Quality Teacher Talk for Quality Language Learning

It was more than 30 years ago that Stephen Krashen told us that students need a lot of “comprehensible input” to learn a second language. That is especially true in an EFL environment like Korea, where learners may have little to no English to interact with outside of the classroom. In such an environment, it is imperative that the teacher provide that English – that “teacher talk” – in class. This talk, however, needs to be more than just small-talk. It needs to be planned. It needs to be principled. It needs to be quality teacher talk.

Quantity and Quality
While learners need a lot of input in the form of teacher talk, one must not think that any kind of talk will do. The quantity must be accompanied by quality. Teacher talk is better than recorded speech, because it can be a method used for providing interactive success with the class and on topics of interest to them. The talk should be at the level of the class or just a little above. Learning is most efficient when the learner is presented with challenges that they can be successful at without too much difficulty. Having students speak to each other is useful for speaking practice, but they also need teacher talk, because they need to listen to language that is more difficult and more fluent than what they or their classmates can presently produce. Teacher talk comes in many packages. It may be instructions to activities, explanations of grammar structures and word meanings, feedback in the form of corrections or praise or even a personal story or words of wisdom, as Korean teachers are so eager to give.

Teach Frequently-Used Expressions
To facilitate the understanding of the teacher-talk expressions that are most commonly used in the classroom, some class time should be spent in teaching these expressions, in making sure that the students have a clear understanding of what they mean. These expressions should be used often in the classroom. Use expressions that bring the class to order (I often say, “Okay, class, settle down,” when I am ready to begin). They would include grouping expressions for activities (“Okay, let’s make groups of three,” “Count off from one to six.”), corrective feedback (“Okay, let’s try that again,” “How would I pronounce it?”) and praise (“There you go!). It is not a good idea to try to teach them all of these phrases in the same lesson. Just a couple of them each lesson should be used, preferably after using them in an authentic situation.

Encourage Interaction

Although the term “teacher talk” suggests that it is the teacher, and solely the teacher, that does the talking, quality teacher talk builds layers of interaction on the part of the student. This student interaction may be silent or spoken. The technique of Total Physical Response (TPR) is one such method, where the teacher simply asks the class to execute actions (“Pick up your pencil … Okay, write your name on your paper … Now, circle your family name …”). Another activity that checks student understanding is to have the class say “No!” when they hear impossible actions that the teacher has intentionally interspersed into the teacher talk (“And then the boy flew to the top of the hill.” — “No!”). The teacher may also intersperse their teacher talk with yes-no questions directed at the whole class or at individual students (“He went with his family to Myeongsa-shimri for a vacation at the beach. Have you ever gone to Myeongsa-shimri?”). Or, you may elicit short responses that require the student to provide information (“Where did you go during your summer vacation?”).

Tell Them a Story

Over the years, I have often heard students say that the teacher who they liked best was the one who related stories – life-lessons, actually – from their own lives or others. Such a technique can be incorporated into teacher talk. You may wish to incorporate hand-held pictures or images projected onto a screen. For lower-level learners, heavy reliance on images can be very helpful as an aid for their comprehension. It is also a good idea to retell the story later, and on each telling, rely on fewer images. With young learners, you may wish to tell well-known folktales, such as the Chilseok story of Gyeon-u and Jik-nyeo. These stories could be supplemented with pictures or even with short online video clips of the folktale with the audio turned off. Short videos on any topic with the audio off can be used with students at any level for story-telling. You can use the same video with different proficiency levels, adjusting your teacher talk to the level of your class. And you can tell different stories using the same video. Your story-telling options are virtually limitless.
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Gwangju-Jeonnam KOTESOL Monthly Meeting
Date: Saturday, November 12
Place: Gwangju National University of Education
• Morning Reflective Practice Session (Kenya Café)
• Two Main Session Presentations of EFL Topics
• SwapShop – Share with the group an activity or teaching idea that you have.

For full conference details:
• Website: http://koreatesol.org/gwangju
• Facebook: Gwangju-Jeonnam KOTESOL
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The Author
David E. Shaffer is President of the Gwangju-Jeonnam Chapter of Korea TESOL (KOTESOL). On behalf of the Chapter, he invites you to participate in the teacher development workshops at their monthly meetings (2nd Saturday of the month). For many years, Dr. Shaffer has been a professor of English Language at Chosun University, where he has taught graduate and undergraduate courses. He is a long-time member of KOTESOL and a holder of various KOTESOL positions, including First Vice-President and Publications Committee Chair. He credits KOTESOL for much of his professional development in English language teaching.
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