Four Steps for Better ESL Speaking Activities

Published: 21st April 2011
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Mastery of English as a foreign language is often measured by the speaking skills of the students. The students may write well, for example, or get high marks on tests. But if they can't express ideas or instructions clearly in a conversation, few would call them skilled speakers. We use language to communicate, and that mostly means speaking.

First, we measure the strengths and weaknesses of our students. We next take this information to develop effective lessons, which often focuses on improved communicative ability. We also want to balance fluency (getting the words out) and accuracy (using grammar and vocabulary correctly). What follows are four steps which serve as a framework for how to teach English speaking. These steps also work towards free use of the language.

Before the four steps are identified, however, let's define communicative ability. Oral communication means using the language, listening to the language, processing the information, and then crafting the appropriate response. The reason behind the conversation affects the process, as does the place and the people involved. Compare English spoken to open a business meeting with English used to order at a restaurant. Both require different vocabulary, levels of formality, etc.

From these examples, we can assume that a good speaker uses grammar and vocabulary effectively and accurately. Someone who speaks well should know when to use different grammar points. Native speakers "just know" the language, although non-teachers generally are unable to explain the reasons for its use. Lessons which involve speaking activities should always work to practice and reinforce these skills. Over time, decisions in language usage like the above become more automatic.

Step One: You should let the students prepare for the tasks ahead with an effective warm-up. This gives all of the students in the class ample opportunity to get their English wheels turning. Adequate time translates into fewer mistakes while you're presenting and drilling the target language, so understanding and use of the new language improves later in the lesson.

Step Two: Present the target grammar or any vocabulary selected for the lesson. If students used any of the target language in the warm up, then you can use this information when presenting the new grammar and vocabulary.

Step Three: After the presentation, the class needs to practice the new language. It's unfair to expect them to make use of the material without sufficient practice. Drills work to achieve automaticity, even at higher ability levels. Controlled practice with new grammar points or vocabulary establishes the foundation and provide examples. Activities should then move into freer and freer use of the language. This will let each student to integrate the lesson material with pre-existing language.

Step Four: You should always work towards real use of the language. The first part of the lesson focuses on accurate language production. It's done to let students build their fluency skills (to get the language out). Activities towards the end of the lesson are more open ended and allow students to select vocabulary and grammar structures. They can also tie the day's focus with previously studied language. Lastly, these free activities let stronger learners apply strategies, use gestures and body language, and adjust their speaking for the intended audience.

If a student wants to be seen as a proficient speaker, he/she needs to speak English well. Language is part of communication. Teachers should work towards incorporating these four steps: preparation, presentation, practice, and finally free use of the language.

These steps allow you to teach English speaking more effectively. Students can acquire the new material, tie it to past lessons, and expand on the information. It's rich, dynamic, and focused on the needs and interests of each individual student.

For more ideas and information about how to teach English speaking , please visit .

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