Speaking in English is something that many students find stressful or anxiety provoking. They can fear making mistakes, failing to understand the person they’re speaking too, or simply drying up. So shouldn’t we try to make speaking activities as stress free as possible?
There are certainly benefits to making sure students are well prepared, that they have the necessary language, that they have a clear idea of what the task demands. However, there are also some good arguments for not trying to remove all stress, and even adding some pressure at times
Designed to raise awareness of the UN’s World Day against Trafficking in Persons, this lesson begins by asking students to consider what they know about the issue, then takes them through a process of learning more before concluding by asking them about what they have learnt, and how their understanding might have changed.
The lesson involves plenty of speaking, a vocabulary focus, which pre-teaches topic related vocabulary later found in the text, a jigsaw reading and a focus on passives.
Unsung Heroes [click on the lesson title for lesson plan and materials]
This lesson, devised for International Women’s Day, will help to raise awareness of some not very famous, but nonetheless important, women.
The lesson begins by asking students to think of well-known people that they consider to be heroes. It is likely that many of these will be men, so the students then go on to learn about 5 remarkable women in a jigsaw reading activity.
The students discuss these women’s achievements, and learn some useful vocabulary for talking about social issues. There is then a focus on relative clauses, before the final task of writing about another female hero, using the vocabulary and relative clauses where appropriate. For a 50-60 minute class the writing stage could be done at home.
This lesson for adults and teenagers at a minimum A2 level is designed to develop fluency skills.
Students are led through a series of activities to create profiles for imaginary characters who live in the same neighbourhood. The lesson then brings these characters together at a neighbourhood party, where students can practice asking and answering simple questions about work, family, hobbies and so on.
As well as developing spoken fluency, there are opportunities to expand vocabulary (personality adjectives) and some useful questions for making small talk.
A free downloadable lesson, built around a viral advertising video which focuses on the idea that women are not treated equally in the workplace, being judged differently from men for doing the same things. The video has no dialogue, just a soundtrack.
The lesson starts by looking at the words used in the video to ‘label’ men and women. For example, persuasive vs pushy. It would probably work best not to tell the students the topic of the video at this stage. Students then watch the video and answer a couple of simple comprehension questions.
They then go on to read an article about the video, which discusses the issue in more depth, and also how suitable it is to use an advert selling a beauty product to discuss a feminist issue.
Finally the students discuss their own opinion of the message of the video and consider other viral videos they have seen which promote a message.
This lesson plan was created specifically for IATEFL’s Global Issues Special Interest Group’s Issues Month, which is focusing on issues of Gender. Look here to see all the other resources that they are collecting on this topic.
For many of us it’s that time of year again when we are about to start new classes. Learning a foreign language can be stressful, so we want our students to feel at ease with each other, and with us. But how to break the ice? As a follow up to a previous post, Breaking the Ice, I’ve collected together even more ideas.
Activitiesfor students to find out more about each other
As I mentioned in my previous post, it is important to be sensitive about these kinds of activities, because with a new class, some students may not want to share too much. One way round this is to always let them select what topics they are happy to talk about.
Perhaps the best known ice breaker in ELT is Find Someone Who (described in my previous blog post). A variation on this, which gives the students more topic control, is to give each student a card and ask them to write 5 facts about themselves that they think others in the class will probably not know. For example, my Grandfather was born in Estonia, my favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio etc. Divide the class into two teams, and then collect in the cards. Pick a card from Team A, and read out the clues, one by one. Team B try to guess the person in as few clues as possible.
Or let students choose the questions they want to answer. Start the activity by getting students to write at least two getting to know you type questions onto post it notes. For example, What is your favourite way to waste time? What are you going to do this weekend? What’s the best/worst thing about your job/school? Put all the post it notes onto the board, and let students come up and select one they would like to answer. They then stick the post it note to themselves and mingle asking and answering. Answering the same question more than once is likely to encourage fuller and more fluent answers each time, but whenever they are tired of answering the same question they can come back and choose a different question, or even write their own if nothing appeals.
Or let students find out about you instead. There are some ideas in the previous post, here, but you can also just give them, say, ten minutes, to ask anything they want to (you don’t have to answer). When the ten minutes is up, they have to write down what they found out. This gives you a good idea of how strong their listening and writing skills are.
Activities to just have fun
I would probably avoid anything too individually competitive with a new class, to avoid potential embarrassment, but co-operative activities can work extremely well to start the bonding process.
A simple activity is to give each student a piece of a jigsaw as they come into the room (you can easily make your own simple jigsaw with an image stuck onto card). Once they are seated, explain that they need to work together to complete the jigsaw. There are just two rules- all discussion must be in English, and only the person holding each piece can put it in the jigsaw. Once they have finished, you can then do something with the completed image- perhaps they write a description of the scene, or roleplay a discussion between two characters in the image.
Another fun activity is to put students into groups of about four and give each group the same newspaper (free newspapers from public transport are good for this). Then ask the students to find and give you different bits of the newspaper, which you have previously selected. For example, an advert for shampoo, an article about a new shopping centre. They should take in in turns to find the section (with help from their team-mates) and then rip it out and bring it to you. (Make sure that nothing you ask for is printed on the back of something else you listed).
By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A free downloadable lesson, based on a video from StoryCorps, which tells the true story of Storm Reyes, who grew up poor in a migrant camp in Washington State. Students start by watching the video without sound, which encourages them to make predictions, which they then check on a second viewing. There is then some further comprehension and discussion, before an activity which helps students to develop their listening skills by focusing on the weak forms that are so difficult to hear.
Finally there is a focus on opinion or comment adverbs, before a speaking activity to round up the lesson, about the topic of books and reading.
A link to my latest British Council blog, with one of my favourite speaking activities. It’s a favourite because a) it’s really flexible and can be done with any level and at any stage of the course (though it works particularly well for a first lesson or a cover lesson), b) it takes very little or even no preparation if you’re good at thinking on your feet, and c) students always enjoy it.
This is the third (very belated) part in a series on oral correction. In the first part, I wrote about the importance of correction, and in the second about when to correct, so in this post I’d like to concentrate on the actual process of how to correct.
Let’s start by looking at immediate correction, while the student is speaking. The pros and cons of doing this are discussed here, but assuming that you have made the decision to correct immediately (and not just reformulate), how can you best go about it?
Most teachers would agree that it is usually best to try and elicit a correction from the student. The argument is that this will involve them in deeper mental processing than if the teacher simply provides the correct language. Some might argue that this is too difficult for the students, but I’d say that if they can’t attempt a correction even with help, then there probably isn’t much point in making the correction as it is likely to be something beyond their current level of competence.
But no-one can correct themselves if they don’t know what the problem is. Take this (fictional) example:
Student: I want to heat it.
Student: Sorry, I want to heating it.
Student: Er, I want heat it?
Teacher: No, you want to EAT it!
So, the first thing to consider is how you are going to help the student realise where the problem lies.
In the case above, the teacher could do a number of things:
Indicate where the problem is by simply saying ‘pronunciation?’
Ask a question to show the possible confusion- You want to make it hot?
Repeat the sentence, stressing ‘heat’ in a questioning way.
Depending on the error, we can use a number of prompts to help the student self correct. Using a keyword, such as ‘pronunciation’, ‘tense’, ‘article’ and so on can be useful if the student knows the metalanguage. However, gestures can also work very well for giving the student a ‘nudge’.
Here are some useful possibilities:
Third person –s – Write an ‘S’ on the palm of your hand, so that when you open up your fingers the students can read it. In this way you can just ‘flash’ the –s whenever anyone forgets. (Be aware that in some cultures it is rude to show your palm however)
Word order– gesture with your hands swapping right over left to show that the order is different.
Missing –ly on an adverb. (E.g. a student says ‘I walk slow’) – Make an L shape with your hand (British and American teenagers sometimes use this to mean ‘Loser’ though, so use with some caution)
Tenses– pointing backwards for past, forwards for future and down for present (though a friend of mine thought that the teacher was teaching the word for table when she pointed downwards!)
Missing word- Spell out the sentence on your fingers (from right to left so that it runs the correct way for the students) and hold the finger representing the missing word, asking what word is missing.
Wrong word- Similar to missing word. Spell out the sentence or phrase, with one word for each finger and stop at the wrong word and ask them to correct it.
Contractions or linking – Again spell out the words on your fingers, then hold two (or three) together and ask students to say it again, putting them together. For example, ‘I would not have done it’ – you could hold would, not and have together to elicit ‘wouldn’t’
Contractions or short vowels sounds– You can pinch together your thumb and index finger to show either a contraction ‘I would’ – ‘I’d’ or to elicit a shorter vowel sound ‘sheep’ to ship’
If the student just can’t self-correct, and assuming you’re not asking the impossible, you then have a choice about whether to try and encourage a peer correction. I think it’s important for students not to jump in and correct each other too quickly, but it is useful if you can build a class culture where it is acceptable for students to correct each other. As Caleb Gattegno said, ‘A mistake is a gift to the class’. Knowing that they might be called upon, will keep students listening while you are working with an individual student to correct an error, and it’s likely that other students in the class will have similar difficulties, especially in a multi-lingual class. I would use this kind peer correction quite sparing though myself as the original student might start to feel too exposed. It’s a judgement the teacher needs to make, depending on the student, the error, the stage of the lesson, how long the first attempts to elicit correction have taken and so on. It might be better just to give the correction and move on.
However, in post-speaking correction, peer correction can be really useful. The classic way of doing this is to note down errors (and sometimes good examples) while the students are speaking, and then write them on the board without saying who said them. Students can then work together to correct them.
Variations include turning the activity into a grammar auction, where groups of students bid for sentences they believe are correct, or asking students to decide which sentences are correct or not before correcting as a class.
Students can also take on the ‘teacher’ role if you allocate an observer to each group doing a speaking activity. The observer should note down any errors (or examples of good language) that they hear. The group can then work on the language together as a follow up to the speaking activity.
Perhaps the key thing with all of these techniques is to remember and to help students remember that mistakes are indeed a gift. They are how the teacher can evaluate what needs teaching or reviewing, and they are often the moment when a student finally ‘gets’ something that they have never quite understood.
Assuming you believe that there is some value in teacher corrections (see my last post), the next question might be when to correct.
In my initial teacher training, I was taught that the teacher should correct during stages which focus on accuracy, and not interrupt while students are producing language in a ‘fluency’ stage (though you could note down errors to focus on in a group feedback stage at the end of the lesson).
Broadly speaking, I still think that’s good advice, but, as we have moved away from very rigidly PPP lessons, with clear stages which first focus on accuracy/controlled practice and then have a final fluency or free speaking stage, it has become harder to always judge exactly where the focus is at any given moment. And, anyway, is it always a ‘no-no’ to correct during a fluency stage?
I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer as to when to correct, but here are some factors I think are worth considering, in no particular order. You might have some more, or vehemently disagree. If so, please do comment.
1 Is it actually an error (something they haven’t yet properly understood or assimilated) or just a slip of the tongue? You might wait and see if it appears again.
2 Is the error quick and easy to correct, or to get the student to correct? If it will require a lot of explanation, maybe the student isn’t ready for it yet, or it might not be worth taking them and the class off topic (though see point 6).
3 Is the error something which the class is currently focusing on? If you have been looking at, say, past simple irregular endings, and the error is one of the verbs you looked at earlier, then correcting (or eliciting correction) might be useful for everyone, even if it’s in a nominally ‘fluency’ stage.
4 Is the error something that really impacts on communication? If no-one can understand what they are trying to say, or they are likely to completely misunderstand, then it probably needs dealing with- either immediately or later.
5 Is the error something that a lot of students habitually make, or are likely to make- will the correction be generally useful for the class?
6 Following on from that point, if a lot of students are making similar mistakes, it might be better not to correct them immediately and, instead, plan a new lesson around the area of difficulty, or, if you’re confident about it, change the direction of the lesson in order to focus on that point.
7 Finally, consider how this particular student is likely to react to being corrected. If they are shy or don’t usually speak out, you might decide to let something go in order not to knock their confidence.
In my next post, I’ll look more at how to correct, including who can make the correction and some different techniques for correction.
It’s a cliche, but there’s also some truth in this video. As Mark Bartram and Richard Walton point out in their seminal book, Correction, ‘You don’t correct a mistake, you correct a person.’
If teachers always jump on every little mistake, and fail to even vaguely listen to the message that the students are trying to communicate, the emphasis in the classroom will not be on communication at all, but on producing correct forms. And, surely, language is first and foremost about communicating? The students are also likely to stop trying to take risks with language, or produce anything original, and may even stop speaking altogether. The balance of power will be weighted firmly on the side of the teacher, who appears to be the only person ‘in the know’.
Perhaps this is why so many ESOL teachers that I observed while tutoring on a Diploma in teaching ESOL were happy/proud to say that they never corrected students. They seemed to feel that there was something inherently authoritarian and negative about correction. Incidentally, I specify ESOL teachers because, probably unsurprisingly, I’ve never found teachers who have been through the CELTA/Cert TESOL route who feel this way.
I started to wonder what it was about the way these teachers had been trained which had led to the formation of this belief. In some cases they hadn’t really been trained at all, but had got into teaching through volunteer work. Perhaps, in that case, it was, at least sometimes, a combination of not really knowing the language systems well enough to have the confidence to correct, and the slightly patronising and protective approach to students which can occasionally come as a result of well-intentioned volunteering. [Oops, I can see some angry comments winging their way already- note how tentatively I’ve phrased that point!]
Or perhaps it was the teacher training methodology, firmly rooted in the principles of andragogy, with its emphasis on self-direction and learning from experience.
However, while adult students (and not just adults) clearly need to be self-directed and learning from their experience, that doesn’t mean, I believe, that the role of the teacher is simply to present them with input or opportunities to speak and then step back. ESOL students in particular, have plenty of daily opportunities to read, speak or listen in English, but what they don’t have is anyone to give them feedback. I remember feeling really frustrated as a learner of Polish, living in Poland, when I finally realised that I had been confidently using the wrong case ending to buy something every day for about three years..and no-one had ever corrected me. Ultimately isn’t feedback (or judicious correction) the most important thing that we can do for our students?
In my next post, I plan to take a look at what exactly we might mean by ‘judicious correction’- when and how- but I’d be very interested in any comments on the whole idea of whether we should correct, and if I’m alone in thinking that it’s a particular issue in ESOL teaching?
If you are currently taking CELTA, can I suggest my e-book, The CELTA Teaching Compendium, available from Amazon and Smashwords, containing everything you need to know for CELTA teaching practice.
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