How to Increase Student Talk Time:  Tips and Speaking Activities for ESL Students


If you are a language teacher, you have probably faced the fear of speaking too much during the lesson at least once. There are rules to be explained, instructions for exercises, and many other things to say, all within the limited time, and the students might be shy or not so talkative.

How can you ensure that your students speak enough? And what is enough? This article is going to answer all these questions.

What is STT and TTT?

Why is it Important to Have a Higher STT in an ESL Classroom?

Excessive Teacher Talking Time in class can hinder students’ participation because they may not have enough opportunities to engage. This lack of engagement results in insufficient feedback and makes it hard to assess students’ understanding and identify areas for improvement. 

Reducing TTT provides students with more chances to interact with each other, fostering collaborative learning and a sense of shared responsibility for achieving learning goals.

Moreover, by increasing Student Talking Time, teachers can observe which students are more active and encourage quieter ones, thus creating a more inclusive and comfortable learning environment. 

But What is the Perfect Ratio of STT and TTT? 

It varies depending on the level of your students. For beginners, there tends to be more TTT compared to intermediate and advanced students. However, the ideal ratio typically falls around 70-75% of the lesson dedicated to STT, with the remaining time allocated for TTT.

Analyze Your Lessons

The first step to increasing STT is to analyze your lesson structure. You can do it by recording and reviewing your lessons.

  • Make notes of moments where you might be talking more than necessary and think of how you can adjust to allow for more student interaction and speaking opportunities.  
  • Pay attention to the instructions you give for the tasks. Are they brief and clear enough?  Do your students ask a lot of questions after the explanation?  Do some of your students complete the tasks in the wrong way?  Do you set the exact time for them to complete tasks or do you just monitor when they are ready? 
  • Reflect on how you give your students feedback and what strategy you use for error correction. Do you provide it during the lesson or do you allocate some time for it at the end of the lesson?
  • Look through the types of activities you typically conduct with your students. Are there enough speaking activities or do you pay more attention to completing grammar tasks and working with texts and reading comprehension exercises? 

Tips on How to Increase STT in Group and Individual Lessons

Here are some most effective and basic strategies for increasing student talking time: 

Grouping Strategies:

  • Pair or divide students into small groups so that everyone can be engaged in speaking at the same time.
  • Have stronger students explain materials to the ones who have some difficulties in understanding.

Monitoring and Feedback:

  • Move around the class to monitor your students while they are speaking in groups or pairs.
  • Make notes for later error correction and feedback.
  • Use non-verbal cues for correction and encouragement. It can be a simple “thumbs up” or pointing at an object or imitating an action. You can also agree on some specific gestures to show that they missed a word or should change the word order, for example. 
  • Allocate a specific amount of time for error correction and feedback.


  • Avoid questions with short answers and ask your students open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “Did you like the movie?” you could ask, “What did you think about the movie?”
  • Elicit information through guiding questions instead of explaining it yourself.
  • Don’t hurry them up or answer a part of the question instead of them, let them think of their answer.

Speaking Practice Activities:

  • Ask students to retell what they read and watched during the lesson. You can provide scaffolding templates for lower-level students. 
  • Incorporate dynamic activities such as debates, role-plays, and dialogs.
  • Create speaking activities based on topics that really interest your students.


  • Prepare clear instructions for activities before the lesson starts. You can write them down for yourself and even ask your colleagues to review them to make sure they are clear and easy to understand.

Ideas for Speaking Exercises

1. Divide your students into two groups by preparing two sets of cards with opposing opinions on a given topic and distributing them randomly. Instruct each group to develop arguments and provide real-life examples supporting the viewpoint on their cards. 

2. Choose a video for your lesson and create a summary with gaps, either by keeping only the beginnings of sentences or by excluding keywords and expressions from the text. Task your students with summarizing the content using the template that you created.

3. Create a list of facts that pertain to the main topic of your lesson. Additionally, compile a separate list of facts about a closely related topic (e.g., Apple & Microsoft, veganism & vegetarianism, The USA & The UK). Have your students find the facts that are relevant to the main topic of the lesson and explain their choice.

4. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of something (immigration, for example); keep only the first part of each item on the list for students to complete it with their guesses and ideas.

5. Create a story using pictures or emojis and have your students share their interpretations of the story.

Download our Checklist

Increasing student talk time brings numerous benefits to both students and teachers alike. It raises engagement and enthusiasm among students and cultivates a supportive classroom environment where every voice is valued. Through increased STT, you can better assess student understanding, and tailor instruction and lesson activities to their needs.

If you want to evaluate your teaching and find out what changes you need to make to increase student talking time in your lessons, download this checklist!