Monday morning. You go to your first class and as normal, you ask your students about their weekends. Student A has just come back from holiday. She gives you a quick run through of her trip. She’s been to London, visited Buckingham Palace and tried real British fish and chips. She didn’t like it, too greasy. Student B has had a quiet weekend. He’s taken his children to watch the football. He’s happy. His team won 4-0. Next it’s student C’s turn. He starts explaining how he spent Friday evening at home watching TV. He woke up too early on Saturday morning, but couldn’t get back to sleep and on and on he goes. Students A and B start getting fidgety, out come the mobile phones. It’s up to you to take control and move things along*.
Dealing with students who dominate and talk too much is one of the aspects of teaching that I find the most challenging. On the one hand, a key part of teaching is encouraging your students to speak fluently and feel comfortable expressing themselves. On the other hand, you don’t want one student to go off on a mini-lecture and bore everyone half to death. Dealing with a dominating student is a sensitive matter.
Here are some ideas:
Use lots of pair work
If you have a dominator in your class, one of the best ways to deal with the problem is in the planning stage. Try to limit open discussion and focus on pair work. Of course, pair dynamics are important here – make sure you put more confident students together to avoid one half of the pair doing all the talking.
Use more structured discussion or strict timings
If you use open class discussion, ask targeted rather than open questions. As an example, rather than simply asking your students what they did on the weekend, ask them to write 5 sentences . You can make this a bit more interactive by asking them to write 5 true or lie sentences, and then ask the other students to guess if they really did these things (true) or didn’t (lie). Extend it further by asking follow up questions on each sentence.
Even though it can be uncomfortable for you as the teacher, another method is to use strict timings. You could ask your student to summarise their weekend in 2 minutes. Using a mobile phone timer with an audible alarm makes it easier to move things along.
Nominate the quieter students to speak first
Nominating is an aspect of teaching that I find surprisingly difficult. I much prefer to keep an informal atmosphere and whilst nominating can feel like you are in a secondary school, it really is essential to get everyone some speaking time in open class discussion. Berlin students appreciate structure and a teacher who takes control. Picking a less confident student gives them the greatest opportunity to comment and feel that they are contributing something valuable to the discussion. Additionally, letting the quieter student speak first may also help to give the others an idea of how long to speak for.
If all else fails, try the direct and high-risk approach (German people like direct). Ask Mr./Mrs. Talkative to let someone else speak. It’s possible that they’ll take it the right way, the group dynamics will improve no end and everyone will go home happy.
Then again, maybe not.
*Professionalism disclaimer: the above story is entirely fictional.