Speaking Skills

The fact that the only criteria for a speaking lesson is that the students communicate together and hopefully have fun means the possibilities are endless. There is a skill to designing a speaking lesson. You have to remember that a lot of students don’t really like speaking in the classroom. It’s the fear of having no time to prepare or of their peers hearing them make mistakes and, worse still, be corrected. The skill is making the theme to the lesson something that is going to interest them or at least provoke them. If you manage to take their focus away from the fact they are speaking English, and divert their attention to what they want to say, then you are on to a winner.

Remember that there is little difference between the perform exercises that we have covered and a speaking skills lesson.

Playing devils advocate

Just try to remember, the goal of the lesson is to get the students to speak (and listen to others perhaps). It’s okay for you to have opinions but you are not there to make the students see the world the same way as you do. To maximise each exercise you should do the exact opposite. For every opinion a student expresses, you should be trying to give the counter-argument to provoke the student into expressing more. It’s called playing devil’s advocate. It’s fun! You should always be encouraging your students to speak and give their opinions.

Showing interest

A great way to keep your students speaking about a subject is to show interest, even if you have to fake it! Make sure your body language is good. Turn towards the speaker, make eye contact, smile and nod and use lots of words that show active listening, for example:

  • okay
  • really
  • wow
  • mmm 
  • oh dear!

Don’t forget to correct

Although you are not actively participating in the topic, you still have a role to play as the teacher namely, correcting. As we discussed that may mean making delayed corrections so don’t switch off but grab a piece of paper and make a note of the mistakes as they come up.

Speaking dynamics

Pairs

Exercises where the students work in pairs. These are great for shy, timid or less confident students because it is much more comfortable speaking to one person than a group or the whole class. Also, when there is a pair they are forced to speak, they can’t hide. Correcting requires a lot more work because there are a lot of speakers at the same time.

Groups

Group work is great for creative exercises. It means the ideas are readily exchanged and students don’t feel forced to speak unless they have something they think will contribute to the task. On the other hand, they can also hide if they want. Correcting is obviously easier as there are less speakers but it is more difficult to control some students.

Class discussions

Great as a lead into the lesson but also useful for debates, lead-ins and summaries of exercises. A good teacher will quickly work out which students are trying to hide, either through laziness or lack of confidence, and will be able to orchestrate the conversation to include them at the right time. In a class with a lot of students it becomes more difficult to keep everybody engaged.

Speaking Ideas

Examples of speaking ideas:

The re-enactment of real life situations

Some of the best exercises are taken from real life situations. Why not set up an exercise at the doctors when patients come in with made up symptoms and, with one of the students playing the role of doctor, they have to make up a diagnosis and treatment. A form of speed dating is a great game. Each person makes up a list of 5 questions whilst you set the classroom up to mimic speed dating. Then, the students take it in turns to answer each others’ questions, and then move on to the next. The exercise can finish with each person deciding who gave the best answers to the questions they asked.

The Alibi game

An absolute classic game that works for any student who has started to learn how to speak in the past, or who just needs the practice. The teacher starts by splitting the students into groups (as equally as possible). The teacher then explains the game. One person from one group is suspected of committing a serious crime last night. The suspect has said they were in a restaurant with their friends at the time of the crime (the rest of the group the suspect is in, are the friends the suspect was allegedly with at the restaurant). The other group are now told that they are the police, and are about to interview the suspect and friends to try and find out if their alibi is true.

You then give each group time to come together as a group. The suspect group tries to come up with the perfect alibi whilst the police try to come up with a list of questions that are going to spot the lies in the story (it is important that you tell the suspect group that at no point can they say they don’t remember or they were too drunk). Once each group is adequately prepared, you then get the police to spread out around the room and have 1 person from the suspect group sit opposite them. All interviews take place at the same time. Once the interviews are finished, then the police get back together, compare answers, and report to the whole class if they have found any holes in the stories.

The news

You can simply get the group to make a news program as a class. They must assign roles for the anchorman and woman, who is going to prepare the news stories, who is going to be the sport journalists and weather forecaster. Perhaps there are outside journalists who are interviewing people for the various news stories? Basically, you sit back and facilitate as they come up with the complete news, and then perform it to you at the end of the lesson.

I’m not going to give away all my best lessons, but It’s important you open your mind to the idea that nearly anything can work, depending on the group. The concept is that literally anything that we do. watch. listen to, can be made into a speaking lesson. Anything that involves speaking, debating, presenting, arguing. This can be from presenting an idea for a new chocolate bar, role playing Dragons den, coming up with a list in order of preference as a group and thousands more. Remember discussing something in a group is speaking, it’s doesn’t need to be any more structured than that, as long at they are speaking.