Aug 27

The most common problem for CELTA trainees and how to fix it

Classroom management
What is TTT and why is it a problem in CELTA TP?
If you ask any CELTA trainer what the biggest problem is for trainees in teaching practice, they'll tell you 'TTT'. This stands for 'Teacher Talk Time'. If you want to know more about why this is a problem, why it might happen and what you can do about it - watch this video!

... and this is the video I made in 2015 of the same content. Can you spot the differences?


I'm Jo Gakonga frrom I've been a CELTA tutor and a trainer and assessor for over 20 years. And if you like this, there's lots more helpful material on my site at ELT So check it out.

If you're on a course like CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, then you've probably heard this acronym, T T T. So the first thing to say is that teacher talking isn't intrinsically bad. There are some times in the lesson when the teacher needs to talk. Obviously, when you're giving instructions, for example, or explanations, or feedback, then teacher talk can be really important.

It can be also really important for language input, and listening practice. It's actually quite likely that the most important listening practice that learners will get in a class is listening to you talking. So it is important, and it does have a place and you shouldn't feel it's a sin. But, and it's a big but, it's very important to get the balance right between teacher talk, and learner talk.

Let's start with three problems. Let's just imagine that you talk throughout the whole lesson. What's going to happen? Yep, your learners will probably all go to sleep. So that's problem number one, no one can learn while they're asleep.

Even in the best case scenario, let's imagine that you are a brilliant engaging lecturer, and they do stay awake and alert, it's still a problem. Because learning a language is a practical skill, in exactly the same way that swimming is a practical skill, you have to get into the pool, and do it. So it really is important that there's lots of learner talk, they have to actually do it, they have to actually participate. So that's problem number two.

Problem number three is that in an English language classroom, you're talking to people who don't know the language. So as far as they're concerned, it's a kind of a wall of sound coming at them. So, do they actually understand what you're saying? If you're just talking at them, you'll never know.

Let's look at three reasons why it happens. Now, most trainees realize pretty quickly that they need to cut down what they say and increase what the learners say. But it's not that easy to do. So let's look at why this might be.

Reason number one is that you're feeling nervous. They're all looking at you. You want to be the teacher, teachers talk don't they? Those silences are rather unnerving. Especially when you're teaching online, possibly. So you tend to fill them with talk. Now, this can be a particular problem at the beginning of classes when you first stand up or first switch on your camera and they're all looking at you expectantly, nerves can really kick in.

They can also lead to what's called commentating - 'Now I'll just rub this off the board and then we'll get on with the next exercise. Oh, you know, where's the where's the board pen or let me just put this up on the screen or I'll just put this in the chat'. All that extra talk is unnecessary, so don't do it.

Nerves can also lead to poor instructions that are wordy and confusing. I've got another a whole video on this here. But remember that demonstration is usually better than explanation. It's usually faster and clearer.

Number two is that you're going to try to be polite, this is normal and human. But what happens when you're more polite, you talk more. And the more polite you are, the more confused learners are going to be.

Problem number three. The final thing is that you probably haven't yet developed the skill of grading your language of talking to your learners at a level that they can understand. So it's not just the volume of talk that can be the problem. It's also the words and the syntax that you use.

You might see that this is a problem, for example - 'Discuss this with your group and reach a consensus'.

But this kind of thing is also a problem - 'Have you got a pen to hand? Jot down these words'.

If you look at this, you'll see that these are not very difficult words. No very long words. But these idiomatic expressions like 'to hand' or phrasal verbs like 'jot down' are difficult for learners. And it's an easy trap to fall into when you start teaching, because you don't think about these as difficult.

Also, you need to be careful that you don't start speaking unnaturally or using pidgin English. So slow down a bit. Use lexical structures which are easier, and vocabulary that's easier, grade your language, especially at lower levels. But don't make it unnatural.

So we've looked at the problems, and the reasons why teacher talk might be problematic for you. So how about some solutions? Come on, Jo, you say? What should I do?

Well, I've got a few ideas for you. So here we go.

The first one is to plan your language. And this is a really important one, especially at the beginning of your teaching career. Plan, what you're going to say, not all of what you're going to say that would be too difficult. But instructions, particularly introductions, it can be really, really helpful to do this, you might even want to write them down. Now listen, I'm not suggesting you write them down and read them out because it would sound unnatural. But I think that if you write things down, it gives you a really clear idea of how you're waffling around, and how you can get rid of the extraneous language and really cut to the chase. It will also help you to see how much difficult language you're using.

A second tip is to practice it in front of a mirror. Or you could even record yourself saying these things and then listen back. It really is useful not just to think in your head, that's easier, but to actually say the words out of your mouth, somehow it's different.

Another tip is to give your learners the opportunity to speak. Ask them open questions. Why?... and how?... and tell me about... And - this is important - wait for them to give you an answer. Not for too long. We don't want really awkward silences. But don't leap in there too quickly. Give them some planning time. Give them some processing time. Ask them a question. And then let them think of a reply before you ask somebody. You could ask for replies in the chat box. If you're online, for example, and then say, 'Don't post this until I say'.

Okay, I said I'd leave the best to last and here it is. The best way to reduce teacher talk and to increase learner talk... and this isn't rocket science, I'm afraid... is to give your learners a task. Give them something to do. Preferably a paired task where they can speak together, because they'll get a lot more practice that way. It's also preferable that it's a meaningful, communicative task with a defined end point, because that's more likely to be interesting and motivating for your learners.

If you're online, this means using the breakout rooms and using them frequently for longer tasks, five minutes or so, where they've got a communicative purpose.

I've got a whole raft of ideas on my site, so you might check that out there, free ideas. So good luck with those. I really hope that your teaching practice goes well and that your TTT doesn't get in the way.

Thanks very much for watching.
Bye bye

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