INCREASING STUDENT TALK TIME IN THE ESL CLASSROOM:
AN INVESTIGATION OF TEACHER TALK TIME AND STUDENT TALK TIME
Lecturer in English
English Language Teaching Unit
Creating an environment where learners are no longer dependent on the teacher is the main
reflection of a learner centered classroom. In a language learning classroom, students learn
the skills to read, write, listen and speak. The best way to learn and teach a foreign language
is to use that language. The purpose of communicative language teaching approach is to
communicate in the target language or to use it in communication. In the communication,
there must be interaction between teacher and student or student and student. According to
my colleagues and my experience, though the door for classroom interaction is very open
students' participation is very poor in some classes. This paper attempts to test this hypothesis
and provides some systematically tested ways to increase the amount of Student Talk Time
(STT) which leads to a learner centered approach.
Key words: teacher talk time, learner centered classroom, communicative approach
It is often discussed that both teachers and students should participate actively in language
classes. Especially, in communicative EFL classes, students need ample opportunity to
practice the target language so that the teacher should reduce the amount of their talk.
Researching on the student and teacher talk time always produce new approach and insides to
teach a language. Most teachers believe that the students have to receive as much opportunity
to speak as is possible when learning English as a target language. This idea is especially true
in the EFL classroom, where students don't live in an English-speaking country. In such
cases, the students may only have the chance to practice English as a conversational tool
during the lesson. But whatever the situation, it is true the more students speak in English, the
better English speakers they become.
Purpose of the Study
A language teacher must design her/his lessons to make participation of all most all the
students in a classroom so his/her lesson plan has to include a certain percentage for teacher
talk time (TTT) and student talk time (STT) to teach each skill. In a learner centered
classroom, TTT must not exceed the expected percentage. In some cases student involvement
is not very privileged. So that, though they have more knowledge in structure they are unable
to apply that in the real communication. Whether it is oral or written, communication is the
main target of a language. This study tests the hypothesis that the students' participation is
poor and collects students' attitudes towards increasing student talk time. Further, it intends to
bring together their views regarding classroom interaction methods.
Limitations of the Study
This study was conducted among the students of Faculty of Arts and Culture. According to
the common view of the teaching faculty of the first year Arts students, those students who
are divided into ten ability groups are very much forward and coorporative not only in
elicitation but also in doing spoken activities. But the condition with other faculty students is
questionable. I hope further research must be carried out comparing the percentage of student
talk time of different faculty students to examine this situation.
Benefits resulting from the study
The analysis of the research shows that students have positive attitudes towards increasing
STT which leads to a learner centered approach that most of the educators welcome. So the
findings of the study open a new path to the curriculum designers, material producers, lesson
planners, language trainers and teachers to integrate more STT in their lesson planning. This
sort of research can inspire other language teachers to conduct research in their classrooms
because it is considered to be an important tool for professional development. Contrary to
what had been hypothesized, this research has revealed the positive attitudes of the learners
towards increasing the amount of STT.
Teacher talk time (TTT) refers to how much the teacher talks during a lesson. However, this
will vary according to the stage of the lesson. For example, the teacher needs to speak more
when starting a new lesson. When he continues the same lesson next time he may speak less
as students need ample opportunity to practice the new material. In a common view, the
teacher must roughly limit his speaking to 20% to 30% of the class time allowing the students
to make use of the language.
Allwright (1982, p. 10) said that teachers who ‘work’ too much in the classroom were not
teaching successfully. He mentioned that a good language teacher is able to ‘get students to
do more work’ in the classroom. Nunan, (1999, p. 209) also indicated that continuous teacher
talk during the lessons did not develop students’listening comprehension and communication
skills. Nunan (2003, p. 55) proves the earlier fact, mentioning that “Research has repeatedly
demonstrated that teachers do approximately 50 to 80 percent of the talking in classrooms.”
As far as a learner centered classroom concerned, to practice the target language Student
Talk Time (STT) be supposed to be around 80% during the course of the lesson (Nunan,
1991). Consequently, it is needed to incorporate the learner centered approach into the
existing curricula in all disciplines not only in the international level but also in local context.
In a foreign or second language classroom, for instance a teacher introduces a new lesson
(even to make it more learner centered classroom teacher can give students the choice of
selecting what they are going to learn) such as talking about the daily routine. To introduce
the new vocabulary connected with the routine first teacher can elicit the vocabulary from the
students then the teacher will focus on the form of making sentences with present simple
tense in affirmation and negation.
To introduce a new grammar lesson teacher can spend 60 to 80 teacher talk time, whereas the
next day she/he can get practice with the students to talk about their daily routine. This time,
more than 60 to 80 percentages of talk would be done by students. It is reasonable for a
teacher to allocate a different percentage of time to teach grammar, vocabulary, reading,
spoken and listening activities. Nunan highlights it mentioning, “Of course, whether or not
it is considered a good thing for teachers to spend 70 or 80 percent of class time talking will
depend on the objectives of a lesson and where it fits into the overall scheme of the course or
programme" (Nunan, 1991, p. 190).
It is notable to consider about what Nilton (2011) discusses regarding Nunan’s suggestion is
very much suitable to present here. He explains that if the focus of the lesson is not
conversational for example the lesson is to write an essay or description, a student may
expect a period of TTT to lecture on the processes involved in the construction of a
paragraph, then they will follow a silent period to employ the techniques they have learnt to
construct a composition production.
Nilton (2011) accepts that though he practices 60 to 80 percentages or 40 to 60 percentages of
teacher talk time (TTT) respectively, for elementary and intermediate levels when he teaches
oral communication, these figures are beyond the adequate level TTT.
If there is more talk by the teacher, students become passive and their involvement in the
classroom participation would be very less. This is what was experienced in the traditional
chalk and talk method.
Students’ use of the language must be further promoted for a high range of qualitative
thought once they become capable to respond/ communicate in simple necessary discussions.
They have to be able to communicate, critically observe, analyze, and practice with the new
language in a successful learning environment.
Much research on TTT has focused on its quantity (amount) and/or quality (effectiveness).
These studies have provided new insights into the ways EFL/ESL teachers teach in the
Learner Centered Approach
In the current era, the term 'learning' leads the term 'teaching'. It is not teaching a language
alone it depends on learning and learning. That is why to increase the learning environment,
learner centered approach (LCA) is needed to imply in learning and teaching a new language.
In a teacher centered classroom, teachers are working more. They ask the questions, they call
on students, they add detail to their answers. They offer the examples. They organize the
content. They do the preview and the review. On any given day, in most classes, teachers are
working much harder than students. Therefore, it is observable that students develop
sophisticated learning skills without the chance to practice and in most classrooms the teacher
gets far more practice than the students. However, LCA engages students in the hard, messy
work of learning.
Again, it includes explicit skill instruction. In an LCA environment, students are taught how
to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments and generate hypotheses
which all these learning skills are essential to be familiar in a discipline. LCA encourages
students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. Further, it motivates
students by giving them some control over learning processes. Research proves that students
can learn from and with each other in collaboration in a classroom. Teachers experienced in
LCA works to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning. They see
learning individually and collectively as the most important goal of any educational
Understanding LCA will help to identify the area of the current study that a learner-centered
approach involves less teacher talk and more opportunity for students to speak in the L2
classroom. The following trends in LCA elaborate that the amount of teacher talk and student
talk time plays a key role in determining whether or not one's teaching methodology is in
track with an LCA.
The best way to make students’ participation is elicitation in the classroom in a learner
centered approach lesson. Language learning is not like listening to a constant lecture they
have to involve in the classroom further students have inborn ability to acquire a language.
They have knowledge and experiences of life and language which can contribute greatly to
the learning process. When introducing a new structure, it is very important to elicit answers
from the students rather than pouring knowledge. Rutherford's explanation supports the same
idea that the more learners contribute in the L2 classroom, the more they are likely to learn
(Rutherford, 1987, p. 7). So, teachers must never underestimate the ability of their students.
Through a lively discussion with the students the teacher will introduce a lesson appreciating
their ability and correcting their erroneous understanding. According to the answers given to
the 10th question of the survey, 40 students accepted that through open ended teacher
questioning they can improve their communicative skill while 28 students chose that they can
improve it through closed ended teacher questioning.
The focus of an LCA lesson is about learners' experience and interests. Therefore, when
selecting a topic for a discussion, it must be according to the students’interest. Nunan (1989)
explains the same like if, however, teachers use the course book as an aid in the completion
of tasks related to the students' areas of interest and experience, the students are more likely
to become involved in the lesson, thereby learning more (Nunan, 1989).
In learning a second language or a foreign language, paying much attention to the correctness
ought to be avoided. Because in a learner centered approach, communication is the prime
source not the accuracy. If a teacher constantly corrects the mistakes, then the students will
not be able to open their mouth further. Hence, the attempts of the students will be stopped. A
good teacher will not interrupt the students when they are practicing, it is better to take a note
on the mistakes of the whole class and give feedback correcting them without pointing out
the particular student who made the mistakes at the end of the session. The above mentioned
principles portray the process of learner centered approach.
To have a survey a questionnaire was distributed among fifty first year students of the
Faculty of Arts and Culture who are following the second semester for the academic year
2011/2012. The models were selected among four hundred students consisting of both gender
and multi ethnics. They are mixed ability students whose results in the last English Language
examination have varieties of grades like A, B, C and D. They are in their early twenties.
They were free to answer the questions. Though the students are unaware of the terms TTT
and STT through the simple questions asked in the questionnaire they were able to answer
them very easily.
Analysis of the data
Thirty students; among those who have A+, A or A- grades like to improve their spoken skill
while twenty-six students want to improve their writing skill and grammar. Ten students want
to improve only grammar. Those who want to improve grammar or writing have lower grades
in English language in the semester end examination.
For the third question “Do you like to talk in the English language classroom?” beside one,
forty- nine students it means 98% of the students like to talk. It shows a very positive attitude
of the students towards STT. Next question requires the reason being fond of talking. The
following chart explains their needs to talk clearly.
(Figure 1- Reasons for why students need to speak in English)
As the figure one shows 50% of the students like to talk in the classroom as they can improve
their spoken skill and get fluency in a second language. They like to talk with peers and the
teacher some students hesitate to talk to the teacher.
(Figure 2- Students' attitudes towards interaction among peers and teacher)
Again, figure two shows a positive attitude of students towards increasing interaction in the
classroom. 46% of students like to interact both with teachers and their friends. 31% want to
To use the
as it is
To avoid fear
To correct the
Q4: Why do students want to speak in English
talk only among peers. They might be afraid of making mistakes in front of the teacher,
getting a low grade, appearing stupid, did not do homework or do not know the correct
answer. A few of them suggested having functions where students would be able to show
their talents on stage.
Thirty-nine students responded that lecturers very often or often or sometimes give the
opportunity to interact in the classroom while only one student responded that they never
give chances. The above situation again elaborates that students also like to interact in the
classroom, even the teacher encourages them to use it. Therefore, the motivation to have an
interactive lesson is welcomed by both student and teacher. For the eleventh question “How
effective is teacher student interaction in your ESL classroom?” 58% and 40% of the
students expressed that it is very good and good respectively while only 2% of them
commented that it is fair. As a whole we can come to a conclusion that students have a
positive attitude towards increasing STT and they like to have a more learner centered
approach in language acquisition with the support of their teachers.
Language acquisition includes skills like listening, speaking, reading and writing if a learner
wants to get familiar with a foreign or second language he must be good at all these skills. So
far in the Sri Lankan education system only the writing and reading skills are tested in the
G.C.E. Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations. The government is incoorporating
spoken activities in the text books and they are going to test it in the G. C.E. Ordinary Level
in 2015 providing fifteen marks for oral. Therefore, many students not only from the Faculty
of Arts and Culture but also from other faculties face problems in speaking. Though they
scored good performance in structured grammar questions they score less marks in
communicative based questions. As they have been trained to pass the written examination in
the general examinations, they face many challenges in acquiring fluency in spoken.
University students become more aware to enhance their spoken ability. They know even
though they get degrees in Tamil medium, they have to face any sort of interviews in English.
As their responses to the fourth questions suggest, they like to use the opportunity to talk in
English in English language teaching classrooms besides which they do not have chances to
talk outside. In Sri Lanka despite the fact that English is considered as a second language the
environment is limited only to the classroom. Therefore, many of the students prefer to
exploit the opportunity in the ESL classroom fruitfully. So the need for concentrating on
spoken variety is very important.
There are five important principles for teaching speaking. The first is to manage the
classroom where all students want to participate reducing TTT and increasing STT. Then the
learners' participation must be high. The third is to provide communication opportunities with
a variety of activities. Then let them talk what they want to talk about. Then encourage them
to use their second language outside the classroom. Finally, give appropriate feedback
Several speaking activities were introduced by scholars like Ur (2005), Harmer (2012) and
Nunan (2003); among them this research highlights Ur's interaction patterns such as group
work, pair work, individual work, closed-ended teacher questioning (IRF) open-ended
teacher questioning, choral responses, collaboration, student initiates teacher answers, full-
class interaction and self access. Further knee to knee conversation, face to face variation,
tiny talks, show and tell the inventors' seminar, twenty questions, picture cards, acting from a
script, play-scripts, acting out dialogues, communication games, prepared talk,
questionnaires, role-play and Carol's quick quest are some other practices (Harmer, 2012).
The survey suggests that many students prefer to have much interaction in the classroom and
they advocate it is very effective. As the current trend in education acknowledge learner
centered approach, it is enhanced to increase the student talk time seeing that, it allows the
teacher to restrict his speaking to vital areas of the lesson and students to speak more.
Therefore, the students have more chances to experiment with and personalize the language
and to rely on their skills. Further, they have added opportunity for interest and challenge. For
that reason it is clear that the class greatly benefits from limited talking by the teacher.
Implying the activities recommended by the language scholars will facilitate to increase the
student talk time.
Allwright, R. L. (1982). ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal. 36/1: 5-18.
Carol, M. (2014) Teaching Speaking. From an unpublished module from a Teacher Training
workshop held at ELTU of SEUSL on date 29.04.2014
Harmer, J.(2012). The Practice of English Language Teaching. China: Pearson.
Nilton, H. (2011). Teacher Talking Time in the EFL Classroom. Retrieved on 20, May,2013
Nunan, D. (1989). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge
Nunan, D. (1991). Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers. Hemel
Hempstead: Prentice Hall International.
Nunan, D. (1999). Second Language Teaching and Learning. Heinle and Heinle.
Nunan, D. (2003). Practical English Language Teaching. McGraw-Hill.
Rutherford, W.E. (1987). Second language grammar: Learning and teaching. New York:
Ur,P. (2005). A Course in Language Teaching. India: Cambridge University Press.