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How to teach students to speaking skills



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This article looks at overlapping of language skills in a Communicative Approach addressing the whole person. It discusses the role of speaking in language learning and the qualities promoted by spoken interactive exercises. Practical solutions to overcoming the obstacles to implementing spoken communicative activities are also outlined. Also the article discusses the role of pronunciation in a Communicative Approach. In your class, you may have been taught about the four language skills-reading, writing, listening, speaking-as separate items. But as might have occurred to you then, and must be obvious to you now that you are actually teaching, these four skills do not separate out into four neat segments. They overlap. They flow in and out of each other. You may emphasize speaking in a particular activity, but at the same time you will also require your students to listen, and maybe to read and write. The tidy distinctions of teaching English may be useful for packaging information. In the classroom, however, where you put that information to work, you will discover that language teaching, like life, is considerably more messy than just reading books would lead you to believe.

If you are teaching in an interactive mode, to this overlapping of the four skills is added the richness and complication of meaningful communication. There are traditional approaches to language teaching (Grammar Translation, Direct Method, Audiolingual Method), which attempt to manage the language learning process by emphasizing a controlled, measured practicing of language items, with the teacher very much in charge. When you use a Communicative Approach, on the other hand, emphasizing language learning as interaction, elements of unpredictability naturally arise as the teacher opens the lesson to meaningful communication rather than focusing on practice of a grammar rule. (1 – p. 46)

I remember that one teacher of English spoke of a class she had been giving in which she was teaching the present simple tense, with «I eat my breakfast at 7 o’clock» as her base sentence. As she was drilling the class, she noticed that despite the correctness of their responses, her students all sounded mechanically sing-song. The truth dawned on the teacher. «How many of you really had breakfast today?» she asked. Less than half had eaten that morning. The teacher did not waste time berating herself for her insensitivity. Instead she began organizing a program of school breakfasts. And she learned to let the students’ real life into the English lesson. As she said, «Their English was often incorrect. But those kids talked non-stop for a year. They talked about themselves and their lives in the barrio. They translated jokes that never worked in English, and they didn’t care. Neither did I. They were having fun, in English and in my class. And it was real.»

Working in an interactive mode means giving your students the opportunity to talk about themselves in personally relevant ways. In doing this you will be adding a new dimension to the language learning process. You will be moving beyond the intellectual and appealing to the emotions as well. Whether your students are adults, adolescents, or children, they will all respond to your interest in them. But working with the dimension of feelings has constraints. ( 4 – p. 52)

First of all you must feel comfortable in talking about feelings and opinions.

Second, you must check that your students also feel comfortable in sharing their feelings and opinions. Some cultures do not consider it appropriate to talk about oneself, or to share deeply held values with those who are not members of the immediate family.

Third, you must create a classroom environment which is accepting and non-judgmental. To achieve this you should take on the role of an impartial facilitator: one who listens and acknowledges, but who does not impose views. If you expect students to trust you by talking about matters which are important to them, then you must show that you respect their right to express their opinions, even if you do not agree with them. It should also be acknowledged that your students have certain rights. They may opt out of certain discussions, and should not be forced to speak; they should be heard and respected; and they should extend the same courtesy to their classmates.

Fourth, the overall focus on feelings and opinions in discussions and activities should be constructive. This is not to say that you should deny expressions of negative feelings. Many of your students may be living in difficult conditions. Their problems are real and should not be avoided. But while allowing time for consideration of the negative, you should also be prepared to move in positive directions. You can do this by asking questions such as «What do you like about yourself and your life?», rather than asking the kind of questions which focus on «What do you not like about yourself and your life?»

Interactive speaking activities which revolve around your students’ feelings and opinions can be used at almost any time. But there are particular moments when they are especially useful. Tension builds up before examinations, making teaching difficult an your students nervous. The following exercise need take only 10 minutes of your lesson; nevertheless, it can enhance your students’ self-confidence.

  1. Divide the class into groups of three (students A, B, and C).
  2. Student A turns his back and students B and C talk about the good qualities of student A as a language learner. For example: «He was very funny in the role play last week. He played the part of the old man very well.» or «I know that she spends 30 minutes a night on her English homework. And she was the only one to get good grades on the cloze exercise.» or «He’s not afraid to speak English. Remember how last week we were all afraid to answer the question on shopping, and he was the only one to try.»
  3. After students B and C have finished talking, Student B turns her back and students A and C talk about her.
  4. And finally it is the turn of student C to listen to the positive, specific comments of students A and B.

Ask yourself, what is the role of interactive speaking in my lessons? What do I want my students to be able to do in interactive speaking activities? You may well come up with a list which includes the following goals for your students:

  • participation
  • interaction
  • fluency
  • confidence
  • communication strategies

Most of the students will participate in the English lessons if the teacher selects activities which involve them. However, a word of warning: some students may resist your efforts to involve them. They may be used to drills, which do not require much thought beyond a mechanical manipulation of the language, and they may be suspicious of your efforts to change their level of involvement. But there are ways of loosening up your students. To do so you need to make your classes fun, but also to underline the benefits of your approach. Make sure that your students understand you are covering the school curriculum and you are serious about your intention to help them succeed in learning English. Introduce interactive speaking activities with issues and topics which are personal, but also light-hearted. It takes time to build up trust in a classroom. Start out with activities like the following one called «The Route to School,» which is suitable for beginning level classes.

Interaction can be stimulated if you give your students the opportunity to talk to each other about what is important to them. As you know, if you are working with adolescents, the teen years are often marked by an unevenness of mood, by dramatic swings in energy levels, by immense physical and mental changes. One way of helping adolescents to cope is to create opportunities for them to speak out and to be heard. The following activity is simple but therapeutic. It requires from your students a willingness to share a little of themselves and gives them the opportunity to think about the values which guide their lives. In the communicative approach, fluency takes some priority over accuracy.

Basically, being fluent means being able to keep the language coming. There may be mistakes, fillers and repetitions, but there are no unusually long pauses in the flow of talk. In interactive speaking activities you are trying to get your students

to communicate their own ideas, opinions and wishes. They are fully aware of the meaning they wish to convey, but the exact content of their message is unpredictable, and you, the teacher, cannot give them the exact language they need to communicate. As a result your students will not always be accurate in their use of the language, but this is not important, so long as the speakers are able to be understood. This emphasis on fluency implies two things. ( 2 – p. 61)

First, your error correction policy should reflect this emphasis. Particularly in speaking, it is important that you should encourage the risk takers. This is often a simple process of listening to what is said and giving feedback on the message, rather than interrupting to correct pronunciation or grammar. This is not to say that errors should not be corrected, but interactive speaking activities is not the place to do so. You should, however, keep notes of persistent problems and set aside time to deal with them later.

Second, the activities you present should promote fluency. You want to find ways of stimulating your students so that they want to speak, and this wanting to speak overcomes their inhibitions about expressing themselves in English.

«Famous Personalities» is an activity that can be adapted to beginning, intermediate, or advanced levels. It requires your students to have opinions and wishes and to express them. The steps in the activity are as follows:

  1. Write on the board a list of 20-30 personalities. Ask students to select from the list six people they would like to invite to give a talk. Students write their choices in order on a piece of paper. All the papers are collected.
  2. Go through the papers and mark on the board the number of «invitations» each personality on the list has received. Make a final list of the six people the class would like to invite. During this process, call on students to explain their choices.
  3. Rank the six invitees, again calling on students to explain their reasons for the ranking.
  4. You could also add the step of dividing the class into groups to come up with questions they would like to ask their invitees. If you are teaching advanced students, you could then ask them to choose personalities from the list and to role play these personalities by answering the questions prepared by the rest of the class.

A common comment from people learning a foreign language is «l hate making a fool of myself.» Your own language learning experiences in pre-service training probably brought the same thought home to you. You feel foolish because you are not in control, the way you are in your native language, and are reduced to a level of needy dependence which can be hard to tolerate. How can you reduce some of your students’ fear of looking foolish and build up their confidence and pleasure in using English? How can you give them the confidence to start taking control of themselves as speakers of English?

A very practical way of putting these two principles into practice is though storytelling, role play and drama. The comprehensible input comes from you, telling a story for instance. And while not pressuring your students, especially your beginners, to speak before they are ready, you can still build in an escalating degree of involvement. Look, for example, at the degree of student involvement generated in this «Sound Effects» activity, suitable for low intermediate students. (3 – p. 54)

  1. Make sure that your students are sitting comfortably. Then tell a story like the one below. (You may want to make up your own story and add details to it which will be familiar to your students.)

Mohammed’s parents had to go to the city for the day, so they left him in charge of his sister Amal and his two young brothers Naceur and Sabri. When it got dark the children sat around the fire (a) and waited for their parents to return. The wind began to blow (b) and it started to rain. (c) They heard a scratching (d) noise at the door. The children gasped (e) and moved closer together. Maybe it’s a lion (f). Maybe it’s a snake (g). Maybe it’s a wild dog (h). Mohammed could see that his sister and brother were scared. He switched on the radio to drown the scratching noise. The radio was playing a song (i). He turned the radio up loud (j). He turned it down low (k). But the scratching noise continued. Mohammed went to the door (l) and opened it (m).

There were the family chickens which Mohammed had forgotten to shut in the chicken coop for the night. The children sighed (n) with relief and helped Mohammed put the chickens in the coop.

Use as much drama and as many pictures on the board as is necessary to make sure that everyone understands.

  1. Tell the story a second time, this time adding in sound effects where indicated by a number in the text. Get your students to help to create the noises:
  2. scrunch a large sheet of newspaper      make hooing noises
  3. pat the desk with your fingers scratch the desk with your fingernails
  4. gasp make a roaring noise
  5. make a hissing noise bark
  6. sing song
  7. sing loudly l. sing softly
  8. stamp feet make a creaking noise
  9. sigh
  • Tell the story a third time. This time leave the sound effects up to the class.
  1. Divide students into groups and ask them to mime the story and to use sound effects. If they are ready for it, individuals from each group can tell the story while the rest of group mimes.
  2. As groups become more proficient, they can organize the telling of their own stories complete with sound effects.

Bibliography

  1. Christopher Sion (Ed.), Recipes for Tired Teachers, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1985
  2. Joy M. Reid, The Process of Composition, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1988
  3. Martin L. Arnaudet and Mary Ellen Barrett , Paragraph Development
  4. Patricia A. Richard, Making It Happen. -Amato Longman, Inc., 1988
  5. Ruth Pierson and Susan Vik, Making Sense in English: Intermediate Grammar in Context, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1987
    How to teach students to speaking skills
    Written by: Kamalova D., Mamatova H.
    Published by: БАСАРАНОВИЧ ЕКАТЕРИНА
    Date Published: 05/03/2017
    Edition: ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_ 28.03.2015_03(12)
    Available in: Ebook
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