We've all had that one student that no matter the amount of prompting, helping, or time they just won't say a word. Nothing – nada. These situations, although incredibly frustrating, are also a reflective practice on our (ESL teachers) sheer amount of talking in class. I, for one, would like a break. It might be tempting to fill every awkward silence and blank look of your students with the sweet sound of your voice, but is this really the best way to maximize student production?
Student language production is one of those “double-speak” like words teaching textbooks throw around, but what exactly does it mean? In short, student production is the act of allowing students to practice speaking. In more traditional, dare I say outdated, classrooms of yore the teacher stands at the front of a bunch of students and lectures to them for hours. Besides being extremely boring, this method of teaching is also not very effective; especially when teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).
As mentioned, having teacher talk time (TTT) be the dominant teaching feature of a class is an extremely ineffective teaching method. Increasingly, fluency in a language is often measured by how well one can hold a conversation in the target language. In today's ESL world, students can access grammar, vocabulary, and listening activities or sheets online for free. What they can't get is face-to-face speaking practice. This is where the ESL teacher comes in. ESL teachers must balance teaching content, with explaining instructions, and actually getting students to talk and practice – phew, that's a lot! Decreasing teacher talk time and increasing student talk time (STT) in class might seem a daunting task, but don't fret just yet, there are a ton of clever tips to help!
The three golden rules of maximizing student production are: elicit, elicit, elicit! Eliciting, put simply, is the act of drawing out information, language, or ideas from students. This can take many forms; such as asking open ended questions (instead of yes or no questions), or providing non-verbal clues such as drawing on a board. Going hand in hand with eliciting is keeping lessons student centered and personalized. For example, letting the students suggest topics for discussion or finding something the student likes outside of class and incorporating it into the lesson. If these two frameworks of maximizing student production seem a bit broad (and they are), then here are some more concrete ways to get your students to talk:
Keep directions simple and avoid complex explanations
Get students to read the instructions out loud
Use pair or group work (set up the classroom interactively)
Insist on full sentences
Assign a class leader to facilitate activities and discussions
Take yourself out of the activities
Give students time to think
Indirect error correction (such as raising and eyebrow when a student is wrong, or writing the mistake on the board)
These are just a few ways to achieve a balanced class, there are a thousand more tips I haven't covered here. How do you get students to talk more in class?
When in doubt, just remember that you are there to support your students through the learning process. The best thing you can do to get students to talk more is to give lots of encouragement when they attempt to speak, and refrain from interrupting every time they make a mistake. If you're like me, this might seem antithetical to your classroom experiences growing up, but trust me, this will create a much safer learning environment for students to practice conversation freely. Plus, as an added bonus, by having a student run classroom you'll be able to save your voice for KTV!