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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Getting children to talk in English from the beginning

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.

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Shaun Wilden – “Making Digital Sense in the Classroom”

Reposted and edited from Shaun Wilden’s blog for Oxford University Press

This is a version of the talk I did at IATEFL on Saturday. The powerpoint is the same, I just sat and screen recorded myself this morning. It is about 30 minutes long as I edited bits and could not include the video clips I had in the talk. There is also a bit of a clumsy edit in part three for timing reasons. The websites I used for the talk follow the videos. Enjoy and if you have any questions feel free to leave me a comment.

Making Digital Sense in the Classroom – IATEFL 2010 talk

Part One

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