Teacher Talking Time by Thomas Baker

“Isn’t there a rule of thumb that teachers are supposed to speak something like a ratio of 20:80? Don’t we call this the
80/20 Rule?” From someplace, somewhere, somehow – that number is hardwired into my brain.

Teacher Talking Time

“Who is responsible for that?”, I wonder.

Jeremy Harmer?

Scott Thornbury?

Penny Ur?

Lindsay Clandfield?

Hugh Dellar?

Jim Scrivener?

Shelly Terrell?

Marisa Constantinides?

My CELTA teacher (what was her name?) (I remember: Lise Bell, what a great teacher she was.)

My DELTA teacher?(Christine Ng, also a superb teacher)

I got up and looked at the numerous “How to Teach” books on my bookshelf by these and many more authors. No, no, and
yet no again. I couldn’t find a specific mention of an 80-20 rule.

So I thought, “That’s strange. There’s something hardwired in my brain, and it’s apparently something that no one has written
about at any length. At least, not in ELT.” That’s why this book is necessary, to fill this gap in our knowledge.

Teacher Talking Time

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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7 Responses to Teacher Talking Time by Thomas Baker

  1. Not responsible for the hardwiring, Thomas, although I do spend interminable hours listening to teachers drone on and more hours showing them how to stop doing it 🙂

    Thanks for the kind mention



  2. I suppose I question the legitimate assertion that reducing TTT can improve STT. Isn’t it the most important tenet of Dogme ELT that students participate in genuine and authentic drive towards conversation. If teachers and students are participating a conversation-driven approach, should we throw out TTT and STT ratios out of the window? The only time that I consider TTT/STT appropriate is when teachers provide instructions and students practice target language during a role-play. However, when conversation is taking place, it would seem weird if the teacher were not participating. During my dissertation research, students mentioned now and again that they wanted teachers to participate with conversation. So again I wonder, what is the point of TTT and STT if it really is not necessary and when students wish for their teachers to participate/scaffold their language.


    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your taking the time to share your insights with me and my readers on this topic.

      As I wrote on this topic, I tried to shed light on the students’ perspective. What do students feel when they have a teacher who talks a lot? To do this, I randomly sampled 500 tweets from students, using the hash tag, #teacher #talking #time #ttt #teachertalkingtime.

      I shared the results in the penultimate chapter in my book, Teacher Talking Time, here: http://www.amazon.com/Teacher-Talking-Time-ebook/dp/B007BYWVZA

      The students’ reactions ranged from murderous rage, to indignation, to tuning out the teacher, to talking on the cell phone, to mental escape, and finally, to outright ridicule.

      This is powerful evidence that we as teachers need to inform our TTT not on what we think is right, or theoretically seems to be a good ratio, but rather on an intimate knowledge of our students.

      I will admit that this is a lofty goal, yet I insist, it is a goal that we as teachers can not ignore. We do so at our own peril, judging by the general tenor of the tweets from students in the random sample.

      Finally, I want to say that I am totally in agreement with you when you say, “…what is the point of TTT and STT… when students wish for their teachers to participate/scaffold their language.”

      Yet even in this case, the ideal scenario (the teacher is talking because it’s what the students want the teacher to do), teachers must be aware of when we are talking too much, and then be able to increase the students participation, without negatively affecting the flow of conversation.

      Again, I thank you most kindly for your comments on this topic, and equally for just stopping by to have a read and a look around my blog. I am truly honoured by your visit Martin.

      Kind regards,


  3. mikecorea says:

    To echo Martin’s points a little…I often think that instead of thinking simply of TTT we might think instead of QTT (quality teacher talking time). Loooooong instructions—probably not QTT. Droning on and on “teaching” ‘vocab words? Probably not QTT. The type of talk that Martin is talking about (authentically participating in conversation) sure sounds like QTT to me.


    • mikecorea says:

      Also…thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post!


      • Hi Mike,

        Thanks for your generous comments. Your thoughts on Quality Teacher Talking Time (QTTT) resonate well with me. It should be quality in the foreground, and quantity as a secondary consideration, assuming that quality has been achieved first. As both you and Martin point out, this generally tends to occur in authentic language use situations.

        Again, thank you kindly for your visit, and it is equally a pleasure to have your visit on my blog. Forgive me for the shameless plug, but my new book, “Connectivism for EFL Teachers”, might be of interest to you. here: http://amzn.to/wdckAA

        When we are In a connected communicative environment, communication (and thus learning) would be seriously hampered if either party were not equally adept (inclusive) at both speaking and listening.

        Again, thanks for stopping by, and forgive me for my taking the opportunity to market my new book: “Connectivism for EFL Teachers”. (on Amazon): http://amzn.to/wdckAA

        Kind regards,


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