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ESL Teaching Strategies: #3 Student Output

In this blog post you are going to find information all about the ESL Teaching Strategy of Student Output. Let's jump right into learning how to get those kiddos talking. 

Check out the teaching strategies here:

#1 TPR.                                                                 #2 Modeling



First, take a look at Nancy's video all about the tips she uses to get student output and examples in the real life classroom. 


What is Student Output?

This is everything the student is saying to you. The goal for the lower leveled students is 50% teacher and 50% student. For the higher leveled students it is 30% teacher and 70% student. Producing words and language lead to greater understanding and explanation of the ideas and concepts the students are learning.

Why do we want Student Output?

Many parents measure their students success in the class based on how much the student is talking with the teacher. The expectation is for the student to talk on every slide. Think about it- if we only wanted the student to listen, why wouldn't we just have them watch a video? This is a live class where parents expect conversation and speaking. Get those kids talking to you! 

Here is a great article about the benefits of talking in the classroom. I loved this quote explaining the importance of why we want student output...

Wilkinson (1965) introduced the term oracy as a way for people to think about the role that oral language plays in literacy development, defining it as "the ability to express oneself coherently and to communicate freely with others by word of mouth." Wilkinson noted that the development of oracy would lead to increased skill in reading and writing as users of the language became increasingly proficient—as James Britton (1983) put it so eloquently, "Reading and writing float on a sea of talk" 

Put simply, talk, or oracy, is the foundation of literacy. 

We want the student to do a lot of the talking. They will learn so much more by speaking, explaining, teaching and doing. More connections = greater retention. There is a huge difference in what the students retain when they are talking. 

How to get Student Output?

Below are some tips on things to do in the classroom to increase your student output. Practice using these in your classroom to get students beyond the blank stare. 


Modeling is is 50/50 at first, then gradual release to 70/30. Check out this post about modeling to get all the facts, but here is a summary. We want to show the students the expectation first, have them repeat and then slowly guide them to independence. This is the gradual release to 70/30 student output. 

Wait time

Give those kids some time, ideally 3-5 seconds, to answer your questions. Let's break it down! You ask the question, it hits their internet/video a second later. They need to translate the new words into their native language for understanding. Then generate a response. Next they will translate back to English and speak it back through the internet to your video connection. Give them sometime to think and make all this happen with wait time!  A trick I use is to slowly count with my fingers off screen to be sure I give them adequate time. Waiting shows the students you won't jump into save them and that you expect effort not perfection

Full Sentences

Set the expectation of speaking in full sentences. Believe me, They will produce! With the younger students you will need to train them on this expectation. (Note: Level 1 students do not need to speak in full sentences) Use TPR to show creating a full sentence (extend arms, or count words with fingers) or you can type the sentence in the chat box. The veteran VIPKID students know this and will usually do it without prompts. This helps teach sentence structure, grammar, conversation, and vocabulary. 


I like to use puppets to model conversation (I ask the puppet, the puppet responds). This is great for modeling who says what in conversation.

I also like vocabulary-specific props for each lesson. This helps keep their interest and make connections. The more ways you can connect the word to meaning the more the student will remember. When it comes time to speak, the vocabulary prop will jog their memory. 

Use a whiteboard to show the sentence break down. You can write out all the words and erase as they say it while adding a line (to show where the word is). Then point to the lines to encourage speaking in full sentences. 

Positive Correction

We want students to be speaking and speaking correctly. This includes pronunciation and grammar. Use positive correction ("Yes!" Then model the correct sentence). Give the student the first few words or show them the vocabulary prop. Don't keep teaching them the same way if they still are not producing correctly! Try something new with varying your content delivery.

In the end you have to keep things moving so don't focus too much if the student is just not getting it. Tell the parents in the feedback what the students need to practice and give some practical advice on how to do that. A great example is to say "Have your student listen and repeat audio books in English". Explain how this will help. Parents want to know how to help their student succeed and what they are struggling with so be sure to mention this to them in the feedback. 

Extension Questions: 

These are not just to fill the time! There are so many benefits to going beyond the lesson with the student. You can build connections with the student and create a positive relationship. Have them making connections to their own life is a great way to increase their interest in the lesson and keep their attention. Encourage them to ask questions! They love learning more about you and look to you to teach them the language AND  the content. Start a small conversation with them about the main topic. "Where do you want to visit? Why do you want to go there? Where have you been before?" 

Easy ways to extended

  • ASK WHY!
  • Share opinions
  • Ask about their life (favorites, things in China, family, daily life) -
  • Share your life - pictures, show outside the window, videos, props from home and ask if they have done/seen something similar 


I hope you found this information helpful in increasing the student output in your classroom. I know that using these tips with help the student speak and learn so much more than just listening and repeating the teacher. Happy teaching friends! 

-Teacher Stephanie



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