Top ESL Speaking Classroom Activities: Making them aware!

Speaking has to be the number one priority for most English learners, but how can you help them get better? Is it just about practice or can you help them improve this vital skill? My final LSA on my DELTA was on helping students to improve their interactive skills, so I've done quite a bit of reading on speaking.

Most English learners know how to speak in their own language, but why is it such a challenge when they need to speak in another language? My personality changes when I have to speak in Spanish, I come across all serious and bland (not that much different from English then). I think that most of the time students want to improve their speaking, but they just don’t know how. It’s not just about opening your mouth and letting a rush of words come out (well, maybe it is for some).

Get them to improve their speaking!
Photo by howardlake
What to teach?
Here is a list of useful expressions and phrases that can help your students sound more natural.

Discourse markers and fillers:
To help them think before speaking- Oh, well, err, you know, I mean, so, let’s me see.

Active listening skills:
To show you’re listening- Really? Uh-huh, ahh, yeah, sure, no way, you’re joking.

To make sure the other is following- Do you know what I mean? Are you with me? Did you get that?

Body Language:
Nodding, smiling, laughing, moving towards or away from the speaker – are all natural parts of speaking.

Interactive Strategies:
To want to speak- Can I just say something? Hang on a second, Sorry to butt in, Can I add something...

To hold a turn- Also, let me finish, what else, and another thing.

To involve another speaker- What do you think? What do you reckon? What about...? What would you say about...?

To agree: I agree with you, that’s a good point, that’s amazing, true, I see what you mean.

To disagree: I’m not so sure about that, I disagree with you, true but, don’t talk nonsense, what are you on about? (Careful to teach when to use them)

To move on to another topic- What would you say about? Let’s put that one behind us, let’s move on to something else, that reminds me, moving on...

To make a decision – to sum up, on a final note, so let’s make a decision, let’s agree on something then, shall we just agree to disagree.

Now you know what you can teach, the question is how?

Make students aware how we speak.
Photo by TEVR
Making them aware
Before I throw my students in at the deep end, I like to point out how we speak first. These are all ways you can make students aware of how we speak in English. I see it as sort of guiding them to notice the characteristics above.

Using video
There are loads of videos on youtube, video jug, which you can adapt for your classes.

Pick out a scene from your favourite series or film and make up a work sheet based on any speaking expressions or discourse markers they use. You can get students to count the number of discourse markers to show how often they crop up.

Find a conversation on youtube and get students to focus on how the speakers move their bodies to interact.

Make your own gap fill activities based on video conversations and highlight whatever areas you feel important.

Get students to count how many different subjects come up to notice topic shift, and also the relevant vocabulary to change topics.

Make your own video with another teacher doing an exam style collaborative task and then make a work sheet for your students.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about how using transcripts is thought highly of on the DELTA. But what else can you do with them?

Look carefully at transcripts in your books and see if you can find any examples of discourse markers, useful expressions or questions? Make a worksheet by blanking out whatever area you want to focus on and draw their attention to.

Transcripts are also great for focussing on stress and intonation. I often get my younger learners to repeat the listening line by line, but making sure they use the same intonation.

Get students to read the transcript as they listen and highlight ways the speakers interact, use discourse markers, or useful expressions.

Make your own recordings
This is great fun and you can focus on whatever area you want. I made three recordings for my LSA’s and they worked a treat. Ask one of your colleagues to record a conversation with you, type up the script and then use it in class.

As above, do a collaborative task and record it; good for FCE and PET.

Why not record yourself describing or comparing photos to give your students an excellent model to follow.

Making role plays using specific grammar points if you want more practice.

Focus on areas of connected speech – we are the best form of natural language and so recording our own voices always provide examples of assimilation, elision, and linking.

Live listening
Get another teacher to come in the class, or if not possible merge two classes together, and have live conversations in front of the class.

Again you could do a collaborative task for your students. Who better to demonstrate it than two expert teachers?

Just have a chat about a topic and see what comes up and what students notice.

Pre-script a mini role play using the expressions and discourse markers above.

Speak to your students
I've started speaking more to my students. If a conversation starts I tend to go with the flow. I think we are the best exposure to enable students to notice how we speak. Try to be natural and then maybe highlight certain expressions or ways of speaking.

Great, now that you’ve made them aware how we speak. How do you get them to practise? Find out in the next blog.

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