How can we help students speak and learn grammar at the same time? Susan Earle-Carlin, author of Q: Skills for Success Listening and Speaking 5, provides tips for helping students use good grammar in their speaking.
Speaking, like writing, requires good grammar in order to communicate a message clearly. I sometimes use an analogy with my students to compare readers and listeners with passengers on a tour bus. Too many grammar mistakes, like too many bumps and detours in the road, will turn their attention away from what’s important towards how uncomfortable they feel and whether they will ever reach the end. So the question is, how can we help students use good grammar while not inhibiting them while they are speaking?
Control the grammar output
- Make activities appropriate for the grammar level of the students. Ask beginners to describe the food in their home country, but have advanced students compare their class in English with one in another field.
- Direct the students to target a certain grammar point in speaking. For example, ask students to talk about the objects in the classroom (singular/plural nouns and determiners), explain what is going on in their school at the moment (present progressive), or describe a scene using three adjectives and three adverbs (word form). Review the grammar first to optimize success and follow-up with some global comments on that grammar point, not singling out any particular student.
- Give students lots of opportunities to speak in small groups without teacher intervention. However, remind listeners to ask questions if they don’t understand something the speaker says.
- Allow students to practice a presentation with peers to help reduce the stress most ELLs have about speaking in front of the class. Less nervousness usually results in better grammar.
- Encourage students to record and listen to their presentations for practice. Tell them to write down a sentence they have grammar questions on and give them the opportunity to ask you or the class for advice before presentation day.
- Interrupting students who are speaking to provide feedback is too negative. Instead, record their small group discussions or presentations. Listen to the recordings in conferences with individual students to discuss problems and suggest ways to improve grammar.
- If students can have access to the recordings, assign a transcript for homework and tell students to circle and correct their grammar errors. Check them over and make suggestions on grammar areas to review.