I am often amazed that teachers actually think that if they talk at EAL learners for extended periods of time (10 minutes and above) that learners will comprehend what is being said and then be able to apply that to their own learning.
Our EAL learners need to be in classroom environments where they can interact with the language and content being taught and not just sit there as passive participants in a learning process. Therefore, teachers need to use a wide range of strategies and approaches to cut down on ‘Teacher talks too much!’ Yes, this takes more preparation but the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks!
There are a number of strategies and approaches that I would use to limit the amount of time the teacher talks. Yes, there are times when our learners benefit from direct instruction from the teacher but we also need to build in opportunities to demonstrate learning and build understanding that go beyond simply answering questions in classroom situations. (Also, don’t assume that everyone in the class understands because the same 3 or 4 learners answer the questions).
- Split Dictation – avoid delivering content for extended periods of time by using split dictation. As learners finish the dictation they can create questions based on the dictation to ask other learners. The teacher can assess levels of understanding from the quality of answers and support the whole class by plugging gaps in learning or clarifying anything that might be confusing.
- Dictogloss – I often use dictogloss as a way to model the genre I am building towards my learners writing in. However, I believe it can be just as effective in building understanding of content being delivered. Yes, initially, when the teacher is reading and learners are taking notes there is a lot of teacher talk but when learners form groups to recreate the text the teacher is not talking and learning takes a collaborative form. The teacher can walk around and monitor the quality of student interaction and talk and when learners compare their text to the original the teacher can again build / plug gaps in knowledge.
- Answers Only – why not give your learners the content / answers and then have them form the questions? In this way we are developing their knowledge of the content and developing the language of questioning.
- Carousel Brainstorm – Learners work in groups to develop their knowledge of content. They can then use the brainstorm sheets to present information to the rest of the class. As the teacher listens, they can again plug gaps or support their learners in developing deeper understanding of the content.
- Progressive Brainstorm – A great strategy for developing content knowledge. This is because as the brainstorm progresses more and more knowledge is transmitted through learner responses. When the brainstorm is finished groups can present their brainstorm to the rest of the class and challenge or agree with what others have written.
- Find someone who – the teacher could create a grid with each learner / pair or group given a different piece of content. Each learner has to walk around the room and find someone who can help them complete their grid and thus develop their knowledge of content. After the activity has finished, the teacher can randomly quiz learners on what they have found out.
- Jigsaw Reading – I love using jigsaw activities of any kind. They force learners to talk and share what they know / have read. Each learner has a different piece of information and they have to collaborate to build understanding.
- Quiz Quiz Trade – I have used this strategy a lot for vocabulary learning but do not see any problem with it also being used to deliver content. You prepare a list of questions and answers and then leave it to your learners to quiz each other to build understanding.
- Walk Around Survey – You could use this to get learners to survey each other on content that has been delivered or you are delivering. You can check understanding by monitoring learner responses and quiz learners after the activity has finished.
- Word Experts – Get your learners to teach each other new vocabulary / concepts acquired and cut down on too much teacher talk.
In summary, yes, there are times when it is important for the teacher to talk and deliver direct instruction. However, too much teacher talks hinders our EAL learners in developing their understanding of content they are learning and deprives them of opportunities of interacting with language and content. Through creative and interactive approaches and strategies to developing content understanding we can cut down on teacher talk and support our EAL learners in much more effective ways!