2/2/2011 – #ELTchat – Effective ways to minimize TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and maximize STT (Student Talking Time)

“It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.”
Dame Rose Macaulay
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”
Fran Lebowitz
“There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you’re busy interrupting.”
Mark Twain

Last week we talked about the ways to promote learners’ autonomy and this week it was about TTT/STT in classroom. In many ways these two topics are related. What is the role of the teacher in the classroom? Who is/should be the centre of attention during the lesson?
One of the ELT methods, which restricted the amount of TTT in teaching/learning process, was Silent Way. The teacher should be silent as often as possible and students should be able to use the language for self-expression and become independent by relying on themselves (not teachers).
Later on, it was discussed that the optimal TTT/STT ratio is 30%/70%.
But, is TTT really that bad in the classroom?
Isn’t the overall classroom dynamics, sharing information and experience more important?

Why are some teachers talking too much?
• Fear of silence (music could help in that case) 🙁
• Some teachers are “talking at the students” not communicating with them
• Sometimes we forget to give the thinking time to our students
• Too long or complicated instructions/explanations…
• Not enough experience with teaching or lack of confidence

When is TTT good/effective?
• Language model (in case your students don’t have access to English except you)
• Listening activity (authentic), story telling
• In project/task-based classes – teacher as a model
• TTT used with a purpose (meaningful talking)
• Let your talk be genuine – you are a person not only teacher
• Keep it relevant and to the point
• Be spontaneous/flexible

How can we improve the quality of STT?
• Provide safe speaking situations (and relaxed atmosphere)
• Pair/group speaking tasks (group of three is great solution for shier students who can listen to the others in group and participate when they feel they want)
• Pyramid discussion
• Body language of a teacher (move in the classroom, your position in the class, help and encourage students, lower yourself when listening to students speaking, smile 🙂 )
• Encourage shy students – a lot of scaffolding, small steps
• Encourage your students to speak also outside the classroom – use voice recording for example
• Get your students move in the classroom from time to time (more natural for speaking than sitting and talking to a person on the left/right)
• Make sure the students understand the language they are supposed to use and know what to do
• Try to avoid boredom and confusion over task
• Show interest in what your students say
• Let them speak from a personal point of view rather than course book
• Pretend you have lost your voice, write a topic on board, let them talk about it, write a vocabulary and self-correct themselves
• Authentic small talk
• Give yourself and your students 5 minutes of repeating what they learned
• Ask few students to monitor the speaking activity of others and then give feedback
• Have your students make quick personal posters (A4) and then present them in pairs/groups/circles
• Use role plays, improvisations
• “find someone who” kind of activities
• Keep in mind that activities need to be set up so all the students (strong as well as weak) are encouraged to speak
• Arrange class party
• Students pecha kucha in pairs
• Be the same person in/out of the classroom
• Information gap activities
• Board games
• Use provoking news, headlines, quotes to get them express their opinion (sth they want to speak about)
• “each student has 6 beans, they give back a bean once they contribute to conversation”
• Password game: write vocabulary vertically down index card. 2nd card covers all but 1st word. Teacher shows a student word, student gives clues so other students can guess

AND A GREAT SUM BY CHUCK SANDY: “In sum: Be balanced. Use TTT judiciously. Make it effective. Be real. Engage SS w/meaningful work.Step back.Let learning happen.”

Further reading

– My favourite “go-to” lesson application by Jason Renshaw
– some great gesture training in Teach Like a Champion
– Silent Way video with Donald Cherry


  1. Pingback: Effective ways to minimize TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and maximize STT (Student Talking Time) | #ELTchat

  2. “Let learning happen”.

    Such a crucial point, and well addressed here with your “why/when/how” Qs, and subsequent points. Great read.

    While teaching in China, I aimed for 80% student speaking time and 20% teacher time because they had grown up in a system of nearly 100% teacher speaking time. So, of course the majority of the students oral english was strikingly poor when compared to their reading/writing levels.

    Interesting that the first “why” point is “fear of silence”.

    I wonder if the ESL community on twitter were to try a “silence” experiment, what would be the experience from classroom to classroom. A minute of silence. A minute w/o any “adding” “filling”.

    [ My own personal rant here follows… 🙂 ]

    Mainstream culture is so “sound-oriented” for lack of a better word, that few ever consider the silence that allows for sound. The same for our “object-oriented” perception of the world; we’re rarely aware of the space that allows for these objects.

    Furthermore, in the last hundred years with quantum mechanics we’ve learned that more than 99% of the material environment is actually space (as in space between atoms).

    Quick cambridge physicist explanation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kypne21A0R4

    So are we missing out on 99% ? 🙂 haha

    I find it all fascinating. Thanks 4 sharing!

  3. Dear Brad,
    thank you for a great comment!
    Concerning the silence in the classroom, hmmm, some students as well as teachers may have the feeling that a silent class is either bored or there is nothing going on. I remember what Ken Wilson once mentioned about reading aloud…that one teacher complained about the silence in the classroom when students are not reading aloud. Well, we all need to get used to that, I suppose 🙂

    “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”
    Martin Fraquhar Tupper

  4. I was kind of “up in the phillosophical clouds” with my last comment. 🙂

    Of course we have to be sensitive to the tendencies of a specific environment. There are clearly cultures or classrooms where silence is more or less welcomed. Being a good “dialogue creator” or teacher means listening to how students react as well.

    It’d be fun to see what very international teachers think about this, and how they compare their different experiences. There are some ELT gurus out there that have probably taught in 15 countries. Who are they and how do we get ’em talking. 🙂 Cheers, brad

  5. Great sharing on STT and TTT.

    I’m currently doing an action research on STT and TTT for my class (EFL) and have done some google search of the papers about it yet I found only a few. Can you suggest some books or papers about STT and TTT.

    Thank you very much for your attention

  6. Pingback: #ELTchat » Effective ways to minimize TTT (Teacher Talking Time) and maximize STT (Student Talking Time)#ELTchat Summary 2/2/2011

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