Speaking English is the main goal of many adult learners. Their personalities
play a large role in determining how quickly and how correctly they will
accomplish this goal. Those who are risk-takers unafraid of making mistakes will
generally be more talkative, but with many errors that could become
hard-to-break habits. Conservative, shy students may take a long time to speak
confidently, but when they do, their English often contains fewer errors and
they will be proud of their English ability. It's a matter of quantity vs.
quality, and neither approach is wrong. However, if the aim of speaking is
communication and that does not require perfect English, then it makes sense to
encourage quantity in your classroom. Break the silence and get students
communicating with whatever English they can use, correct or not, and
selectively address errors that block communication.
Speaking lessons often tie in pronunciation and grammar (discussed elsewhere
in this guide), which are necessary for effective oral communication. Or a
grammar or reading lesson may incorporate a speaking activity. Either way, your
students will need some preparation before the speaking task. This includes
introducing the topic and providing a model of the speech they are to produce. A
model may not apply to discussion-type activities, in which case students will
need clear and specific instructions about the task to be accomplished. Then the
students will practice with the actual speaking activity.
These activities may include imitating (repeating), answering verbal cues,
interactive conversation, or an oral presentation. Most speaking activities
inherently practice listening skills as well, such as when one student is given
a simple drawing and sits behind another student, facing away. The first must
give instructions to the second to reproduce the drawing. The second student
asks questions to clarify unclear instructions, and neither can look at each
other's page during the activity. Information gaps are also commonly used for
speaking practice, as are surveys, discussions, and role-plays. Speaking activities abound; see
the Activities and Further Resources sections of
this guide for ideas.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you plan your speaking activities.
Content As much as possible, the content should be practical and usable in
real-life situations. Avoid too much new vocabulary or grammar, and focus on
speaking with the language the students have.
Correcting Errors You need to provide appropriate feedback and correction, but don't interrupt the flow
of communication. Take
notes while pairs or groups are talking and address problems to the class after
the activity without
embarrassing the student who made the error. You can write the error
on the board and ask who can correct it.
Quantity vs. Quality Address both interactive fluency and accuracy, striving foremost for
communication. Get to know each learner's personality and encourage the
quieter ones to take more risks.
Conversation Strategies Encourage strategies like asking for clarification, paraphrasing, gestures,
and initiating ('hey,' 'so,' 'by the
Teacher Intervention If a speaking activity loses steam, you may need to jump into a role-play, ask more discussion questions,
clarify your instructions, or stop an activity that is too difficult or