How long are you actually talking in a lesson?

September 10, 2018


Teacher talking time: necessary or overrated?

Teachers like talking. A lot. In my experience that does not have to be a bad thing. History teachers can be great story tellers and physics teachers might at their best when they explain what makes their subject so important for real life situations.

However, one might argue the available time resources (read: a lesson) should also be used to allow students to practice their skills, like language skills. Especially in a CLIL lesson.


Why teacher talking time might be a good thing

Let me start by saying this is certainly an opinionated piece, like most blog articles are. As such, I try to make sure that I look at a topic from both the positive and the constructive point of view.

So why can teacher talking time (ttt) be a good thing? 

1. Teachers can place content within context

Teachers have the difficult task to make explain the sometimes theoratical ideas in books. Using stories and interesting context can certainly help to make these ideas make more sense for students.

Personal example: I explain the topic negative numbers using a story call "the witch".  Students have told me multiple times they really appreciate this approach and understand the topic a lot better.

2. Interactive questioning

Unlike a book, teachers can ask students clarification questions and make sure the explanation is interactive and interesting. This allows for a lot more variation than just 'reading a book' or 'watching a video'. I am not saying videos cannot be interactive and digital books cannot ask questions, but this will never as personal as a teachers' approach. 

As a teacher, you know exactly which student to ask which question to make sure that particular student learns the most. This skill should not be underestimated.

3. Personal touch

Whenever I explain things, I try to implement current themes and anecdotes from students. This is not anything I prepared, as students' stories change quite often. However, by integrating a quote or a story a student shared, you immediately make the whole explanation a lot more interesting for them.

Why teacher talking time might not be a good thing

Obviously I am not saying ttt is something that should never be done. But whenever this takes too long, you might encounter challenges. 

1. Too long...

In my online course on lesson planning, I also discuss the important stage of "Instruction". This particular lesson stage seems to have a tendency of taking too long. 

The avarage attention span of a goldfish is said to be about 7 seconds. Our students are supposed to be able to focus long than that, but I wouldn't strech it too far..

To help me with this, I allow students to time me and make sure my instructions don't last too long. Because students know what to expect, they tend to be more focused. I do have a few other rules for effective instruction.

2. Time for actual learning

Teacher talking time reduces student talking time.  It is that simple really.

If you talk for more than half of the time, you students will have less time to discuss things, learn from each other an develop their own learning and language skills.

3. Practicing language skills

I assume you teach in a CLIL lesson setting. This means you want to motivate your students to generate language output. This is not going to happen when you are the one doing all the talking, right?

Students can learn from each other and while they do that, they are also practicing language skills. I say: win win! (I am aware this sounds easier than it sounds, but that does not mean you should not try)


Without making this post too much of a "you should do this" type of article, I do hope you understand why teacher talking time is something you should be aware of and use effectively. This might imply you limit yourself a bit!

So next time you think something is incredibly interesting ask yourself the question:

It this really needed to help the students in their learning at this specific moment?

If the answer is no, there are a lot of other things you can do to make the learning more effective and interesting!

Other interesting resources on this topic

Blog post "How to get your students to speak more during a lesson"

Teaching English: "Pro and cons of teacher talking time"

Video on Teacher Talking Time from "teach like a champion" (see below)

Credits: Image designed by Freepik

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