to look at how language is being covered in Teaching Practice.

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