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
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).
What to teach?
|Get them to improve their speaking!|
Photo by howardlake
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.
To show you’re listening- Really? Uh-huh, ahh, yeah, sure, no way, you’re
To make sure the other is following- Do you know what I mean? Are you
with me? Did you get that?
Nodding, smiling, laughing, moving towards or away from the speaker –
are all natural parts of speaking.
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?
Making them aware
|Make students aware how we speak.|
Photo by TEVR
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.
There are loads of videos on youtube
, video jug
, which you can adapt for
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Labels: active listening, best speaking lessons, discourse markers, how to make students speak better, improve students speaking, interactive expressions, Top esl speaking activities