Teaching Speaking

Speaking is one of the most difficult aspects for students to master.

This is hardly surprising when one considers everything that is involved when speaking:

  • ideas, what to say,
  • language, how to use grammar and vocabulary,
  • pronunciation as well as listening to and reacting to the person you are communicating with.

It is important to give students as many opportunities as possible to speak in a supportive environment.
You can achieve this by:
•setting controlled speaking tasks and moving gradually towards freer speaking tasks;
•setting tasks that are at the right level for the students or at a level lower than their receptive skills;
•setting tasks that are easily achievable and gradually moving towards more challenging tasks;
praising students’ efforts;
using error correction sensitively
creating an atmosphere where students don’t laugh at other people’s efforts.
•try out new tasks with friends or colleagues.
•make learners aware of varied speaking needs.
•give some practice at long turns. It’s often useful to pay special attention to linking words and phrases, which can make a long turn sound smooth.
link speaking to other tasks.

There are three key elements to remember when planning and setting up speaking activities:
1. Language used
2. Preparation
3. Why are the students speaking?

The following suggestions should enable you to help your learners to work effectively with the vocabulary of their target language.

1 Distinguish receptive and productive vocabulary needs.
2 Consider teaching new vocabulary in related sets (sets of hyponyms (eg, names of family relations), or sets that are linked to the same context (eg, subjects studied at school).
3 Vary your explanation techniques.
4 Teach the grammar of vocabulary items.
In the case of an adjective, is it usually followed by a certain preposition?
Understanding how a word ‘works’ is an important part of knowing that word.
5 Encourage awareness of collocations.
6 Spend some time on connotative meaning.
7 Help learners to be aware of register.
8 Look at word formation.
An understanding of common prefixes and suffixes, for example, can open up the meaning of many words.
9 Use direct translation carefully.
10 Teach conscious vocabulary learning strategies.
It’s especially useful for you to show them strategies that they can use outside class.
For example, they might: keep a vocabulary notebook; classify new words they have seen; revise new vocabulary at intervals.

Information gap
Each student in the group has some information required to complete the task or activity.
The aim is to share the information and to complete the task.
Students don’t know what the others are going to say; and as such it imitates real life conversation.

Discussions involving opinions
Try to use topics that will generate varying opinions rather than having everybody agree.
You can also use controversial subjects and topics that are currently in the news.
You can also outline the various general attitudes to the subject

This involves choosing a controversial topic.
One speaker presents one point of view on the topic and a second speaker presents a differing opinion.
Debates are good at advanced levels.

Spontaneous conversations
Sometimes real uncontrolled conversation breaks out in class.
This can be where students communicate something about themselves that others are interested in (something the student did at the weekend, a film they saw, a place they visited).
The teacher’s role throughout is to prompt, help with language or communication difficulties.

Role play
This involves students taking on a role and carrying out a discussion with each person playing their role.
The teacher describes and sets up the situation.
This type of activity can take a long time to set up.
If you want to introduce an element of role play without making it into a long and extended exercise, incorporate the work into a reading or listening skills lesson.

Discussions based on pictures
You can ask students to simply describe the pictures: what is happening?
How many people are there?
What are the people in the picture thinking?
How do you think they are feeling?
Why are they sitting there? (or whatever it is they’re doing).
What happened previously?
What is going to happen next?
What are they talking about?

Prepare and act out a conversation between the characters.

Topic prompts
Prepare a list of topics that you have been working on recently in class and/or topics you know your students are interested in.
Write each topic on a slip of paper and put all the slips in a box.
In class, invite students to take out a slip of paper and to speak to the class about the topic.
Other students can ask questions and make comments.

Good luck,

500 TIPS for TESOL, by Sue Wharton and Phil Race)