Teacher talk is just one of many elements of an ELT lesson assessment that is covered in the ELT lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook. ‘Teacher talk’ in this article refers mainly to the time during which the teacher is talking to the whole group – informing, instructing or correcting. In the book there is a different set of comments to cover the area of instruction giving, although there is of course a lot of crossover.
Reasons for the commentary
Observing a lesson can be a major multi- tasking/multi-skill challenge. As an observer you need to:
- be physically present but not engaged with the teacher or students
- polite and mindful of the stress the teacher is under
- make notes so you don’t forget key points
- decode what you are observing in order to decide if there is developmental need or praise is deserved
- prioritize developmental needs so as not to overwhelm the teacher
- find constructive ways to give praise and suggest alternatives or ways to improve
The purpose of the notes below is to make the observers life a little easier. The idea is that you can cut and paste the comments or adapt them to each observation. Try adding in modifiers and emoji’s if this works for you.
Suggested observer commentary
|Positive comments||Areas for development|
|Your teacher talk is economical and well graded, so students understand what to do at all times
You use your voice range and gestures well to reinforce /clarify your meaning
You do a great job adapting your teacher talk to the needs of the task and the learners. You use direct language and tone for instruction, and then more informal, natural (although well graded) language when in a more reactive role.
You have mastered the art of grading language for greater comprehension but keeping an adult-to-adult tone to your communications.
You have great wait time* for your learners and for yourself too. It takes confidence to slow down and actively plan your own output
|Create clearer instructions and increase the time students are on task by reducing unnecessary and confusing teacher talk. This can be done by reducing the echo* or top up*
Rehearse, script and practice your classroom language in order to reduce unnecessary teacher talk and to create greater clarity in your management
Try to find a way of keeping language simple/graded while avoiding talking to adults as if they were children. Expressions like ‘ok class, pay attention’and ‘look and listen to me’ can put off adult learners who are already feeling somewhat vulnerable because of their lack of language competence.
Breathe before you respond, take a little time to work out in your head exactly what you want to say before you speak – learners appreciate the space this technique creates
Try recording yourself in the future so you get a sense of where you can reduce any confusing extra teacher talk
* Echo Repeating what the learners say
* Top up Eliciting a satisfactory response but then adding in
additional, usually unnecessary information
* Wait time The time a teacher allows between a question/ comment and a
response. For example with lower levels learners need a
longer to produce a response to a question so rather than reformulate the question or repeat it a teacher can just gently wait a bit longer – wait time. It’s generally a very positive attribute in a teacher, with newer teachers tending to jump in too quickly.