Teacher Talking Time in the ESL Class

Do you talk too much in your English class?

Are you the kind of teacher who cannot resist telling the student every facet of your life? How you had some trouble getting to class today, because of all this traffic.

Or maybe you answer questions for them, because why not? They know the answer anyway and there was this terrible silence crashing around the room. You were just helping them out, right?


There is a time to talk and a time to know when to keep your mouth shut and not say another word.

We call this Teacher Talking Time — TTT — and it can be a major problem in many ESL/EFL classes. The teacher doesn’t even know they are doing it half the time, they just assume, hey we are all here chatting away in English. That’s got to be a good thing.

Except it is not.

I want to show you why you need to control how much you talk in your class and how the students can benefit if you just shut up for one second.

Then I will show you how to improve your TTT ratio so that all your students are doing most of the talking.

Ready? Let’s get into it…


The Problem of Teachers Talking Too Much


We all do it.

I know I have walked into many a class and done exactly this.

I walk in.

Hey everyone, how you doing today? Wow, kind of hot today, right? So today, we’re doing, wait what page are we on… Oh yeah, today, yeah go to page 47, page 47 that’s right, we’re going to look at this reading passage. I’ll show you what I mean, where’s the marker pen? They never have any marker pens that work round here…

I did this a lot.

Like some spewing-out of my thoughts and just general thinking out loud.

I don’t think I need to spell it out for you. It is easy to see that this kind of talk in the class is completely irrelevant.

If the students were beginners or even lower-intermediate, would have practically no idea what I was on about and there would just be an air of confusion hanging around the classroom.

Teachers need to be very clear what they say in the ESL/EFL classroom.

In the classroom just think this: The less I talk the better.

The more economical you are with what you say in the class, the more chance you have of the students understanding what you are trying to say.

It is that simple.

You can’t go into the classroom and just start yapping away and then hope that the students can retain any meaning from what you said.

  • You need to be clear and concise.
  • You need to be focused on what you are trying to say.
  • You cannot reel off any muddled thoughts or ideas.

This is 100% true for any beginner or lower-intermediate classes but it is also true in some higher-level classes.

In an EFL/ESL class, you the teacher, need to be quiet. This then enables the students to speak more. If not, they will quite happily sit there and let you yabber on about what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner and how you watched Netflix for eight hours straight last Sunday.


TTT – Teacher Talking Time

Ideally, the amount of time that you should talk in your class is around 20-30% of the total class time.

Many ESL/EFL classes are around two hours. That means you are only talking between 24 to 36 minutes for the entire class.

If you are working in a government school, maybe the classes are 50 minutes in duration. So that means you only talk for 10 to 15 minutes.

Are you talking for that amount of time?

Or longer?

Do the maths — if the teacher talks for 50% of the time in a two-hour ESL/EFL class of 12 students that means each student only has 5 minutes talking time. Hardly fair right? And if they are paying top dollar for it, where is the value?

If the teacher is talking too much, that means they are talking less. They get bored.

And it may get to a point where the teacher initiates all discussion. So the students’ role in the class becomes that of responding only.

The teacher says something, the students parrot a reply or response.

This is not like real English in the real world…


Student Talking Time


Just as there is Teacher Talking Time — TTT — there is Student Talking Time — STT.

This is the reason they are in your English class. They are there to learn English, listen to some English, but mostly to have the opportunity to open their mouths and SPEAK ENGLISH.

Otherwise, what is the point?

The students need to speak. Especially in controlled practice situations such as

  • Chorus drills
  • Substitution drills

They need to do these drills so they can learn the material — the vocabulary, the grammar — and get it into their heads.

But you can’t just have endless drill sessions. The students would get bored within a few minutes.

They need to use the English language in their own way. They need to practice the language and say things they might say in their own lives, in context with whom they are as people.

And you need to be silent for much of that time — and observe.


What Happens When The Teacher Talks Less


If you talk less in class, you will notice a few things that start to happen with your students and the class in general.


Students listen when you do talk

If you talk less when you do have the need to say something your students will pay attention to you and listen to what you are saying.

Why? Because these times will be seen by them as times when you have to say something that is important and so they need to hear it.


Students speak more

Your students will speak more in class. They will become more familiar with the material that you are teaching. And they will become more confident in their own ability.

You open your mouth less and the students talk a lot more


Students experiment with English

Any English that they have learned, they start to play with. They experiment and try out different ways of using all the learned material. They adapt the language to suit their own needs and their own life.


Students help each other

As the students work more and more together, without the teacher helping them by speaking over them or for them, they help each other.

This helps reinforce the English skills in the student doing the helping but also helps the student who is asking for help.

This is great preparation for the real world and real-world English.


Students have fun

As the students work together and help each other, they enjoy the class more. Now for them coming to your English class is all about fun. No more listening to the dreary teacher droning on and on at the front of the class!


Habits to Avoid


I think we are all clear on the benefits of the teacher talking less in the class. We can see how it can help both your students and you if you talk much less and let them talk a lot more.

Throw out your bad habits!

But what are the steps that you need to take to ensure that magical ratio of 20:80?

Let’s look at some dirty habits you should avoid first.


Get to The Point!

You ever started a class like this:

Hi everyone today we are going to start on lesson 14 so can everyone go to page — where is it? — oh yes, here it is, page 47.

Saying something like this is really just a waste of everyone’s time.

Especially in a beginner class.

You need to be much more direct than that and get straight to the point. Say what you want very clearly so the students can follow instructions clearly.

In this case, that is:

Go to page 47.


Do Not Repeat Yourself


Consider the following

Hi everyone so if you could all get into groups of three and it would be a good idea if your group were not all friends, groups of three and you should not be friends…

Again, when giving instructions to an exercise, make sure that they are clear. Repeating yourself is not only a waste of time but could very easily confuse your students.


Saying Too Much in Response to the Student


Student: I read books at the weekend

Teacher: That’s great Eric, because yes, reading is always a great thing to do, maybe more than the weekend though…


There is no need for this. What is the point in saying any of that?

Keep your responses clear and to the point.


Questions Too Long


Does anyone here, I wonder, know anything about the country of Spain, things like, you know the population, cities the people or maybe the culture, anyone?


This opening question is far too long!

A much more simple approach would be to just ask very simply:

What can you tell me about Spain?

And maybe write the word ‘Spain’ on the board for reference.

That is all you need to do.


Echoing the Students


Student: I like reading at the weekend

Teacher: Reading at the weekend, right, yes, reading.


Why? Absolutely no point in doing this.

I used to do this all the time with students. I felt like I had to make a comment about the student’s response so I usually just repeated whatever they said.

It serves no purpose at all.


Things to Do


So now we know what not to do.

Let’s look at things you should do.


Elicit Answers


One of the most important things to do is to elicit answers from the students.

Instead of you explaining things, let the student struggle for a minute or so and come up with an answer of their own.

I know what this can be like — you see the student squirming and it looks so painful that you just want to dive in and help them. But usually, we are not providing any help at all.

Leave the student alone and let them fight for the answer. It might just be one minute away and then they open their mouth and come out with absolute gold.

Trying to elicit answers can be like a trip to the…


Get Student to Provide Feedback


At the end of every class, you need to give feedback. Or to provide a summary.

But why do you have to do it every time?

You could get a different student to provide a class summary or feedback at the end of the class each time.

Great practice for them.

Also, any time a student talks or makes a presentation, get other students to provide feedback. This can really help you in reducing your TTT.


Don’t Fear the Silence


If you are new in the wonderful, magical world of ESL, then you will likely be terrified of any silence in the class.

But you have to learn that silence can really help you in getting the students to talk more.

They also hate it. You can play on that and apply a little pressure.

Embrace the Silence


Use Body Language & Gestures


Instead of speaking and filling the silence all the time, use your body language. Use gestures and facial expressions too.

These can fill in the void and the students are then left to say something themselves in English.

So for example, you might be trying to help them with the phrase for I don’t know.

You could show this by shrugging your shoulders and making a suitable facial expression. This could then trigger the correct response from the student.


Move Around the Class


Nothing creates more tension in the class than the teacher up at the front of the class and all the student looking forwards.

You need to move around the room and mix in with all the students. They need to see that you are a human being just like them.

Move from the front of the class and walk around all the aisles between their desks. Sit down with one of them at a spare space.

They will find this amusing at first but will soon get used to it — and relax more.

Once they are relaxed then they will open up and speak more.


Ask Questions Every Time


Get into the habit of asking questions every single time.

So you are talking to one student and they do something very well. Ask them how they get to their answer.

Just replying that’s great doesn’t do that much.

Whenever you are talking to a student, think of questions you can ask them. About everything related to what they said to you.

Ask questions all the time


Get the Students to Express in Their Own Words


Throughout the class ask the students to “put it into their own words”. Get them to explain things using their own language and ways of talking. You give instructions and then ask a student to explain to the class what you said, in their own words.


Put Students into Pairs or Groups


And one of the best ways to encourage more student talking time — and less teacher talking time — is to put the students into pairs or small groups. They will naturally start talking to each other and all you need to do is hover around and observe.


Don’t Waste Time Reprimanding Students


So a student arrives late to class or forgets their textbook. What do you do? Waste class time by reprimanding them in class?

Or instead, get on with what you are supposed to be doing?

This is where you need to perfect the ‘look’. That one look that you give students that says “I will deal with this after class”.

Do not use valuable time dealing with these students in the class. At best the other students will just see it as entertainment and at worst they will all start talking to each other in their own language.




Reducing the amount of time you talk can be of great benefit to your students — and you.

They get to speak in English for a longer time and you get to have a rest. Why make life hard on yourself?

Some of the ideas I mentioned above are pretty self-explanatory but it is easy to slip back into bad habits, I know that I often would do that.

It’s always a good idea to be mindful of these things and to remind ourselves of the basic principles when in the classroom.

I hope you can use some of these methods and allow them to help you and your students.

And let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Teacher Talking Time in the ESL Class”

  1. T.T.T falls under two main principles:
    1) Teachers should only provide ‘comprehensible input’ (Krashen) and speak only what students can understand at their level.
    2) In any class (especially conversation), teachers need to stay out of the way. They should become observers. ESL/EFL classes are about students NOT about the teacher. The teacher is simply a facilitator for the language.
    NOTE: Teachers need to monitor that lack of understanding does not degenerate into students’ falling back on their native language. All the more reason teachers need to make sure students are operating at a level they can handle.

    1. These are two extremely valid points, Leona. The key thing is for the teacher to be the observer and facilitator. But it’s very easy to break the rules and for the teacher to talk far too much in class.

  2. At least when teachers become aware (metacognitive) about themselves they can make adjustments. Your pointers help teachers get to that state. Without self-awareness there is no possibility of change!

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