S is for Speaking (2)

7 05 2017

 

setting up speaking activity

photo by Ahed Izhiman

Following on from last week, here are five more of my favourite speaking activities that I included (or planned to include) in my talks in Palestine. As in the last batch, they require minimal materials, promote a good deal of productive language use, and have elements of task rehearsal and repetition built in.

 

Find someone who… This is a classic and hardly needs describing, but there are some interesting variations. It involves learners walking around (space permitting), asking all the other learners questions with a view to completing a survey or finding someone whose answers most closely match theirs. For example, in order to find out how adventurous the class is, learners (either singly or in small groups) first prepare three or four questions that fit this frame:

Have you ever …?  Would you ever…?

For example, Have you ever been sailing? (And, if the answer is No) Would you ever do it? Have you ever eaten insects? Would you ever eat them?) etc. They then survey the rest of the class, making a note of the number of affirmative answers. This will involve the repeated asking of the question(s), but in a context that requires that learners pay attention, not only to asking the right questions, but also to the answers. It is this requirement, the enforced re-allocation of attentional resources, that – in theory – encourages memorization of the forms. Reporting to the class the results of the milling activity (e.g. Maxim said he would never dive off the high board; Olga said …) is also another way of providing repetitive practice where attention is not only on meaning, but, because of the public nature of the reporting, also on form – i.e. on getting it right. Variants involve choosing items from a grid – e.g. holiday destinations, hotels, and months – and asking questions in order to find someone who is going to the same destination, staying in the same hotel, and in the same month.

Show and tell. Another classic: in successive lessons, learners take turns to make a short (two to five-minute) presentation to the rest of the class, e.g. about an interest they have, a hobby, a favourite object, a book they have read or movie they have seen. It is important than the presentation is spoken – not simply written down and read aloud. This requirement, along with the public nature of the task, encourages preparation and rehearsal. A question-and-answer session at the end ensures spontaneous language use. Ideally, learners should have a chance to repeat the presentation, either immediately or at a later date, in order to incorporate any feedback. An alternative organization is to put the students into small groups to share their ‘news’, while the teacher circulates and assists. One person from each group then reports some of the more interesting findings to the class. This is a great way to begin a lesson, and, if done regularly, trains learners to prepare in advance.

Discussion cards. Students in small groups have a set of statements or questions about a specific topic on cards. These can be prepared by the teacher, but, better still, by the students themselves, whose discussion cards can then be exchanged with another group. One student takes the first card, reads it aloud, and the group then discuss it for as long as they need, before taking the next card, and so on. If a particular statement doesn’t interest them, they can move on to the next one. The object is not necessarily to discuss all the statements: the teacher should decide at what point to end the activity. Groups who have finished early can prepare a summary of the main points that have come up. These summaries can be used to open up the discussion to the whole class.

Describe-and-draw race. The teacher pre-teaches or revises nouns relating to geometrical shapes, such as line, square, circle, triangle, and rectangle, as well as prepositional phrases such as on the left, on the right, above, below, outside, inside, so that learners can describe a simple arrangement of shapes. (Alternatively, they could be easy-to-draw objects, such as fruit, items of clothing or of furniture).

To practise, the teacher describes an arrangement so that the learners can draw it correctly. The learners do the same to each other in pairs, and/or ‘dictate’ a picture to the teacher.

communicative activity

photo by Tamar Hazam

 

Now the game element is introduced. The class is divided into two teams, and the blackboard is divided in two by a line down the middle. Each team has a representative at the board, each with a piece of chalk, or boardmarker. In advance of the game the teacher should have prepared a dozen or so different designs incorporating the geometrical shapes, large enough to be seen by all the class. The teacher ensures that the two team representatives at the board can’t see the designs, and then selects one and shows it to the two teams. Each team attempts to describe the design to its representative at the board, and the first team to do this successfully, so that the design is replicated on the board, is the winner of that round. The teacher then selects another design and the game continues, with new ‘drawers’ at the board.

Paper conversations. Not strictly a speaking activity, but one that simulates the real-time and non-predictable nature of spoken interaction, and therefore is useful preparation for it. Learners have a ‘conversation’ with their classmates, but instead of speaking, they write the conversation onto a shared sheet of paper. While the students are writing, the teacher can monitor their written ‘conversations’ and make corrections or improvements more easily than when students are actually speaking. The conversations can then be read aloud, using the ‘heads up’ procedure described in the previous post.

All these activities, and more, can be found in my book How to Teach Speaking (Pearson 2005).

 

 

 





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.