Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


1 Comment

Let’s make our thinking visible!

A blog by authors Patrizia Caroti, Sarah Howell, and Lisa Kester Dodgson.

While much discourse relating to teaching in the 21st century revolves around content, programmes, methods and approaches etc. there appears to be a gap in how teachers can equip students with the skills they need to deepen their understanding of the world around them as lifelong learners.

Thinking dispositions

Learning is the outcome of thinking, and as such gaining insights into the ways students think is crucial for teachers, allowing them to alter students’ thinking dispositions. Thinking dispositions (Ritchart et al, 2011) are the habits of mind that develop:

  1. Observing closely and describing;
  2. Building explanations and interpretations;
  3. Reasoning with evidence;
  4. Making connections;
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives;
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions;
  7. Wondering and asking questions;
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things.

But how do we know what kind of thinking is taking place and how can we be sure that all our students are developing these thinking skills? What insights do we have into how our students are thinking and learning?

These questions stimulated our curiosity to experiment with Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) in our EFL classrooms and take up the 21st century challenge: “Build a culture of thinking” in our learning community.


“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. Visible Thinking is a way of helping to achieve that without a separate ‘thinking skills’ course or fixed lessons.”

Visible Thinking <http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org>


But what are Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs)?

Visible Thinking Routines were developed by Project Zero, an educational research group at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The routines consist of a few short steps which scaffold and guide students’ thinking. They awaken curiosity and encourage students to dig deeper, taking their thinking to a more sophisticated level (Ritchhart et al, 2011).

We can demonstrate the potential of VTRs by illustrating our mini-research project carried out with two classes of 13-year-old students, in a state secondary school in Italy. The average English competency level of the students was A2 (CEFR) with 3 hours a week of EFL instruction using a mainstream textbook. The routines were chosen according to the thinking dispositions we were aiming to develop, the content being presented in the textbook, and how suitable we felt the routines would be in the given teaching context.

We focused on three different thinking dispositions linked to three VTRs.

Thinking Dispositions Visible Thinking Routines
Capturing the heart Headlines
Making connections Connect-Extend-Challenge
Wondering and asking questions See-Think-Wonder

Headlines

A routine for capturing essence.Headlines routine

Materials:

An article about fundraising and charity concerts.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The students had been working on making deductions, expressing agreement/disagreement, and probability.
  • They worked individually on the texts, highlighting key phrases to help them create their headlines, and then shared their ideas on the poster.
  • They shared their thinking in small groups, read the other headlines, and made comparisons.

Reflections:

The Headlines routine encouraged students to think more deeply about the content and develop their ability to synthesise. Through sharing their thoughts they developed meaningful conversations around the content of the poster.

See-Think-WonderSee-Think-Wonder (STW)

A routine for exploring visuals and related texts.

Materials:

A photograph of a polluted river.

Process:

  • Topic-specific vocabulary had been pre-taught. The See-Think-Wonder routine raises students’ curiosity about the topic with visual stimuli.
  • First (see) they described what they could see, then (think) they expressed their thoughts about the image, and finally (wonder) they were encouraged to express what else they would like to know about the topic.
  • The students were given question stems to help them articulate their thoughts. Although they spoke in a mix of L1 and English, they wrote their responses in English.

Reflections:

This routine helped the students analyse a visual, and use elements within it to generate their own ideas related to the topic. We found this routine particularly inclusive, as listening to each other’s ideas and opinions encouraged all group members to speak up and share.

Connect-Extend-ChallengeConnect-Extend-Challenge (CEC)

A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge.

Materials:

A photo, audio, and some text about the environment and recycling.

Process:

  • Topic specific vocabulary and expressions had been pre-taught.
  • The students made observations about the photograph and the dialogue by applying the (now familiar) STW routine before using the new CEC routine.
  • Using the reading text, first they made connections (connect) to what they already knew about recycling, then they discussed what new information they had gained and how this had extended their knowledge (extend), and finally (challenge) what still puzzled them. The students worked in groups and then a plenary session was held to present their thinking
    and their “challenges”.

Reflections:

The EFL classroom is often a difficult place for students to express their ideas and their knowledge about a given topic. The CEC routine helped the students tap into their prior knowledge and relate it to new content and encouraged them to go beyond the surface level of the topic.

Classroom activity 1

Thoughts…

A significant consideration which arose while reflecting with students is the importance of feeling comfortable and confident without the threat of evaluation; their thinking is not assessed in this approach! This concept needs to be highlighted at the outset of any Visual Thinking Routine and made clear that it is not just another worksheet to fill in with the right answer, but rather that it’s their thinking process that matters.

Classroom activity 2

Visual Thinking Routines need to be used regularly and systematically across the board so that students develop good thinking dispositions and habits which in turn have a positive interdisciplinary impact over time.

 

 

How could VTRs make a difference to your teaching?

 


Authors:

Patrizia Caroti is a teacher and ELT author with 30 years’ experience of teaching English in Italian Secondary Schools.
Sarah M Howell is an OUP author and teacher trainer. She has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels.
Lisa Kester Dodgson is an OUP author with a rich background in primary and secondary education.


References (recommended reading list!)

Majida “Mohammed Yousef” Dajani. (2016). Using Thinking Routines as a Pedagogy for Teaching English as a Second Language in Palestine. Journal of Educational Research and Practice , Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 1–18. Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., Wilson, D., (2013). Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio-Inspired Approaches in all Schools John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K., & Perkins, D. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. John Wiley and Sons, Inc, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

“Thinking Palette.” Artful Thinking. Project Zero. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb. 2017. <http://pzartfulthinking.org/?page_id=2>

Ritchhart, Ron., Perkins, David., & Tishman, Shari. “Visible Thinking.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Feb, 2017.<http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/visible-thinking>

Salmon, K, Angela. “Making Thinking Visible Through Action Research.” Early Childhood Education. The official journal of the Early Childhood Education Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Volume 39, Number 1. 2010. <https://www.academia.edu/4841813/Making_Thinking_Visible_Through_Action_Research>

Arcenas, Claire. “Bridging our Thinking.” Visible thinking across subject matters. 13 Feb 2015. <https://clairearcenas.wordpress.com/>

Ritchhart, Ron. “Cultures of Thinking.” Think! From the Middle. Rochester Community Schools. March 2017. <http://www.rcsthinkfromthemiddle.com/cultures-of-thinking.html>

Jacobson, Gareth. “Team Teaching – an all or nothing phenomenon.” I think therefore… 16th Nov. 2016. <https://makingthinkingvisible.wordpress.com/>

“Research.” Visible Thinking for the child to be and the adult to see. <http://visiblethinking.ltd.uk/research/>

 


5 Comments

Everything is better with music

Vanessa Reilly is a teacher, OUP author and teacher trainer. She has an M.A. in English Language Teaching specializing in very young learners and young learners. Vanessa is co-author of the OUP Resource Books, Very Young Learners and Writing with children. She is also the author of the many OUP course books for pre-primary and primary. She is currently working on her PhD. In 2014, Vanessa trained as an official Zumba teacher and teaches Zumba Kids to Spanish children in English!

Music in the ELT classroom

Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.  Plato

Plato’s words epitomise what music means to many, although we may not express ourselves quite so poetically!

Music has always been very important in my life. I have music playing around the house, in the car and I usually have one song or another going around in my head.  Those who know me well consider me to be a happy, optimistic person and I think that having music in my life has a lot to do with it.  Is music important in your life?

 

Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.  Plato

I agree with Plato again here. We are actually surrounded by music in our everyday lives, in shops, adverts on TV, soundtracks to films and the radio. Boyd Brewer (1995) however asks, “How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off?” Luckily, in ELT, we tend not to turn music off. In fact, all those years ago when I started teaching English to primary children, I soon discovered that music and songs were also my closest allies in the classroom.

As well as teaching the children new language with a song, I used music for classroom management, having a Hello/Goodbye song, songs to mark transitions like the start of story time or circle time, music to play in the background to settle the children to a desk-based activity, or a stirring tune if I wanted them to be more active.  At one point, colleagues would ask me if I actually did any work in my classes as the children just seemed to be “all singing all dancing”, to which I would reply, “Do the children leave your class singing the maths curriculum?  They could do! If you need any songs, just ask.”   If a song is memorable enough, children will take the English song out of your classroom, into the playground, and all the way home the English will be in their heads. Murphy (1992) refers to S-S-I-T-H-P, Song Stuck in the Head Phenomenon, when a song is catchy and you just cannot get it out of you head.  You know the feeling, that song you hear first thing on the radio in the morning which is still in your head at break time, lunchtime and sometimes on the way home. It’s the same with the children in your class and luckily for us, most children’s songs are catchy by nature.

Some years later, when I reflected on how much music means in my classes, I realised that it is one of, if not the most important element in my lesson planning for children. This was a serious issue when choosing a course book for my English classes. I always made listening to the accompanying CD paramount and I encourage teachers on my training courses to never choose a course book without having listened carefully to the songs first, as you could be living with them for years!

Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. Beethoven

There are many advantages to using music, songs and rhymes in a language class.

Why use songs and music with primary age children?

  • Most children like songs, music and movement;
  • For classroom management – starting, ending, marking transitions, stirring or settling the children. Songs can cut back on teacher talk time and help save your voice as children can join in with the classroom management instructions. You can often start the “Everybody tidy up” song and never have to finish it as the children take over and sing everything back to its place!
  • A well-chosen song can provide children with the language we have to teach. If the song includes a lot of repetition and can also incorporate movement and actions, these two elements enhance the learning process and help to make the language even more memorable. As long as we expose the children to a song with the right language, they can leave our class and spend the rest of the day singing our curriculum!
  • Songs are motivational for children at this early stage in their language-learning career as songs permit them to sing whole sentences at a reasonably fast pace, something many children consider to be a sign of being able to speak a language.
  • When a song contains chunks of language, teachers can refer back to these in order to help children remember and use the language more confidently.
  • Music can lift the mood in a class and make learning more fun. Cameron (2001) found that ‘… a new word needs to be met at least five or six times… before it has any chance of being learnt.’ Having to repeat a word so many times could become tedious, however, a carefully chosen song can provide this necessary practice and be fun at the same time.  A song where the target language is repeated the “magic” 3 times, means that on just one listening, we are making language learning more accessible. However, we tend to listen and sing a song many times and this brings us closer to our goal.
  • Murphy, (1992) said “With young children, language divorced from action seems to be mostly forgotten.” Songs with TPR provide instant clarification of meaning but also help children channel their natural energy into the learning process. Well-chosen actions can be used to instantly refresh a child’s memory and elicit language. As children get the hang of TPR and actions, I work with the class to encourage them to choose the actions.  We talk about the important language we want to learn and think of and select the best actions to help the children remember.  Actions can mean a lot more to children when they have chosen them.

In this practical webinar we will look at using music in a manner of ways to make our job easier, and make the language learning process more memorable for children.

Please think of your favourite children’s song so you can share it with the group.  Mine still has to be “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.”  I have a favourite version of this song though.  If you don’t know the Learning Station, check them out on YouTube.  I think you’ll love this version! It may get stuck in your head again though!

You’ll be singing “Neck, elbows, hips and feet” for the rest of the day!

Boyd Brewer, C, (1995).  “Integrating Music in the Classroom.” http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/arts/brewer.htm

Cameron, L, (2001). Teaching Languages to Young Learners, CUP

Murphy, T, (1992), Music and song, Oxford University Press


1 Comment

Extensive reading for engaging learners beyond the textbook

Scott Roy Douglas has worked with high school, university, and adult English language learners around the world.  He is a co-author of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, and the author of Academic Inquiry: Writing for Post-secondary Success.  He is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. 

 

Today Scott joins us on the blog to explain how extensive reading could be beneficial to your students.

Supporting Classroom English Language Teaching and Learning with Extensive Reading

A program of extensive reading can be a powerful complement to English language teaching and learning.  This blog post explores what extensive reading is, how it can benefit students, what challenges there may be, and how it supports and enhances courses like Q: Skills for Success Second Edition.

What is extensive reading?

Rather than closely reading a single challenging text in class, extensive reading involves students engaging in large amounts of reading at levels that match what they are able to understand easily without using a dictionary or extra help.  Typically, students read at least one or two books a week from a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction choices.  Students read these books on their own either in their free time or during class, usually at a pace that might be a bit faster than usual for the classroom.  The goal is to go beyond thinking of reading as a task, towards developing a habit of reading for pleasure.  The key is to remember that extensive reading materials shouldn’t be too difficult or challenging for students.  As a rule of thumb, students should choose books with less than four or five new vocabulary words on a page.

What are the benefits of extensive reading?

A lot of research has been done examining the benefits of extensive reading.  It seems that the more students read, the better readers they become.  In fact, students who engage in a program of extensive reading often increase their reading rates and their overall reading fluency.  They can also improve their reading comprehension.  It appears that part of this improvement might be down to the development of new vocabulary knowledge.  Students can learn new vocabulary incidentally through the extensive reading process as well as deepen the vocabulary knowledge they already have by seeing the words they know in a wide variety of contexts.  However, the benefits are not just limited to reading and vocabulary.  There even seems to be a positive effect on students’ grammar and writing skills, performance on standardized tests, motivation, and attitude towards reading.

The challenges of extensive reading

While extensive reading programs can provide a rich source of comprehensible input that supports students’ English language learning goals, it can also present a number of challenges.  Students who have not taken part in extensive reading programs before might not be used to reading easier texts outside of class and may not immediately see the value in reading interesting and accessible books as homework.  In fact, because some students may equate learning English with challenging reading texts, intensive teacher support, and dictionary work, they might choose texts that are too difficult.  Poor reading choices can lead to a less than enjoyable experience, thus defeating the purpose of extensive reading.  In addition, extensive reading programs don’t always align with what is being covered in class, and students might not see the connections between what is happening in class and what they are reading in their free time.  Thus, in order to be successful, the extensive reading process needs to be thoughtfully supported in class, with students having access to level-appropriate reading choices and guidance from the teacher.

How can teachers enrich the extensive reading process?

Teachers can facilitate the extensive reading process by engaging in a wide variety of activities to support and enrich the experience.  For example, you might help students find appropriate books, check in on what they think about the readings, explore how they feel about the characters, and keep track of what is being read.  Examples and resources to support these types of activities can be found on the Oxford Graded Readers Teaching Resources page.

One activity your students can do is keep an extensive reading journal.  As a framework for their journal entries, you can ask students to write three short paragraphs for each book they read.  In the first paragraph, students can ask themselves what the book is about and write a quick summary in their own words.  In the second paragraph, they can connect what they read to the topic of the textbook unit they are currently studying, or as in Q: Skills for Success Second Edition, the corresponding unit question.  Students can explore the information in the book that helps them answer the unit question, and possibly include a quote that connects to the unit question as well.  Finally, students can write what they think about the book in their third paragraph.  In this paragraph, they can record their opinions, their favourite parts, and whether the book relates to their own experiences.  Thus, students will have a personal and meaningful account of each book they read.  You can read students’ journals from time to time to see how they are doing, and the journal entries can also be used as a strong basis for classroom discussions related to the books students are reading.

How can extensive reading complement Q: Skills for Success?

Each unit of Q: Skills for Success Second Edition has now been aligned to an Oxford Graded Reader based on the appropriate topic and level of language proficiency.  Starting in August 2017, the first chapters of the recommended graded readers can downloaded for free from iQ Online.  These graded readers come from a wide range of genres, all drawn from the Oxford Bookworms Library.

In the Q: Skills for Success series, each unit is centred on an essential question such as “Why is global cooperation important?” or “What happens when a language disappears?”  These questions touch on universal themes, encourage curiosity and discussion, and prepare students to engage with learning. All of the activities and skills presented in each unit support students finding answers to the unit questions.  The graded readers now provide another avenue of support for students answering the unit questions, while the unit questions prime students to fully engage with the aligned extensive reading choices.

To find out more about the new timesaving and practical resources being added to iQ Online, including Graded Reader chapters and new video content, visit https://elt.oup.com/feature/global/beyond-four-walls.

 

Further Reading on Extensive Reading

Beglar, D., Hunt, A., & Kite, Y. (2012). The effect of pleasure reading on Japanese University EFL learners’ reading rates. Language Learning, 62, 665–703.

Day, R. & Bamford, J. (2002). Top ten principles for teaching extensive reading. Reading in a foreign language, 14(2), 136-141.

Horst, M. (2005). Learning L2 vocabulary through extensive reading: A measurement study. Canadian Modern Language Review, 61(3), 355-382.

Jeon, E.Y. & Day, R.R. (2016). The effectiveness of ER on reading proficiency: A meta-analysis. Reading in a Foreign Language, 28(2), 246-265.

Krashen, S. (2007). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 3(2), 23-29.

Mikami, A. (2016). Students’ attitudes toward extensive reading in the Japanese EFL context. TESOL Journal, 0(0), 1-18.

Nation, P. (2015). Principles guiding vocabulary learning through extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(1), 136-145.

Robb, T. N., & Kano, M. (2013). Effective extensive reading outside the classroom: A large scale experiment. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25, 234–247.

Storey, C, Gibson, K., & Williamson, R. (2006). Can extensive reading boost TOEIC scores? In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (Eds.), JALT 2005 conference proceedings, 1004-1018. Tokyo, Japan: JALT.

Waring, R. & Takaki, M. (2003). At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Reading in a Foreign language, 15, 130-163.


2 Comments

Bubbling Under: Helping ideas to surface in speaking classes Q&A

School children writingEdmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 20 years of classroom experience. Based in Budapest, he has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels. He works with teachers from around the world as a freelance teacher trainer and as a tutor at the University of Oxford’s ELT Summer Seminar. He is the co-author of OUP’s Mixed-Ability Teaching and has also contributed materials to several OUP textbooks and training courses.


What can we do if our students are afraid of making mistakes?

Ask yourself what it is that your students are actually afraid of. Is it making mistakes? Or is it the consequences of making mistakes? In many cases, I think it’s the latter. Students are afraid that if they make a mistake when speaking, the teacher will embarrass them, or that the other students in the class will make fun of them. There are two things that we can do:

  1. Be encouraging and supportive
  2. Refuse to tolerate it when students make fun of each other in class.

What if students don’t understand the question?

Asking for clarification is an important aspect of successful speaking, and should be practised in class. Teach students phrases such as I don’t understand the question or Can you repeat that, please? Again, it is entirely natural for students not to understand our questions on occasions. It is only a problem, however, if the students do not have effective strategies for dealing with this situation.

We can also take steps to help students understand our questions. We can do this by:

  1. ‘Modelling’ the question to demonstrate its meaning before we ask individuals
  2. Repeating the question with added gestures
  3. Rephrasing the question using simpler language
  4. Writing the question on the board
  5. Asking another student in the class to clarify the meaning of the question
  6. Asking students to say what the question means in L1.

What if they refused to take notes?

Teenage students are usually only reluctant to write notes if they cannot ‘see the point’ of writing something down. In this case, there is definitely a point. Taking notes gives students time to prepare and to organise their thoughts. It makes the job of speaking much easier – and less embarrassing. When practising in pairs, I find that quieter students are much more likely to speak if they have already written something down in advance. As you practise doing activities like this, students will be able to see the benefit for themselves.

And if they still refuse? I think that in the rare situations where a student ‘refuses’ to carry out a reasonable request from the teacher, then the problem is not merely connected to the task. There is something more complex going on there.

Why do students love to talk about something/someone they hate, and not vice versa?

There’s a straightforward answer and also a paradoxical one. The straightforward answer is that students get bored of being asked about their favourite things all the time. The paradoxical answer is that it is more difficult for teenagers to talk about the things which they love, because there is more at stake: they can be judged more harshly by their classmates for giving an ‘uncool’ answer.

Although it was based on your experience with teenagers, this could also work with adults, right?

The techniques we looked at in the webinar can all be used – or modified for use – with adult learners, too. Adult learners of English can also suffer from a lack of confidence, and they too can benefit from activities designed to give them time, ideas and language resources to use while speaking.

How do you assess speaking as a skill?

Set specific goals and make sure that the students know beforehand how they are going to be assessed. You might evaluate their task completion, in which case the emphasis is on fluency and communicative competence. Alternatively, you might be doing controlled practice of certain structures, in which case the emphasis would be on accuracy.

What’s the most effective way of monitoring during a speaking prep? How much do you want to interfere (to give them more confidence in what they’re about to say?)

It depends on what the task is. As a general rule, let students speak. Intervene afterwards. Remember that the teacher’s role is not always to correct. Sometimes, asking students to repeat what they have just said can be an effective and face-saving way of helping them to self-correct.


Found this article useful? Please give it a rating and leave a comment below!


1 Comment

Bubbling under – Helping ideas surface in speaking classes

students talking speaking smiling in classroomEdmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of ‘Mixed Ability Teaching’ in the “Into the Classroom” series. In this article he looks at ways to create the right environment for effective speaking classes and offers some practical advice to manage them, ahead of his webinar on the subject on 12th and 13th July.

When they go well, speaking activities can bring life, laughter and energy to the language classroom, providing a real sense that the language is being put to use in an enjoyable and authentic way. When they go badly, however, speaking activities can be immensely frustrating – and not only for the students. Have you ever set up a speaking task with confidence, only to find it fizzle out before it even begins? Are you familiar with the experience of scanning the faces of your silent students, trying to read the thoughts they are struggling to put into words? Have you ever wished you could find a way to help them express all the thoughts and ideas that are clearly bubbling under the surface?

Helping students find the confidence

With teenage students, the first thing to be aware of is that difficulties with speaking are very often exacerbated by inhibitions that they have about themselves as learners – and as members of the group. Speaking is an inherently ‘social’ skill: everything that is said is heard – and judged – by the teacher and the rest of the class, making already self-conscious teens reluctant to put themselves in a position where they can lose face in front of their peers. Putting students at ease and providing a supportive atmosphere in the classroom is essential if speaking activities are going to work.

Responding to seemingly simple prompts often requires a lot of confidence on the part of the student. Think about questions such as “What’s your favourite pop group?” or “What did you get for your birthday?” Giving an answer requires not only marshalling language but also sharing private information which might cause others in the class to sneer or laugh. It’s hardly surprising that these kinds of questions often produce only mumbled, one-word answers. In order to avoid such situations, we need to think hard about the kinds of questions we ask and be sensitive to the potential difficulty of certain topic areas. A simple tweak to the question is often enough. The same teenagers who hate talking about things they like often love talking about things they hate. Try asking “What’s the worst song on YouTube?” instead of “What’s your favourite pop group?” and watch the hands go up.

Creating space and time for language and ideas to emerge

The feeling that they are being ‘put on the spot’ is another factor that can make speaking activities challenging for students. Unless they are given adequate time to think and prepare, it’s unreasonable to expect a typical student to be able to give a spontaneous, extended answer to a spoken question. For short answers, one simple idea is to give students the chance to ‘speak, pass, or nominate.’  Those who do not wish to speak can instead choose to ‘pass’ – in which case we move on to someone else, or ‘nominate’ – in which case they can bring a classmate with a good idea into the discussion.

How can students best make use of the time they are given to prepare a spoken answer? Well, it depends on whether they are stuck for language or ideas. If it’s language they need, having access to appropriate reference materials and task models can make a big difference. They might just be stuck for ideas, though.  ­­At intermediate level and above, it is surprising how often students say “I wouldn’t know what to say about this in my mother language, let alone English.” That’s when collaborative, pre-speaking planning and brainstorming activities can help.

Managing speaking activities

Once they have the confidence, the language and the ideas, it should be much easier for students to tackle speaking tasks effectively. There’s still a lot that can go wrong at the production stage, though. From a classroom management point of view, it’s important to remember that good speaking requires good listening. Unless there is an attentive and sympathetic audience for a speaker, s/he will see no reason to take the task seriously. That’s why we need to set up speaking tasks in such a way that they include a focused listening element. One simple way to provide this focus for listening is to give students the option of not telling the truth in speaking tasks: it then becomes the job of their partner to listen and decide whether they were lying or not. When our students speak in class, we should also strive to pay attention ourselves, to really listen. Too often I catch myself ‘waiting’ rather than listening.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to join in the discussion and learn some practical ideas for the classroom, join me for the webinar.