I’ve already written a post on teacher talking time. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a one-sentence summary:

I used to worry about the quantity of my TTT, until I realised I should focus on the quality.

In this post, I’m going to add some more thoughts and reflections on my teacher talk.

To begin with

  1. I do agree that planning our instructions is necessary in order to avoid excess TTT as well as confusion. Short and concise instructions are of crucial importance.
  2. I definitely believe that we should avoid rambling and use our teacher talk for classroom procedures or to contribute something meaningful.
  3. I’m a huge advocate of active learning and don’t think of students as passive receivers of comprehensible input.


  1. As Thornbury (2014) says, I realised what I should do is minimize grammar lectures or reduce unnecessary TTT such as over-echoing and not ALL my teacher talk.

2. Teacher anecdotes/narratives can be very beneficial for learners. Particularly when they are stimulating and create opportunities for involvement, e.g asking questions and reacting to content, backchanneling.

During live listening /storytelling, students practise listening skills, they use context to infer meaning of unknown words, they can notice how intonation affects meaning as well as notice the structure of this specific genre.

AbstractIndication that narrative will start
orientationIntroduces characters, place, time and situation
complicationMain body and details
resolutionDescribes how the problem was solved
codaIndicates the end of narrative
Evaluation  Speaker’s perspective of events  
Labov’s nararative model (cited in De Fina and Georgakopoulou, 2012)

3. As Walsh (2002) says, when our TTT has a pedagogic purpose, it can be a learning opportunity for learners. Put simply it should have an aim, whether that is to help students with conversational strategies, or review language.

4. There should be a variety of interaction patterns. Sure, if we do all the talking, it can be really tiresome for students. Conversely, I have noticed that when students are always in the spotlight they tend to get overwhelmed. There should be moments when the teacher is more than a facilitator and manager, but also part of the interaction.

5. If you’re teaching one-to-one classes, your TTT matters even more. You are the student’s only conversational partner.

How I plan and use my TTT in some stages of the lesson:

  1. Warmers: I try to recycle previously taught language. It doesn’t have to look like a review or a test; I tell my students a short anecdote, or ask them a question about their weekend, including some words, or better phrases/ collocations that they encountered in previous classes. I insert them into an interesting context to boost memorability. I recycle previously taught language this way often.

2. I make sure my TTT includes features of spontaneity, such as vague language. Noticing and using them can help my students improve their fluency:

Willis (2004) lists these types:

suffixes -ish or -y: nineish, greeny
completers: that sort of thing
placeholders: whatsitcalled
generalisers: sort of

3. When engaging students in conversational interaction, I use my teacher talk to model strategies and behaviours I expect to see from them, such as asking for clarification or repetition, paraphrasing, interrupting, etc. This is a more indirect approach to teaching conversational skills (Dörnyei, and Thurrell, 1994). When I do it, I make sure I  pause/project  my voice for students to notice them.

4. I now use more referential questions (Walsh,2002), i.e. ask genuine questions, which lead to actual communication. This is better use of teacher talk than display questions, (which display student’s knowledge) and only encourage an IRF pattern. When Scott Thornbury came to IH Barcelona to talk to my Module 2 team about teaching, TT and life after DELTA, he told us it’s always teachers who ask questions, whereas students should be doing that too.

Notice the difference between the two:

TeacherWhat is a laptop?  Initiation (display question)
StudentA portable computerResponse
TeacherDo you have a laptop?Referential question
Student What is a laptop?  Genuine communication
TeacherIt’s like a portable computer
StudentOh, yes I have one.
TeacherDo you ever bring it to school?

5. I pay attention to words my students misuse or mispronounce frequently, despite my constant efforts to correct them! I try to use these words often and sometimes even repeat them twice, for emphasis. That sometimes does the trick better than explicit correction. Repeating often can trigger noticing. E.g. one of my students kept mispronouncing definitely despite my ongoing corrections. I started using the word a lot in class, saying it loud and clear when I agreed. Definitely…definitely. He noticed it and can now say it correctly.

Key takeaways from Walsh’s brilliant article Construction or obstruction (2002):

Content feedback. Don’t only use TTT to give feedback on form but also on the content, the message itself. Back then at IH Barcelona, Scott Thornbury told us he often uses humour to elicit self-correction. When one of his students once told him “I’m a very good cooker”, Thornbury replied “Good. Are you gas or electric?” I found it hilarious and personally, if I were the student, I don’t think I would ever forget this joke or make the same mistake again!

Not always accepting first contributions. When what our students say is unclear, we can use our TTT to make good questions, and ask for clarification until we get a more satisfactory answer. Similarly, encourage students to ask the teacher to rephrase unclear sentences. A recent example: One of my students said something that sounded like /ˈʌʒɪən/. I asked, did you say Asian, eg coming from Asia, or ancient like very old, from a long time ago? He meant Asian but it turns out that he couldn’t pronounce either of the two correctly, so this question led to pron practice and learning two new items. Moreover, my student has automatised the did you say this or that frame when he’s unsure and asks for clarification.

Extended wait time: we don’t need to fill in all the gaps. Silence is OK sometimes. It allows students to think and provide a more complex answer, both in terms of content and syntax. (Nunan, D. 1991, cited in Walsh, 2002) . Rowe (1972), who originated the term wait time, found that the average pause after a teacher asked a question was approximately 1 second and rarely lasted more than 1.5 seconds. She suggests waiting at least 3-5 seconds in silence, or longer. Stahl (1994) also agrees on 3-5 seconds of what he calls think-time, defined as a period of uninterrupted silence by both teachers and students.

Let’s really listen to what students are saying and use our TTT to reformulate their sentences naturally in conversation. Again, by using our voice clearly and projecting it, we can help them to notice how we are upgrading their output.

StudentWe should take care of the body but also the mind.
TeacherRight, both physical and mental well-being are important. 

You can read my previous post on QTT versus TTT here.


De Fina, A. and Georgakopoulou, A. (2012). Analyzing narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dörnyei, Z. and Thurrell, S. (1994). Teaching conversational skills intensively: course content and rationale. ELT Journal, 48(1), pp.40-49.

Nunan, D. 1991: Methods in second language research: a critical review.
Studies in second language acquisition 13(2): 249–74.

Rowe, Mary Budd. “Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control.” ERIC, 31 Mar. 1972, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED061103.

Thornbury, S., 2014. An A-Z Of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Stahl, Robert J. “Using “Think-time” Behaviors to Promote Students’ Information Processing, Learning, and On-task Participation: An Instructional Model.” ERIC, Mar. 1994, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED370885.

Walsh, S., 2002. Construction or obstruction: teacher talk and learner involvement in the EFL classroom. Language Teaching Research, 6(1), pp.3-23.

Willis, J. (2014). Lesson 3 Vague Language. [online] Willis-elt.co.uk. Available at:  http://willis-elt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/3VagueLanguage.pdf