What can you do to apply student speaking time effectively?

April 30, 2018


Do your students talk a lot? Good!

CLIL is all about maximizing language output for students. But that is not easily achieved when a teacher explains most of the time, leaving little room for students to actually practice their speaking skills, is it? That is were student speaking time comes in!

I know it is hard. Sometimes I just want everyone to listen while I explain something, simply because it is important. To most of them. I think…

Yet, does everyone really need to listen all the time? And isn’t your job as a language teacher (you teach CLIL right?) to help students develop all of their language skills (not just listening).

Asking the question is answering it of course.

The pit falls

Obviously allowing too many students to talk most of the time is the other reason teachers might stay away from practising this skill too much. If you cannot hear yourself think anymore, students might just have a little trouble concentrating as well.

So, how do you help students practise their speaking skills, without creating a noisy mess?

Below some ideas I use in my lessons:

Three ways to improve the student speaking time

I confess, these ideas might seem like no-brainers. However, in my experience simple and small changes in my own teaching can have huge results. All three of these will result in more student speaking time.

1. Motivate collaboration

As you might have read, I prefer working in groups. This way of working can motivate students to discuss things. However, it might also serve as a great source of distraction if not structured effectively. One of the things I do to make sure group work is effective is introduce the role of the group leader.

This student is the only one in the group who can ask me questions. This role changes every lesson. With only one student in each group allowed to ask me something, students have to work together and have a shared responsibility for their understanding.

Added bonus: You have less questions to answer, allowing for more time for other things.

2.Ask open ended questions (and give them time to answer)

I know, captain obvious right?

Yet, how many times do you ask closed questions? Questions only resulting in an answer of one or a few words?

That might just be more often than you think.

An easy way to fix this is to ask students to elaborate on their answer and make sure they explain why they came up with a certain answer.

Also, beware of student thinking time (not the same as student speaking time): whenever you ask open ended questions, allow for some time for students to think about it and don’t reward the fast students only.

3. Create a safe environment for small presentations

In my lessons I ask my students to present something in front of the class quite often. This can be anything: a problem I stated at the beginning of the lesson, a homework problem or a bit of instruction they had to study.

Making sure this is something they do quite often allows for a lot of moments where students have to practise their speaking skills.

As you can imagine, presenting something is quite tricky for students, so make sure you create a safe environment and provide enough scaffolding in case the language might be a barrier.


With these three ideas you can help the students focus on their work, but at the same time practice their speaking skills. Sounds like a win-win to me, so do not forget to think of student thinking time next time you plan a lesson.

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