Managing the personalities in the room and interacting well can make a big impact on how comfortable learners feel. If they feel at ease with you they will speak more readily. We'll look at some factors influencing how much learners speak and some solutions.
Teacher talking time
- Are you talking more than they are?
- Are you planning enough tasks away from you leading them?
- You have chosen the topic, but try to avoid saying how much you find it interesting. Your job is to find out how much they like it.
- Remember the paradox of the quiet child with a chatterbox for a parent. If someone talks too much you have no need to talk. The constant stream of your chatter will put them off and may even throw them. Keep it simple, well chosen questions and anecdotes. Focus on them, not on yourself and your opinions.
- Say only what you need to say about yourself or the topic. Try not to embroider too much, keep to the topic. If you go off at a tangent you may lose some of the class. Less is more.
- When they respond with silence do not overcompensate and fill their silence with your voice. Change direction, modify the task or give them something to read or write until they are ready to speak. Ask for choral repetition of things they need to practise.
Management of activities
- Are you jumping in too quickly to correct them?
- Are you finishing their sentences for them?
- Are you feeding too many ideas to groups working alone?
- Are you letting tasks drag on too long?
- Are you over-questioning students?
- Carefully plan your role and input. When will you speak? Why? Try to notice how much you are talking to avoid the mistake of babbling on.
- Questioning students to introduce the lesson or to get them to speak about a picture will take planning. Be wary of asking only essential questions and vary the question types to allow more than just a 'Yes' or 'No' answer.
- Allow more time for them to self correct, finish a sentence or think of their reply to your question. First they must process your question, then they need to think of a reply. What comes naturally to us takes longer for our students. Do not be over sensitive to their thinking time.
- If they are really struggling invite help and suggestions from other members of the class. This means you are not always setting yourself up as the one with all the answers. Encourage others to speak up.
- In our heads we have an ideal scenario for how groups might work through a discussion, but that doesn't always happen. If they are talking in English and getting somewhere, let them get on with it in their own way.
- When you see attention waning do not be afraid to wind down an activity with some positive remarks about their performance. Then invite contributions from students in a feedback session if appropriate to the task.
- Always keep an eye on time and wind down before the bell rings rather than being cut off. You need to always end lessons with some positive comments about their performance so give yourself time to do that.
- Remember that for lower levels some dialogue and role play work is very tiring and demanding, so keep it brief even if some of them seem to be having a ball. Give your lessons shape rather than letting the lesson drag on until they dry up or become bored.
Personality of students
- Do you expect the same level of participation from all students?
- Do you allow enough balance of tasks and not just constant speaking?
- Do you have some easily embarrassed students?
- We all bring our personality to the language class. Some people are naturally more talkative in their own language. Accept this and do not cajole or press shy students to speak.
- Allow the less talkative to play a supporting role in group work by writing down group decisions. Remember that conversation is as much about listening and understanding as talking. Some shy students might understand more than the ones who have a lot to say for themselves.
- Focus on very reluctant speakers to perform a task they have had time to practise. Respect their need for extra preparation.
- Some people hate role plays. That's natural so don't keep forcing them to do them. Switch tasks.
- Do you have a troublemaker in class?
- Do students huddle in gangs and seem to ignore you?
- Do the class get over excited and lapse in to their mother tongue?
- The ring leaders or class clown can influence the whole attitude of the class, so work at getting them involved and on task. Give them responsibilities like writing a question on the board or building a word list or switching the tape recorder off and on.
- Isolate negative pupils and ask other members of staff to become involved if one or two individuals are ruining an otherwise positive atmosphere.
- Diffuse any confrontations by staying calm and speaking firmly and clearly. Make plenty of eye contact, speak in a non-threatening way and praise any effort to speak or work well. Half of the battle is not rising to the bait.
- Mix up pairs and groups regularly. Rotate working pairs during a lesson so no set groups of non-talkers are allowed to form.
- Keep tasks brief and give them things to solve, decide, work out. This keeps them working with you and then they will gradually work towards speaking more. Get them trained to work for you first.
Having fun with dialogues
Getting adults, teenagers and children to speak
Ways to encourage more English in class
Strategies for keeping attention
Getting the whole class talking
Short projects to get them talking
By Clare Lavery