“Good morning!” I say, just loud enough to turn heads, silencing all other conversations.
“Good morning,” answers the class. There are eleven students, from teenagers to 50-year-old retirees.
I look to my right and ask Carlos, “How was your weekend?”
Carlos sticks to just a few short sentences. “It was great. I went to Mexico City and saw a concert.”
I look around the class, silently inviting the other students to ask Carlos, “Who played?” “How did you get there?” “Was it crowded?”
Carlos then turns to his right and asks Cynthia, “How was your weekend?” She answers, and the class has a few follow-up questions for her too. “How was it?” “Why did you go there?”
The question goes around the circle. Every student asks and answers. Later I will ask them questions more related to the grammar theme of the day, such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”
My next class is for total beginners. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you like X?” “Do you have X?” We repeat questions every day, adding or changing a few at the whim of the students. Many of them make mistakes, which I correct immediately. If they have trouble understanding I’ll write the correct answer on the board, and then cold call the same question around the room.
When I first taught children in Korea we called this technique “circle time.” We sat on the floor in a circle and asked the same questions every day. Since then I’ve found it works in nearly every class – only advanced students don’t need it.
Students can study many parts of English at home – reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, cracking open the textbook and doing grammar exercises. There’s no reason to spend a lot of time on these in class. Students want to talk and they need correction.
Though they don’t just want to talk, but talk freely with no rush and no interruption. Learn to relax during silences. After you ask a question – “Have you ever seen a ghost?” – allow that silence to hang there unpressured.
We’ve all been in a class (or a work meeting) where someone asks a boring question, then immediately rephrases or simply repeats it, and maybe eventually answers it himself. Don’t be that teacher!
In ESL there are concepts called Teacher Talk Time (TTT), Student Talk Time (STT), and Wait Time (WIT). Here are a few questions for you, the ESL teacher or aspiring ESL teacher:
What do you want more of in class, TTT or STT?
Do you want more or less WT?
Is there a maximum limit of WT, say a minute or more?
An awareness of how much you are speaking in class in comparison to the other students is a fundamental part of ESL. Please leave a comment with your answers and ideas. And thanks for reading!