Diana Corcos, a teacher and teacher trainer, gives us a few tips on how to get students speaking in class.
Recently, I was in the staff room looking at the timetables for the next term. I was worried because I’d been given one of the larger classes…about 30 students. I am not keen on big classes so I decided to spend some time thinking about how I could get them all involved in some speaking activities.
I know from experience that it’s really important for pronunciation and memory, as well as providing a change of activity to keep students interested; but it’s a challenge!
So I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas I’ve used successfully in the past.
■ Get your classroom layout right
Have students’ desks and chairs arranged so they can see each other and you can move around easily. The students need to know that you’re listening and commenting on their progress as well as keeping an eye on them!
■ Keep control – without raising your voice
We all worry about losing control of speaking activities in large classes but they can work if you don’t have to shout. Try this way to get your students to listen
Tell your class that when your hand is held up you expect everyone to be quiet and listen. At first, only a few students will see your hand go up, but they’ll tell others and in a few seconds everyone will be quiet and you can speak. It’s really just the same as them putting up their hand to speak to you, so they’ll soon get used to it.
■ Grab their attention right from the start
Behaviour problems, especially with large groups, can happen when students drift into the lesson and it takes a while before everyone’s ready to start. So have something they can get on with immediately. Always have a task ready on the board when they come in – but keep it short. I use a kitchen timer which rings after a set time. My students always work in pairs.
Activities might be as simple as open-ended questions e.g.
- Why do people live in cities?
- Is school uniform a good or a bad thing?
- Does money bring happiness?
I choose a few students to report back to the class. If the topic links to the lesson then even better!
Discussion of a grammar point works well too.
What is the difference in meaning between…?
- He is going to the shops today
- He goes to the shops in the afternoons.
■ Learn the names of all your students
In the first few lessons spend time getting everyone to learn everyone’s name. Guessing games in small groups work well.
- You are Maria. Your name is Keiko etc
- Give your students name cards to hand out and see if they can give them to the right people
- Have everyone draw a class map with names on it
And don’t forget to join in yourself.
■ Drilling – don’t make it boring – make it fun!
Get your students to repeat a phrase in different ways or using different voices. Model the sentence yourself and then get your students to repeat it.
When they’ve had a go, hold up cards with instructions on; eg:
Get them to repeat the phrase in the way indicated on the card. They’ll certainly end up in fits of laughter, but they’ll be getting lots of good practice at the same time!
Choose instructions that your students will find funny, but always finish by coming back to a standard voice!
■ Interested students are talkative students
We all like to talk about things that interest us, so link your speaking task to topics your students are interested in.
Try putting newspaper headlines on the board. Get the students to choose one that interests them and discuss in pairs what the story might be about.
When they’re ready, get a few students to tell their story to the class.
■ Add a competitive element to make the lesson fun!
It’s impossible to make every part of a lesson fun, but the more often your students enjoy their lesson the easier your task will be. They’ll come back next time motivated and enthusiastic – and that has to be good for everyone.
So, here’s an idea you can use lots of times with different topics.
Give each pair of students a piece of paper with an alphabet written from the top to the bottom. Then write one topic on the board e.g. transport, fruit and vegetables, countries etc. You can choose the first few, and then let them make suggestions.
Ask your students to think of an object from the topic for every letter of the alphabet. Encourage them to talk to each other in English, and decide what to include. (This is usually a quiet activity as they don’t want other pairs to hear!)
A – apple
B – banana
C – carrot
Put the timer on again and the pair with the largest number, when time is up, can read out their list, and they’re the winners.
And don’t forget to get everyone to take their papers home to complete for homework!
I think I’m looking forward to meeting my class now!
It’ll be fun to try out some of these ideas, and I hope they give you some ideas on practising speaking activities with your students too. And if you have some of your own, please share them.