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7 Tips for Teaching Speaking for Academic Purposes at Graduate Level – Part 3

Three graduate students smilingIn the final post in this guest series, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, gives us the final three of her seven tips for teaching academic speaking to graduate EAL students. If you missed the first four, catch up on tips 1 and 2 and tips 3 and 4.

This final post wraps up my top seven tips for teaching academic speaking to graduate EAL students.

Tip 5: Expand learners’ linguistic and strategic repertoires

Graduate EAL students need to participate in academic conversations at advanced levels, and, as such, confidence-building tasks that build on, experiment with, and expand their linguistic and strategic repertoires in class provide them with a glimpse of what they can try when participating in a range of predictable academic interactions, such as the ones listed in Tip 3. The first step is to encourage students to focus on getting their ideas or meaning across and feeling comfortable in using whatever language they already know. Their well-intended high expectations about achieving accuracy and their fear of being negatively evaluated naturally make many graduate EAL learners hesitant about expressing their thoughts and prone to undervaluing or overlooking the richness of their ideas and contributions to the dialogue.

Take dealing with questions and answers, which I discussed in my previous post as an example. After exploring the hidden assumptions regarding one’s approach to answering questions and facing the challenging situations associated with handling Q & A (e.g., multi questions, long-winded questions, off-the-subject questions, “don’t know” questions, hostile questions), request that students consider both strategies and language that they can employ when handling such situations. For handling “don’t know” questions, for example, not only will this exploration help learners become more comfortable saying “I don’t know” or more confident about sharing what they do know that is relevant to the question at hand; learners will also generate strategies and language that they can use to confidently deal with those questions. For example:

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7 Tips for Teaching Speaking for Academic Purposes at Graduate Level – Part 2

Two female students in graduation robesFollowing on from her first post, which explored the importance of conducting a needs analysis and building a supportive learning environment, Li-Shih Huang, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada, shares her next two top tips for teaching conversation skills to EAL learners.

In my previous post, I shared the first two tips, which serve as the foundation for teaching academic conversation skills to graduate EAL students. Many instructors wonder how to promote the transferability of skills that students use in class to outside-the-classroom, real-life contexts. In this post, I will move on to my list’s next two tips, which help promote the transfer of learning and skill development.

Tip 3: Link tasks to real-world activities

One key way to make learning meaningful and relevant in the classroom is to link pedagogical tasks to what learners will be doing outside the classroom. For graduate EAL students, participation in academic dialogues typically involves or will involve the following settings:

  • interpersonal one-on-one communications;
  • small group interactions;
  • seminars or class discussions;
  • departmental presentations;
  • teaching in the classroom; and
  • conference presentations and beyond (e.g., job talks, teaching demonstrations, and interviews).

Linking tasks that learners need to perform in those typical settings to class activities not only motivates learning because of the tasks’ perceived relevance and practicality; it also promotes the transfer of the language and strategies learned in the classroom to post-class, real-life contexts. For example, a task that involves meeting with a student during office hours to discuss a grade provides an opportunity for learners to experiment with ways to deal with this common scenario. Another example is involving learners when clarifying a key concept, something that graduate EAL students often must do in their roles as teaching assistants, as participants in departmental meetings, or as speakers at conferences. Such a task first of all provides the speaker an opportunity to practice providing explanations through the use of techniques such as the following:

  • stating a definition in formal and lay person’s terms;
  • using practical examples that listeners can relate to;
  • linking a concept to the speaker’s personal experience;
  • using an analogy with some concept that the listeners already know;
  • providing comparison and contrast;
  • referencing a word’s origin; and
  • offering visual illustrations of a term.

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