Pair work in the English Classroom

How to Reduce TTT in the English Classroom

Do you want to know how to create a happy classroom with satisfied students? Lower your TTT

TTT stands for Teacher Talking Time. The main idea is to put your students at the center of your class and increase the amount of time that students are speaking.

While reducing your TTT in the classroom isn’t difficult, it does take some time and work. Whether you are a new or seasoned teacher, try can some of these techniques in your classroom.

Reducing your TTT (Teacher Talking Time)

High TTT classroom set up

Change your classroom set up

In a traditional classroom model, the teacher stands in front of a group of students. In this model, TTT is higher because it is harder for students to interact with each other.

A Student Talking Time (STT) optimized classroom looks different. Currently, this may not be possible due to Covid-19 restrictions, but hopefully, you can try one of these classroom configurations soon.

  • The horseshoe – students sit in an arch shape. This makes it easy for students to interact with partners on each side. They can also see their classmates across the room when they speak instead of staring at the backs of heads.
  • Groups of 4 – students sit in groups of 4, facing one another. The teacher is able to walk around the groups instead of always standing at the front of the room.

Think of the teacher as a guide, not an authority

Going along with the previous idea, the teacher is there to guide students through the lesson instead of simply delivering information. How can we achieve this?

  • Peer teaching – provide opportunities for students to help other students by summarizing, paraphrasing, and reteaching material. During a peer teaching activity, your role as a teacher is to monitor the activity and make corrections. Peer teaching can happen at the end of a grammar presentation, lesson, or unit as a review.
  • Walk around your classroom – by not always standing in front of the classroom, you create a learning environment where anyone can participate and lead. Walking around the classroom also reminds you to listen more and speak less.

Explain activities with purpose

When creating a lesson plan, it’s important to carefully consider how you will explain each activity. When explaining an activity to your class, try some of these techniques:

  1. Use visual cues like facial expressions, drawings, and body language
  2. Try to explain the activity in as few words as possible while still maintaining level appropriate grading
  3. If you are using a worksheet, have students read out the instructions
  4. Use students to help you model the activity. Make sure you choose students who are comfortable in front of the class
  5. Elicit instructions when possible
  6. Ask a student to summarize your instructions before starting the activity
Students participate in class

Plan more pair and small group work

One of the best ways to get students talking is to provide more pair and small group activities. Students usually feel more comfortable speaking in English in smaller groups. This also gives the teacher time to walk around the class, observing and listening to students’ conversations.

Think-pair-share is another similar technique to get students talking.

  1. Ask students to think about a topic, question, or grammar point on their own.
  2. Pair up students so they can share their ideas with another person.
  3. Now, pairs share their ideas with the whole class.

Not only have students spoken the majority of the exercise, but they have also had the chance to “practice” formulating and speaking about their ideas in a comfortable way before sharing them with the entire class.

Silence is golden 

In a conversation between native speakers, long pauses can be extremely awkward. However, stretches of silence in the classroom should not be feared. 

One of the biggest mistakes that new teachers make is not giving their students enough time to think. Silence means that students are processing the question or information, sometimes translating and formulating their response

Another mistake that teachers often make is answering their own questions when there is a long silence. Instead of giving your students the answer, try to ask the question in another way or give them clues using drawings, mime, or example sentences.

Make learning grammar a discovery process

Once again, if you think back to a traditional classroom, the teacher is at the front lecturing about grammar. BORING! If you truly want to engage your students, try to use a discovery task instead.

Example Discovery Task

  1. Play song lyrics with specific verb tenses removed. As students listen, they can fill in the missing words. 
  2. After completing the lyrics, ask students to look at the text, identify each verb tense, and discuss how and why it’s being used. Here, they are trying to “discover” the rules of the grammar tenses. Guide them along with clues if they don’t understand.
  3. Follow up with activities that check their understanding and allow students to practice the new grammar point.

If you want more information on the discovery technique, check out this article from BusyTeacher.

Create an accepting classroom atmosphere

TTT is high in classrooms where students don’t feel comfortable speaking. Students may be naturally shy, feel intimidated, or be afraid of making mistakes. 

Here are some tips for making your classroom better for speaking:

  • Create a class group on Whatsapp, Facebook, etc. – this will give students the chance to get to know each other better. 
  • At the start of the school year or course, use a lot of pair and group work – this will give students the chance to speak to one another in a smaller, “safer” way.
  • Use engaging, authentic material – ask students to suggest songs, tv shows, articles, or films that they like. Try to incorporate these things into your lessons.
  • Start the lesson with a warmer – break the ice before each session to help students feel more comfortable.

Not all TTT is bad

As you’ve seen, there are many benefits to a low TTT lesson. However, it’s nearly impossible to teach a lesson where students do 100% of the talking.

If you want to use TTT in a positive way, here are some ideas.

Personal connection 

Spark students’ interest with a personal story at the start of a lesson or grammar presentation. While you don’t want to tell a 30-minute saga, a quick 5-minute story to get students engaged will do the trick.

Provide listening practice

There are times where you’ll want to read out a text to your class so they can write it out as a dictation or fill in missing words. You also might have to do this when your speakers or computer fail! Again, keep it short and sweet.

Some lessons require a bit of lecturing

For some lessons, it just isn’t practical to make students do all the talking. Try to do your best to limit lecturing, but know that it does have a purpose. Some grammar rules need to be explained and written down, especially for adult students.

How much TTT is too much? 

The first step is to record yourself. What percentage of your lesson is TTT and what percentage is STT? Video is better than simply recording because you can also see if you are using visual cues like body language, facial expressions, and drawings.

Next, take a look at your percentages. While there is no set rule, try to keep your TTT between 30-50% of your lesson. 40% is a great percentage to aim for.

Final Thoughts

Why should teachers reduce their TTT? When students speak more, lessons become more interesting for students. Low TTT lessons are also more fun to teach!

My most common criticism as a teacher is that students want their speaking corrected more often. The more students speak, the more opportunity you have to provide them with corrections.

When it comes to Teacher Talking Time, remember that the quality of your talking is much more important than the quantity. If you are going to speak, make it something worthwhile for students.

Your lesson may be your students’ only chance to speak English in their day, so try to provide as many opportunities to speak as possible. As always, if you have any questions, please send me an email at

Happy teaching!

More free resources for teachers:

10 Low Prep ESL Activities for Busy Teachers

Odd One Out Speaking Activity

Technology for English Teachers

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I’ve taught in 6 different countries and love sharing my teach abroad (and online) tips and tricks.

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