How often do you speak to the whole class at the same time? We all wish that we had smaller class sizes. We know that teaching is better differentiated and more personalised when we speak to fewer students. However, most teachers are in the habit of taking centre stage at the front and speaking to the whole class. This is a habit that I am trying to break.

@alicekeeler started this discussion with her post (If you do not already follow her, do it now!) and she created this hashtag on Twitter. Click #NoTalkWC to follow our experiences and even add your own! The challenge: do not address the whole class at the same time.

“The #nottalkWC challenge does not mean you turn your class into independent study and you sit at your desk. I am talking the whole time. I am always moving around, engaging students in small group and individual discussions. I am probably talking more than ever. Except, I’m actually talking with students rather than at them.”

Alice Keeler

Teachers differentiate their learning engagements to match the individual needs of the students, but it is less common to differentiate instruction. I can certainly recall times when I have had all students on the carpet and gone through each group’s directions in turn before letting any of them go. What a teacher-centred waste of time! Students are being forced to listen to directions that do not even apply to them. Speaking to the whole class is convenient for teachers, but not all of what you say is relevant for all students. Have you ever modelled a strategy, knowing full well that some students already know it? Even if something is relevant for everyone, try it in smaller groups instead to strengthen the personal connection between you and your students.

I am lucky enough to have a teaching partner. For those of you who don’t know, I teach in a bilingual school. Each class has an English-speaking teacher and a Chinese-speaking teacher. This provides a teacher-student ratio of 1:14. Many other teachers have teaching assistants. Improve your ratio by making use of your assistants from the very start of the lesson. However, even if you do not have any other adults, fear not! Technology, as always, has the answer. Focus on a small group and try tools like these for directing the independent groups:

Google_Classroom_LogoGoogle Classroom: Create assignments on Google Classroom and provide detailed instructions. A previous post suggested that you get started by using it as homework, but you could also use it in class.  As well as providing detailed directions, you could add a document, website or YouTube link as a place of reference in case your students need support.

icon175x175Newsela: This weekend, I completed the online course and qualified as a Newsela Certified Educator. There will be plenty more posts to come on this topic! Use Newsela to assign articles. With the PRO version, you can add instructions to assignments and also provide annotations to focus students’ attention on particular parts of texts. Without the PRO version, simply share the articles on Google Classroom and assign from there instead. Easy!

yt_1200-vfl4C3T0KYouTube: This is a new one for me. For a while, I have been collating videos and making playlists that will enhance learning for my students (if you’re interested, my channel is here). However, until this week, I had not posted any of my own videos. This is really easy and impactful. Instead of giving your instructions face to face, prepare your instructions in a video message instead. Simply share the link with them before the lesson (upload the videos as ‘unlisted’ if you don’t want the public to see it). I did this for the first time with a small group today. I simply told them to follow the link and to work independently. They were amazed as I spoke to them through the screen! One of the students emailed me after school to ask where the video had gone because she wanted to show her parents (I deleted it after the class unfortunately).

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These are just a few tools to help you with the #NoTalkWC challenge. The idea is to minimise whole class talk and focus on individuals and smaller groups instead. It goes without saying that all students should get equal face-to-face teacher time throughout the week. I also believe that group members should be changed regularly and that grouping by ability is not always the most effective way.

From the first week of the challenge, I have come to three main realisations so far:

  1. My quiet students suddenly have a voice. They appear to be much more comfortable in smaller groups and less intimidated. When working collaboratively online, they are able to put forward their ideas in a much less threatening way.
  2. My students are not as independent as I thought they were! This has become a class target. Too often during independent work, they feel the need to interrupt me and my focus group with trivial questions. I believe that adopting #NoTalkWC will improve their thinking skills and their independence. I’ll keep you posted!
  3. #NoTalkWC is surprisingly easy if you plan carefully.

What tools do you use to address students? When is it appropriate to speak to the whole class? I would love to hear your views, stories and experiences in the comments.


  1. It is nice that you have a teaching assistant but I want to emphasize that that is not a requirement for #notalkWC. I am a big advocate of small group instruction. Students have their groups, come in and immediately get to work wherever you posted the directions. We need to stop having students wait on us for what to do. Structure the activity to design for collaboration. Take a look at this activity by Diana Herrington (http://alicekeeler.com/2016/04/26/small-group-conversations/). While it’s a math activity, look at the structure of what she is doing. It is good for any subject area. Students investigate a concept independently. Group up with other students who investigated the same thing and they have discussion. This gives them confidence around their findings. They then go back to their regular group and they all discuss together and share. They then compare and explain. Kicking the DOK levels up a notch there! This is one type of activity. Remember, the person doing the work is the person doing the learning!

    1. I totally agree that it’s achievable whatever the teacher-student ratio, I have a teaching partner, but not in every lesson (I should have made that clear in the post). It works equally well on my own. I will certainly have a look at that activity tomorrow. It’s too late now though! It’s well past my bed time in Hong Kong. Thanks so much for dropping by, Alice. It’s so cool that the inspiration for this post has now contributed to it!

    2. I love that idea. I love how the students can collaborate with their group and with members of other groups, giving them confidence in their findings. It’s important that each group member has a responsibility and therefore has accountability within the group. This motivates the typical group work ‘free-riders’. I will also start using Google Slides in this way. A brilliant lesson well worth reading about. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Incredibly interesting aspect I never consciously thought of before. Unfortunately this approach seems to work well only if students have access to personal computers. How could I achieve no whole class talking without a teaching assistant and only one computer? Any suggestions?

    1. Thanks for the question, Karin. It’s a very good one and I’m not sure how to answer it. This post is about directing students in alternative ways, so that you can focus on smaller groups in turn. Perhaps write instructions for other groups to follow on the board or on task sheets. They could follow these instructions and get on with them independently until you have finished with your focus group. I guess the key here is routine. Or maybe the independent students could teach each other if you prepare this beforehand.

      I’m sorry. I haven’t answered this very well. Maybe other teachers on here will be able to offer more ideas. I evidently take the teacher ratio and technology for granted!

    2. Actually this works even if you do not have computers. Computers definitely make it easier but Barton Keeler (@bartonkeeler) teaches High School English with #NoTalkWC. First few weeks of school he has zero tech. You put the information on paper at each station. You write directions on the board. It’s very doable.

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