S is for Speaking (1)

30 04 2017

 

reading aloud

Reading aloud becomes speaking

Last week I gave a workshop to two groups of teachers in Ramallah and Gaza City – teachers who are working in fairly tough conditions, with large classes and few resources. I needed to be able to demo some practical hands-on activities that they could use in their classes on Monday morning. Activities, moreover, that would provide plenty of opportunities for speaking. Hence, the title of the talk: My ten favourite speaking activities. There were no PowerPoint slides, so the following will serve as a summary of five of the activities that I workshopped (with more to come), and of the principles that we extrapolated from them. I ought to add that none of these activities I invented myself – they are all in the ‘public domain’ as it were. And have been for a long time. Which is proof of their worth.

  1. What animal am I? Or any number of guessing games involving yes/no questions. After the teacher demoes it, individual learners take the hot seat. Great for practicing really useful questions like ‘Do you lay eggs?’ Other variations include the well-known ‘What’s my line?’ (i.e. ‘What’s my job?’ ).
  2. Spot the lie. Tell three short anecdotes about yourself, two of which are 100% true and one of which is 100% false. Students have to spot the lie – they can ask questions to try and catch you out. They then do the same in pairs or small groups. Travel stories are good material, or minor mishaps, such as things you lost.
  3. Reading aloud (heads up): Reading aloud can be the most turgid classroom activity, as students mouth words without any hint of understanding, and mouth them badly to boot. However as Michael West realized, as long ago as 1955: ‘With a slight modification… Reading Aloud can be made one of the most valuable exercises in the early stages of teaching pupils to speak a foreign language. The pupil should be made to look up when they read aloud. The teacher says, “Don’t read to the book! Read to me. Look up at me.” He makes them read a phrase or short sentence silently then, looking up, say it to someone – to the teacher, or to another pupil, or to the class. In doing this the reader must look up during the speaking of the whole sentence; he must not just look up for a second and then look down again.’ West argues that the effect of this is that the reader must hold the material in the mind in such a way that its meaning is processed, and then recall it meaningfully. Moreover, meaningless reading becomes meaningful speaking because there is an audience: ‘The pupil is speaking to someone – not to the book or the empty air; and the more realistic recall is, the more vivid and effective as the learning.’
  4. Carousel: This is less an activity than a way of organizing speaking activities so that there is built-in repetition. It takes its name from the fact that carousels go round, stop, pick up new passengers, and continue the ride. So, one half of the class stand in a circle, e.g. around the walls of the rooms, while the ‘carousel’ consists of the other half of the class, so that individuals in each circle face one another. They then do the speaking task and, at a signal form the teacher, the inner circle moves around one, and the task is repeated, this time with new partners. When the inner circle has ‘revolved’ one complete turn, the two circles change places. An easy task might be for each student to draw their family tree (brothers, sisters, uncles. aunts etc) and attach it to the wall. They stand next to their picture and answer questions about it. Another one is the headlines activity, where students write, and post up, a catchy headline to describe their recent activities, e.g. JOYFUL WEDDING PARTY; FRUSTRATING SHOPPING TRIP, etc.

    carousel task

    The carousel in operation

  5. Dialogue build: I was taught this technique on my pre-service course, and I couldn’t have survived my first year of teaching without it. Very simply, the teacher uses a picture prompt (e.g. two people on the phone or in a hotel reception) to elicit and drill, line by line, a dialogue of anything between four and a dozen turns. Students practice it, first with the teacher, then with each other, changing partners frequently, and then perform it – perhaps with variations – to the class.

Principles of good speaking tasks that underlie these activities include:

  • repetition – e.g. of the same questions in What animal am I? or of the answers, in Carousel, or of both questions and answers, as in Dialogue build.
  • interaction – students not only have to speak but they have to listen and respond to one another – as in Spot the lie and Carousel.
  • support – activities are supported in a secure framework, e.g. a script or a text, so that the anxiety often associated with spontaneous speaking is reduced, e.g. Reading aloud, Dialogue build.

Reference

West, M. 1955. Learning to read a foreign language and other essays on language-teaching. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Thanks to Ahed Izhiman for the photos.


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35 responses

30 04 2017
Diarmuid

Do you lay eggs?

A useful reminder to those of us who have to face a large group of beginning students at the start of the week. I like the Reading Aloud activity which will soon be getting jammed into whatever lessons I find myself teaching. Thanks!

30 04 2017
Simon Foley

A really useful question Do you lay eggs?
In my experience the value gained does not merit the set up needed. I couldn’t justify the time spent teaching the vocabulary the students would need/ like to use. lay eggs, live in a sett, suckle your young. This sounds like one of those activities you see in a workshop of C2/ NS teachers that, practically speaking, are near useless in a classroom until a B1/2 level because of the vocabulary load needed.

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Yes, you have a point, Simon. As I pointed out (in Ramallah last week) you would need to model some basic, all-purpose question frames first (Do you have… Can you…? ) plus teach/review some basic vocabulary of animal anatomy – especially for lower levels (assuming the activity doesn’t follow on from some other animal-focused lessons). But that might be true for any guessing game of this type (e.g. What’s my line?). In a class with one shared language, the teacher could allow vocabulary questions in the L1 (e.g. How do you say ‘escamas’?), and, in fact, this ‘at the point of need’ instruction may be more memorable than pre-teaching.

1 05 2017
Lee Knowlton (@lee_knowlton)

I’ve also used a more generic “20 questions” variation that starts out with a “person, place, or thing”. The topic you choose can determine the kind of vocabulary that the students will use.

At the same time, these guessing games level quite nicely with lower groups asking “Is it red?”, and higher groups asking something like “Does it lay eggs?”

On a somewhat related point, Scott, do you know where I can look for research/information how how task complexity, language proficiency, and student output complexity interact?

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Hi Lee, regarding your question on task complexity, etc, two possible sources are Ellis, R. 2003. Task-based language learning and teaching (Oxford) and, more recently, Long,M. 2015. Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching.Journals like Studies in SLA routinely report research on task design. Coincidentally, the latest Applied Linguistics (38/1)) has a paper titled ‘The development of complexity, accuracy, and fluency in second language performance: a longitudinal study’ (Vercelloti, 2017)

30 04 2017
Justin Willoughby

I use an activity in groups of 3 or 4 called ‘mystery box’. I fill a shoe-box full of topics on pieces of paper. The topics come from the students and I. The students pull a topic from the box and speak on it for 2 minutes. After two minutes the others ask questions and a discussion ensues. I guess in really big classes people from the groups could swap around and repeat the topic with others. Warning: topics may need to be filtered when working with teenagers.

30 04 2017
eslclaudie

Great idea to get topics on paper prior to the activity. I’ve done this with class suggesting topics fir esch speaker – sometimes a bit awkward as group dynamics come into play. The box makes that neutral and random.

1 05 2017
Justin Willoughby

Thank you and thanks to Scott and every one who shares teaching ideas. You get some odd topics like ryhming numbers, fractals and homeopathy. I usually ask the student if they are OK with the topic they have drawn from the box or they can just make it up.

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Justin – nice idea, and I like the in-built task repetition that would result from re-mixing the groups.

30 04 2017
I'm A-OK

I have used a variation of “What Animal Am I”? and it works, even if gestures and sound effects are thrown in. The main benefit is changing the energy in the classroom. With all that laughing and silliness, along with some successful communication, the students become more receptive to learning.

I also have used a variation of “Spot the Lie” as a warm-up with more advanced students….

We talk about our favourite food, how many siblings we have, etc. After I demo, I give the students time to think of their own “facts” to share, then I toss a ball to one of them to start. They then get to choose the next student by tossing the ball to them… and so it goes.

Maybe I’ll try it with my current class of beginner/literacy students.

I’ll give Carousel a go too… even if our desks are set up in tight rows. Thanks!

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the ideas. If the desks are fixed it may still be possible to arrange the students around the classroom walls, one ‘circle’ remaining static while the inner circle circulates.

30 04 2017
Peter Cox

T is for Thanks.
Thanks for this new series of articles Scott. I have retired from teaching at OISE and moved to God’s waiting room (AKA Torquay) where I do a couple of hours voluntary ESOL teaching each week. My students aren’t doing exams and really need to be able to communicate accurately in everyday life where they are mainly working in various aspects of the hospitality/catering industries.
The Dogme group gave me the confidence to abandon course book teaching a long time ago and once the learner(s) accept that they can also drop the comfort blanket of the book and accept the process of guided language exploration they enjoy the sessions much more and discover ways to use the english language effectively according to their own needs.
Ideas such as you outline in the blog are needed by teachers at least as starting points to develop activities that work for them and their learners. More please!

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Peter. Yes, none of the activities I demo’ed on my Palestine trip last week required anything in the way of elaborate materials or technology. I had been forewarned about power cuts in Gaza so eschewed a powerpoint presentation.

30 04 2017
roberttaylorefl

Does the way speaking skills develop change as one moves from lower to higher levels?

I don’t mean, by that, in terms of being able to handle more difficult or cognitively demanding tasks, but do different task types have more or less profound effects at certsin levels of linguistic/communicative development?

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Hi Robert… this is an interesting question and would make an excellent line of research, e.g. what are the relative merits of a ‘describe-and-draw’ task for elementary learners as opposed to more advanced ones? Would the learning affordances be more or less marked, and would they pertain to accuracy, fluency or complexity, for example? I don’t know of any research but I’m curious!

3 05 2017
Phil Wade

This is an interesting area, especially as some, not all, teachers match low levels with kids and higher levels with adults and more challenging topics. I know that my own C1+ students love the odd game or fun activity and I have seen teachers of B1 do games about every day. I’ve never been a fan of gaming for the sake of it and warmers that are not really connected to the lesson. 1 guy I knew did the same speaking activity to start every lesson. I’d love to break down the elements of speaking activities. For instance, how long does the novelty factor last? Do ‘get up and move’ activities work best in the morning? Which nationalities invest most in creative speaking activities? Etc etc.

3 05 2017
roberttaylorefl

I often find myself associating CEFR C levels with 16-19 year olds, because most of the C level classes I’ve taught have been with those age groups. A level students tend to be young children or adults.

This would make sense if learners are following an ELL curriculum in schools, and it can be argued from there that there will be fewer people doing continuous study after the compulsory education stage, ergo higher incidence of lower levels.

And I’m now wondering if this issue is significantly affected by the learner’s societal environment

1 05 2017
alexcase

My first thought on reading this was that it was kind of ironic and an interesting comment on the gap between theory and practice in ELT that the last post was all about ignoring theory and this post was a list of random old (if generally useful) speaking activities with just one reference, from 1955. Then I thought it was such an obvious contrast that it must be some kind of parody/ provocation. However, I do tend to find that many of the more theory-based TEFL books have loads of interesting theory that I didn’t know followed by activities which I’d already tried without needing any of that theory to help me, so I’m still wondering…

1 05 2017
Lee Knowlton (@lee_knowlton)

I love both this comment and Scott’s post.

A bit off topic but IMO there’s room for both these kinds of activities and the research. And that they interact with each other in several different ways. Sometimes they are strictly separate. Other times research may come from classroom activities (“written correction”). And then there are attempts to take research theory and apply them directly into the classroom.

I’ve also found that research can play an unexpected role. The “U-shaped learning curve”, for example, has shaped my class atmosphere quite a bit. I explain the basic idea to students because I feel like awareness of it helps make the class more process-focused and less results-focused (which in turn helps make the class atmosphere more enjoyable).

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

What me – provocative? But, yes, you have a point, Alex. The value of all these activities can be corroborated by reference to research studies (e.g. into the value of task repetition) but this is probably not why they remain popular. You only have to do them and see the results to realize their intrinsic merits – which is how most teachers have operated since time immemorial.

1 05 2017
paloma868

Thank you very much, Scott Thornbury for the post and thank you all for the comments and the ideas in them. I like them all, but particularly the one on reading aloud. And thank you for continuing with the blog!

2 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Paloma – it’s great to be back!

1 05 2017
manarabobaahlam

Thank you so very much Scott for this very useful collection of activities for teaching speaking.
I do find them perfect for openings, brainstorming as well as for practice levels. Yet, I believe they are much useful for young beginner learners. I would consider activities of a more complex nature to teach adult intermediate and advanced learners in which the focus is much more on developing conversational skills and communication strategies. So, what do you suggest for this latter end in practice?
With my sincere thanks.
Ahlam

1 05 2017
Jenn

I use all of these activities with advanced learners with great success in developing fluency and confidence. Carousel and Dialogue Build are excellent for complex communication strategies – just change the topic and add to the criteria students need to practice. For example carousel can be done with a third who needs to politely interrupt and add their opinion.

2 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Nice addition, Jenn. I have alos experienced the carousel format at a teacher development workshop, where we each had to think of a puzzle or problem we have experienced in teaching, and then we ask advice about it, the ‘advisors’ remaining fixed in their seats, the others moving around one on cue. Sometimes this organization is known as ‘the onion’.

1 05 2017
William Farquharson

Both read aloud and are fantastic techniques. Another that can utilise ingredients of both is the disappearing dialogue. let students read aloud from a dialogue on the board but teacher removes words with each shift of the carousel.

1 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, William – the idea of the disappearing dialogue can be applied to any activity where learners are given some kind of linguistic support (aka scaffolding) e.g. in a milling activity where you write the useful phrases on the board and then gradually erase them as the learners ‘take ownership’ of them.

1 05 2017
Amaal Farra

Thanks a lot for your efforts in Palestine. I’m from Gaza and Dr.Nazmi sent us your blog so that we can get benefit from your wonderful activities. Thanks again. Hope to see you here in Gaza. I like your activities.

2 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Amaal. Let me know if you have any success with any of these activities.

2 05 2017
Nick Patrick Cooper

Thanks for this post, Scott. I will be using these in my classes for the next few weeks. I needed these ideas, in particular, the reading aloud / Heads Up exercise.

2 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Cheers, Nick.

3 05 2017
Gordon Dobie

Thank you very much, especially for the reading aloud activities – totally solves the problem of learners “barking at print”!

4 05 2017
zverenysh

Thank you, Scott!

“Reading Aloud can be made one of the most valuable exercises in the early stages of teaching pupils to speak a foreign language”

Not early in the early stages. When I was learning the language at University (English was my major), our teacher often used this method. And Carousel as well. She made us read long sentences from the textbook. We could repeat 15 or more sentences in Carousel )) and we were so angry with her. However now I realise how good her teaching was and thanks to her I could easily remember a lot of words, phrases and even sentences and use them in my speech later.

4 05 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the reminiscence. In fact, memorization is a topic I have dealt with previously (https://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/m-is-for-memorization/) but reading aloud gives a new slant on it.

16 05 2017
Yoav

Thank you so much for this post, I think the most edifying part was the principles of good speaking tasks, it serves as a great guideline for constructing even more games and exercises for English learners.
Thank you again.

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