TEFL Tip: Setting Time Limits

c-dm1-103-a1.jpgWhen you give your students a task, it often makes sense to give a time limit with it. Like other things in TEFL, this rule doesn’t need to be set in stone, but there are a few reasons why it’s useful:

  • It gives students “warning” about how much time they have and also gives them a clearer picture of what you want. A dialog you want them to develop in ten minutes will be very different from one you want them to develop in thirty.
  • It can help students avoid getting bogged down with detail in a reading: they have five minutes and should scan it to get what they can in that time.
  • It forces you to think about how long something should take. It’s not the end of the world if it takes longer (though if it goes faster that can be bad!)
  • It helps keep the class “on the same page”: you have a better excuse to stop (because the time is up) and move on, rather than waiting for one slow group when everyone else is ready to go.

It can feel silly putting a time limit on shorter activities. I only give a limit in these cases to emphasize it should be short (“Speak for one minute about your last vacation”). One of the most frustrating things is for students to get wrapped up in something you intended to take three minutes: you hate to tell them it doesn’t even matter that much and they should just do it quickly, but…you want them to do it quickly.

On the other hand, there are times when activities should go on longer than the time limit you’ve set. If students seem interested and are acheiving what I want them to achieve, I let them go on. For activities that I expect to be like this – I may avoid giving a time limit so that people don’t rush through.