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Getting children to talk in English from the beginning

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Karen Frazier, co-author of Let’s Go, looks at how to get children speaking in English from the very beginning.

Would you like your young students to speak more in English? Getting children to speak has always been one of my main goals when teaching English language learners. Yet students are often very reluctant to speak. Why does this happen, and what can we do about it?

Sometimes, students are afraid of making mistakes. They think they will be misunderstood, and they don’t want to be embarrassed. Other students are shy and just don’t want to talk. So how do we get them talking?

One thing we can do is to make sure that students are comfortable with the language we expect them to use. If they are not comfortable, they will probably hesitate to speak.

Do you remember being in a class where you weren’t confident about something you had learned? For me, it was my geometry class. Perhaps for you it was a science, history or language class. If your teacher began the next lesson by asking you to demonstrate something from the previous lesson, without reviewing it first, how did you feel? Many of us probably would have been anxious about volunteering or speaking out in that class. And we might have tried to avoid talking as much as possible. The same is often true for our language students.

We should remember that young students usually leave a language class thinking, and maybe hoping, that they’re finished with the language learned. They seldom think that they might need it again for the next lesson. That’s why it is important to prepare our students for a new lesson by reviewing what they already know at the beginning of every class.

Another way to encourage our students to speak is to create lessons that incorporate a reason to communicate. In many English classes, students answer, but rarely ask, questions. Lessons are often full of drills and other practice activities that are boring for students. Students quickly lose interest and focus. Our challenge is to plan lessons that expect students to ask questions to get information, thus keeping them involved in the learning. There are a number of ways to introduce language that will have your students asking questions from the beginning. Here’s an example of one activity using puppets to do this. (I’ll be sharing some more activities that have worked in my classes in my webinar on 30 November – do join me.)

Engaging lessons not only help our students remember language, but also help them develop positive attitudes toward using new language. Language learning involves a memory that comes from more than just remembering the images, sounds and words for objects. This memory also includes how the language was introduced and the context for that introduction and practice. If language is presented in an interesting way, children will remember that it was exciting. They will want to use the language because they see it as something fun to do.

Of course, students have to practice language over and over to imprint it on their memories, much like a dancer or an athlete works to develop muscle memory. Practice and repetition in a language class is important to make using basic language patterns automatic. But drills don’t need to be boring for young students and we can borrow ideas for creating engaging activities from watching the ways children interact with games and media available to them.

It is possible to make language presentation and practice fun and interactive! Tools like puppets, teacher and student cards, and even mobile phones, can be used in lessons that will get your students to enjoy talking so much that they’ll forget they are learning.

Here’s a sample lesson that incorporates a review and some engaging ways to present and practice a lesson on birthday gifts that will get your students talking. Let me know how it goes!

Visit Let’s Share for more videos, blogs and upcoming events by our Let’s Go authors.

Karen gave a webinar on ‘Getting children to talk in English from the very beginning’ on 30 November 2012. If you missed it, you can watch the recording here.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

12 thoughts on “Getting children to talk in English from the beginning

  1. I have been an English teacher in Brazil for about 12 years but for me it is still difficult to keep the children’s attention , we need to change the activities every 5 or 10 minutes.How is it possible to keep their attention for more than this? and what can I do with children that don’t know how to write or read? It would be very nice receiving some help, thanks.

    • Nara,

      I’m pleased that you asked these questions! All of us, regardless of how long we have been teaching, find it a challenge to keep children’s attention for more than 5-10 minutes. They have short attention spans, especially if they are doing something that might not interest them.

      Basically, I believe that we need to give our students as much opportunity to talk as we can. The more our students are doing activities that get them talking to each other, the more engaged they will be in our lessons. Vary what you do in teaching and practicing a particular language pattern, Students learn differently and many can’t focus on just the language for too long at one time. Be sure to get your students up and moving around. Practice the language in chant or song forms, and let the students move to the rhythm of the language. Do projects that require them to use the language. Let them draw a picture and then describe it to other classmates. Use small group activities and projects and then have the students share what they did with the class. When you do your drills, keep them short and interactive.

      I will be sharing more about these ideas and many others during my webinar on November 30th. So, I really hope you will join in the discussion that day.

      For information about reading, please take a look at the OUP Let’s Share page. You will find some information there and also in upcoming webinars by my co-authors in March.

  2. Pingback: Getting children to talk in English from the beginning | Young Learners of English | Scoop.it

  3. I’m really sad , because I lost the webinar today.I’m an English teacher from Brazil and I teach children ,that’s why I’m interested in improving my techniques and the way I teach , I had the same question Nara has.I loved ” Let’s share ” site and I’ve been watching some wonderful videos .They helped me a lot , thanks . My name is Maria Silvia.

    • Hi Maria, you should get an email shortly with a link to the recording of the webinar. Thanks!

    • Maria Silvia, I’m so very pleased that you have been helped by the videos and information on our Let’s Share site! Though you were unable to join the webinar on the 30th, I hope you have received the link to the webinar from OUP. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. We will be happy to answer them. Also, we would love to hear about your ideas for teaching children!!

      There is another Let’s Share webinar on December 15 on Rhythm and Chants. This presentation will be given by Carolyn Graham, who wrote all the songs and chants for Let’s Go. We hope you can join us!

  4. I attended the webinar related to this topic on 30/11 and I would just like to say that Karen Frazier is an amazing presenter. I attend a lot of webinars each month and it was an immense joy to watch someone so engaging, dynamic, lively, interesting and professional in action. It is obvious that she knows what she is talking about and I would highly recommend anyone to tune in to her future webinars. Great job, Karen!

    • Thanks Fracois! We’ll pass your kind words on to Karen.

    • Thank you so very much for you kind words, Francois! It was my pleasure to share my ideas with you and with all those attending the webinar on the 30th. The entire Let’s Go team is passionate about teaching English to children! All of us are so happy that OUP has given teachers everywhere this opportunity to exchange ideas through the Let’s Share site! Hope to see you at the next webinar on December 15th! Thanks again, Francois!

  5. I am not a native english speaker.I have been studying english from my school days but i can’t speak perfect english.I am practicing to speak perfect english by watching videos like this one http://youtu.be/pBCF257vq-I it will help me to speak perfect english.

  6. Pingback: Getting children to talk in English from the beginning | IELTS throughout the Net | Scoop.it

  7. I really enjoy using chants, games and lots of speaking activities in class. The students enjoy it and learn a lot! Thanks for the tips.

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