Teaching online requires all the skills of a classroom-based teacher and more. You might be wondering how you can deliver a successful online lesson with students achieving their maximum potential and of course having fun at the same time!

Today let’s focus on one key area that is vital in online teaching, the crucial balance between student talk time and teacher talk time. Whilst there is no magical formula to becoming a great online teacher, there are some magic numbers in this ratio! You should be aiming for 80% of your lesson to be student talk time and 20% of your lesson to be teacher talk time.

If you want to get technical, we can take a quick look at Vygotsky’s theory about the zone of proximal development. Whilst this may sound fancy, actually, the idea behind it is quite a basic one – as a teacher you are there to facilitate a student’s learning. The zone of proximal development is that area in which you can push your students to think and achieve, but it’s not so far away from their previous knowledge that they have no idea how to answer. Throughout your online lesson you should be scaffolding up to that final activity that will put all of what the students have been practising together – often this is more of a free talk speaking activity!

Anyway, back to the balance… so your lesson should be 20% teacher talk time, made up of introducing activities, explaining new concepts and of course error correction. Whilst the rest is students using the language themselves. Learning a second language is a practical skill, so of course, practice is key! The other 80% is students practising and playing around with previous knowledge of the language but also trying out that new knowledge they have acquired in your lesson. It’s really important to get individual practice, but of course, if you are learning a language the whole point is to communicate with others! So, practice conversations with teachers and other students are vital to really build students language skills and also their confidence too.

Sometimes it can feel like as a teacher you do too much talking! But why not consider getting students to play that role of teacher and ask their partner or other classmates questions, not only does it mean they get to practice more of the language but also the other students can adjust to hearing another English speaker. This is a vital skill when learning a language as whilst it’s great to hear a well pronounced and proper English teacher, at the end of the day we don’t all sound like that! It will help your students adapt to real-life situations as they get more exposure from different speakers.

So how can this balance affect a student’s progress and achievement?

If you maintain this magical balance, then it will help your students’ progress enormously. Students need to make mistakes in order to learn from them, however, it is important that you as their teacher know how to correct these mistakes. When I think back to when I was younger, I would hate for someone to tell me ‘no that’s wrong’ and it is so important to avoid doing this. In your error correction you should simply repeat what your student has said, but with the correct language, form (whatever error was made), if you have the time it is then a great idea to ask another question that will elicit the part of the language you are trying to correct, so you can see if that student has grasped the concept. This will be an important part of your 20% teacher talk time in your lessons!

However, there is one potential downside… awkward silences – no one likes them but sometimes they do just happen! It might be because a student is thinking, or maybe they are just a bit confused and don’t quite understand. As the teacher, it is your job to ensure you strike the balance between giving students time to think, but also gauging whether it’s just a student’s brain whirring to think of the answer, or whether they are not quite getting the concept. In this situation there are different approaches you can take, you might want to bring down another student to ‘help’. This does alleviate that awkward silence and stops you as a teacher adding to your talk time, but you need to be careful that the original student answering does give their own answer, rather than copying the stronger student. I would advise taking another route and instead offer your student choices. If your question is ‘what’s your favourite thing to do in your free time?’, you could offer up suggestions like ‘football’ or ‘painting’. This can really help give your students something to then put into a fuller answer – and they’ve achieved it themselves! This will not only mean your students are achieving, but also that they are gaining confidence which is so vital.

Your talk time may be limited in our golden ratio but use it wisely! Utilise your teacher talk time to scaffold student’s learning, not only throughout the whole lesson but you might need to do this in individual tasks too, for example by giving students choices or suggestions for their answers. The most important thing is to give your students confidence, show them that you believe in them and always praise your students, it takes a lot to have the confidence to speak up in front of classmates and a native English speaker and speak English! Building your student’s confidence will in turn lead to them participating more, as that fear of getting it wrong disappears and of course this will lead to higher levels of achievement!

Article Written by Emily Snowling @ The Overseas Teacher