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Лекция 7:

Speaking and Writing

Now consider the following extract:

Students and speaking

Getting students to speak in class can sometimes be extremely easy. In a good class atmosphere, students who get on with each other, and whose English is at an appropriate level, will often participate freely and enthusiastically if we give them a suitable topic and task. However, at other times it is not so easy to get students going. Maybe the class mix is not quite right. Perhaps we have not chosen the right kind of topic. Sometimes it is the organisation of the task which is at fault. But a problem that occurs more often than any of these is the natural reluctance of some students to speak and to take part. In such situations the role(s) that teachers play will be crucial.

Reluctant students

Students are often reluctant to speak because they are shy and are not predisposed to expressing themselves in front of other people, especially when they are being asked to give personal information or opinions. Frequently, too, there is a worry about speaking badly and therefore losing face in front of their classmates. In such situations there are a number of things we can do to help.

  • Preparation: when David Wilson was trying to use German while living in Austria, he found out something that most speakers of foreign languages know. If he was to go into a restaurant and order something, it was much better if he spent some time outside the restaurant, reading the menu and then rehearsing (in his head) what he was going to say. Then, when he went in and placed his order, he did it fluently and without panic (Wilson 2005). Wilson is describing the value of planning and rehearsal for speaking success, and students, too, will perform much better if they have the chance to think about what they are going to say and how to say it. This may involve just giving them quiet time to think in their heads about how they will speak, or it may mean letting them practise dialogues in pairs before having to do anything more public.

    Marc Helgesen suggests making a feature of this thinking-in-our-heads (that is trying out a conversation in our minds). He suggests a series of ten tasks that students can do on their own (Helgesen 2003). For example, when they are on a bus, they can imagine they are in a taxi and give the imaginary taxi driver directions. They can practise telling themselves about the best thing that happened to them today or tell the person in their head about their plans for the future. Paul Mennim describes how students record presentations they are going to make, transcribe what they have said, correct it and then hand it over to the teacher for further comment before finally making the presentation (Mennim 2003).

    At other times, where students are going to take part in a discussion, we can put them in buzz groups to brainstorm ideas so that they have something to say when the real discussion happens. Of course, there will be times when we want and expect spontaneous production from students, but at other times we will allow them to prepare themselves for the speaking they are going to do.

  • The value of repetition: repetition has many beneficial effects.

    Each new encounter with a word or phrase helps to fix it in the student's memory. Repetition has other benefits, too: it allows students to improve on what they did before. They can think about how to re-word things or just get a feel for how it sounds. When students repeat speaking tasks they have already done once (or twice), their first attempt is like a rehearsal for the final effort. Each rehearsal gives them more confidence as they are not attempting to get the words out for the first time when they try to speak in subsequent 'performances'. Repetition works even better if students get a chance to analyse what they have already done. This analysis may come from fellow students or from the teacher, but if they get a chance to evaluate what they have done - or at least get feedback about it - their performance second or third time round can only get better. If we ask students to make presentations or tell stories, repetition obviously makes sense in the same way as getting students to draft and re-draft their writing. But letting students rehearse conversational exchanges works, too. If students have had a chance to try out the exchange, they will do it much more confidently and fluently when they do it a second time.

  • Big groups, small groups: a major reason for the reluctance of some students to take part in speaking activities is that they find themselves having to talk in front of a big group. A way of counteracting this is by making sure that they get chances to speak and interact in smaller groups, too. As we have seen, this can be preparation for dialogue-making or discussion.
  • Mandatory participation: in a presentation at the 2004 IATEFL conference in Liverpool, UK, William Littlewood bemoaned the presence of 'social loafers' when groups do a task - that is students who sit back and let everyone else do the work (Littlewood 2004b). How, he wondered, could he ensure that all students were equally engaged in a task. He called one of his ideas 'numbered heads': in each group of four, for example, the students are asked to assign a number from 1 to 4 to each member, without telling the teacher who has which number. At the end of an activity, the teacher indicates a group and a number (1-4) and asks that student to report on what happened. Neither the teacher nor the students knows who will be called and, as a result, all the students have to stay on-task.

Simon Mumford (2004: 35) suggests a 'speaking grid'. We start by drawing a grid and writing the names of half of the students on the vertical axis, and half on the horizontal access. We now write the numbers 1-4 in the first column of the vertical axis and then write the numbers diagonally downwards (to the right). We put the number 4 at the top of the second column and then enter it diagonally, too. We write 3 at the top of the third column and 2 at the top of the fourth column. Students are told that each box in the grid represents two minutes' conversation: 60 seconds of A talking to B, 60 seconds of B talking to A, so according to the example grid, for the first minute Ahmet will talk to Suzanne and then for the next minute Suzanne will talk to Ahmet. Next, Ahmet will talk to Ali and Ali will talk to Ahmet, and then he will talk (and listen) to Maria (and so on). We now give students a topic (e.g. holidays, my family, what I hope for in the future or my favourite place). Students change places after we give a signal.

The roles of the teacher

As with any other type of classroom procedure, teachers need to play a number of different roles during different speaking activities. However, three have particular relevance if we are trying to get students to speak fluently:

  • Prompter: students sometimes get lost, can't think of what to say next or in some other way lose the fluency we expect of them. We can leave them to struggle out of such situations on their own, and indeed sometimes this may be the best option. However, we may be able to help them and the activity to progress by offering discrete suggestions. If this can be done supportively, without disrupting the discussion or forcing students out of role, it will stop the sense of frustration that some students feel when they come to a dead end of language or ideas.
  • Participant: teachers should be good animators when asking students to produce language. Sometimes this can be achieved by setting up an activity clearly and with enthusiasm. At other times, however, teachers may want to participate in discussions or role-plays themselves. That way they can prompt covertly, introduce new information to help the activity along, ensure continuing student engagement and generally maintain a creative atmosphere. However, in such circumstances they have to be careful that they do not participate too much, thus dominating the speaking and drawing all the attention to themselves. There is one special sense in which teachers act as participants, and that is when they are in a dialogue with the class. Just as one-to-one teachers may engage in direct conversation with their students (and co-construct dialogue, thereby scaffolding their learning), so in dialogic events in larger groups, the teacher and students may talk together communicatively as near-equal participants. These are often very special moments in the lesson, although we have to be careful not to take over the classroom so that students lose opportunities for speaking.
  • Feedback provider: the vexed question of when and how to give feedback in speaking activities is answered by considering carefully the effect of possible different approaches. When students are in the middle of a speaking task, over-correction may inhibit them and take the communicativeness out of the activity. On the other hand, helpful and gentle correction may get students out of difficult misunderstandings and hesitations. Everything depends upon our tact and the appropriacy of the feedback we give in particular situations. When students have completed an activity, it is vital that we allow them to assess what they have done and that we tell them what, in our opinion, went well. We will respond to the content of the activity as well as the language used.

A crucial part of the teacher's job when organising speaking activities is to make sure that the students understand exactly what they are supposed to do. This involves giving clear instructions and, where appropriate, demonstrating the activity with a student or students so that no one is in any doubt about what they should be doing.

Classroom speaking activities

Many of the classroom speaking activities which are currently in use fall at or near the communicative end of the communication continuum. There are a number of widely-used categories of speaking activity, and we will start by looking at them before going on to specific speaking examples.

Acting from a script

We can ask our students to act out scenes from plays and/or their coursebooks, sometimes filming the results. Students will often act out dialogues they have written themselves.

  • Playscripts: it is important that when students are working on plays or playscripts, they should treat it as 'real' acting. In other words, we need to help them to go through the scripts as if we were theatre directors, drawing attention to appropriate stress, intonation and speed. This means that the lines they speak will have real meaning. By giving students practice in these things before they give their final performances, we ensure that acting out is both a learning and a language producing activity.
  • Acting out dialogues: when choosing who should come out to the front of the class, we should be careful not to choose the shyest students first. We need to work to create the right kind of supportive atmosphere in the class. We need to give students time to rehearse their dialogues before they are asked to perform them. If we can give students time to work on their dialogues, they will gain much more from the whole experience.

Communication games

There are many communication games, all of which aim to get students talking as quickly and fluently as possible. Two particular categories are worth mentioning here:

  • Information-gap games: many games depend on an information gap: one student has to talk to a partner in order to solve a puzzle, draw a picture (describe and draw), put things in the right order (describe and arrange) or find similarities and differences between pictures.
  • Television and radio games: when imported into the classroom, games from radio and TV often provide good fluency activities, as the following examples demonstrate. In 'Twenty Questions' the chairperson thinks of an object and tells a team that the object is either animal, vegetable or mineral - or a combination of two or three of these. The team has to find out what the object is asking only yes/no questions, such as Can you use it in the kitchen? or Is it bigger than a person? They get points if they guess the answer in 20 questions or fewer. 'Just A Minute' is a long-running comedy contest on UK radio. Each participant has to speak for 60 seconds on a subject they are given by the chairperson without hesitation, repetition or deviation. In the radio show, as in the classroom, 'deviation' consists of language mistakes as well as wandering off the topic. If another contestant hears any of these, he or she interrupts, gets a point and carries on with the subject. The person who is speaking at the end of 60 seconds gets two points. 'Call My Bluff' involves two teams. Team A is given a word that members of the other team are unlikely to know. Team A finds a correct dictionary definition of the word and then makes up two false ones. They read out their definitions and Team B has to guess which is the correct one. Now Team B is given a word and reads out three definitions of their word (one correct and two false) and Team A has to guess.

In other games, different tricks or devices are used to make fluent speaking amusing. In 'Fishbowl', for example, two students speak on any topic they like, but at a pre-arranged signal one of them has to reach into a fishbowl and take out one of the many pieces of paper on which students have previously written phrases, questions and sentences. They have to incorporate whatever is on the paper into the conversation straight away.


Discussions range from highly formal, whole-group staged events to informal small-group interactions.

  • Buzz groups: these can be used for a whole range of discussions. For example, we might want students to predict the content of a reading text, or we may want them to talk about their reactions to it after they have read it. We might want them to discuss what should be included in a news broadcast or have a quick conversation about the right kind of music for a wedding or party.
  • Instant comment: another way in which we can train students to respond fluently and immediately is to insert 'instant comment' mini-activities into lessons. This involves showing them photographs or introducing topics at any stage of a lesson and nominating students to say the first thing that comes into their head.
  • Formal debates: in a formal debate, students prepare arguments in favour or against various propositions. When the debate starts, those who are appointed as 'panel speakers' produce well-rehearsed 'writing-like' arguments, whereas others, the audience, pitch in as the debate progresses with their own (less scripted) thoughts on the subject. In order for debates to be successful, students need to be given time to plan their arguments, often in groups. They can be directed to a series of points of view either for or against a proposition - or sent to websites where they will get 'ammunition' for their point of view. Web quests are often good ways of preparing students for debates. The teacher can divide the class into groups and then give links to different websites to the different groups. It is a good idea to allow students to practise their speeches in their groups first. This will allow them to get a feel for what they are going to say. A popular debating game which has survived many decades of use is the 'balloon debate', so called because it is based on a scenario in which a number of people are travelling in the basket of a hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, however, there is a leak and the balloon cannot take their weight: unless someone leaves the balloon, they will all die. Students take on the role of a real-life person, either living or historical - from Confucius to Shakespeare, from Cleopatra to Marie Curie. They think up arguments about why they should be the survivors, either individually or in pairs or groups. After a first round of argument, everyone votes on who should be the first to jump. As more air escapes, a second round means that one more person has to go, until, some rounds later, the eventual sole survivor is chosen. Participants in a balloon debate can represent occupations rather than specific characters; they can also take on the roles of different age-groups, hobby-enthusiasts or societies.
  • Unplanned discussion: some discussions just happen in the middle of lessons; they are unprepared for by the teacher, but, if encouraged, can provide some of the most enjoyable and productive speaking in language classes. Their success will depend upon our ability to prompt and encourage and, perhaps, to change our attitude to errors and mistakes from one minute to the next. Pre-planned discussions, on the other hand, depend for their success upon the way we ask students to approach the task in hand.
  • Reaching a consensus: one of the best ways of encouraging discussion is to provide activities which force students to reach a decision or a consensus, often as a result of choosing between specific alternatives. An example of this kind of activity (with particular relevance to schools) is where students consider a scenario in which an invigilator during a public exam catches a student copying from hidden notes. The class has to decide between a range of options, such as:

The fact of having to make such an awkward choice gives the discussion a clear purpose and an obvious outcome to aim for.

Prepared talks

One popular kind of activity is the prepared talk, where a student (or students) makes a presentation on a topic of their own choice. Such talks are not designed for informal spontaneous conversation; because they are prepared, they are more 'writing-like' than this. However, if possible, students should speak from notes rather than from a script. For students to benefit from doing oral presentations, we need to invest some time in the procedures and processes they are involved in. In the first place, we need to give them time to prepare their talks (and help in preparing them, if necessary). Then students need a chance to rehearse their presentations. This can often be done by getting them to present to each other in pairs or small groups first. The teacher and the class can decide together on criteria for what makes a good presentation and the listener in each pair can then give feedback on what the speaker has said. The presenter will then be in a good position to make a better presentation. However, this only works if students have had a chance to discuss feedback criteria first. When a student makes a presentation, it is important that we give other students tasks to carry out as they listen. Maybe they will be the kind of feedback tasks we have just described. Perhaps they will involve the students in asking follow-up questions. The point is that presentations have to involve active listening as well as active speaking. Whether or not feedback comes from the teacher, the students or a combination of both, it is important that students who have made an oral presentation get a chance to analyse what they have done, and then, if possible, repeat it again in another setting so that they do it better.


Questionnaires are useful because, by being pre-planned, they ensure that both questioner and respondent have something to say to each other. Depending upon how tightly designed they are, they may well encourage the natural use of certain repetitive language patterns - and thus can be situated in the middle of our communication continuum.

Students can design questionnaires on any topic that is appropriate. As they do so, the teacher can act as a resource, helping them in the design process. The results obtained from questionnaires can then form the basis for written work, discussions or prepared talks.

Simulation and role-play

Many students derive great benefit from simulation and role-play. Students simulate a real life encounter (such as a business meeting, an interview or a conversation in an aeroplane cabin, a hotel foyer, a shop or a cafeteria) as if they were doing so in the real world. They can act out the simulation as themselves or take on the role of a completely different character and express thoughts and feelings they do not necessarily share. When we give students these roles, we call the simulation a role-play. Thus we might tell a student You are a motorist who thinks that parking restrictions are unnecessary or You are Michelle and you want Robin to notice you, but you don't want him to know about your brother, etc.

Simulation and role-play can be used to encourage general oral fluency or to train students for specific situations, especially where they are studying English for Specific Purposes (ESP). When students are doing simulations and role-plays, they need to know exactly what the situation is, and they need to be given enough information about the background for them to function properly. Of course, we will allow them to be as creative as possible, but if they have almost no information, they may find this very difficult to do. With more elaborate simulations, such as business meetings, mock enquiries or TV programmes, for example, we will want to spend some time creating the environment or the procedures for the simulation. Of course, the environment may be in the teacher's and the students' heads, but we want to create it, nevertheless.

Simulations and role-plays often work well when participants have to come to some kind of a decision. In one such intermediate-level activity ('Knife in the school') a boy has brought a large hunting knife into a school and the boy, his parents, the head teacher and class teacher have a meeting to decide what must be done about it. The students take the role of one of these characters based on a role card which tells them how they feel (e.g. Jo Glassman, teacher: Two of your pupils, Sean and Cathy, told you that they had seen the knife but are afraid to confront Brian about it. You believe them absolutely but didn't actually see the knife yourself. However, you don't want Brian to know that Sean and Cathy are responsible for this meeting. You want to see Brian suspended from the school). In groups of five, the students role-play the meeting, and at the end different groups discuss the decisions they have come to.

Clearly 'Knife in the school' might be inappropriate in some situations, but other role-plays such as planning meetings, television 'issue' shows and public protest meetings are fairly easy to replicate in the classroom.

Simulation and role-play have recently gone through a period of relative unpopularity, yet this is a pity since they have three distinct advantages. In the first place, they can be good fun and are thus motivating. Secondly, they allow hesitant students to be more forthright in their opinions and behaviour without having to take responsibility for what they say in the way that they do when they are speaking for themselves. Thirdly, by broadening the world of the classroom to include the world outside, they allow students to use a much wider range of language than some more task-centred activities may do.

Speaking lesson sequences

In the following examples, the speaking activity is specified, together with its particular focus.

The following game-like activity, based on a London 'Comedy Store' routine, is used by the writer Ken Wilson (Wilson 1997) for getting students to think and speak quickly.

The class chooses four or five students to be a panel of 'experts'. They come and sit in a row facing the class. The class then chooses a subject that these students are going to have to be experts on. This can be anything, from transport policy to film music, from fish to football. In pairs or groups, the class write down the questions they want to ask the experts about this particular subject. The teacher can go round the class checking the questions as they do this. Finally, once the questions have been written, they are put to the experts. The element of this activity that makes it amusing is that each expert only says one word at a time, so the sentence is only gradually built up. Because the experts often can't think of how to continue it, it can ramble on in ever more extreme contortions until someone is lucky enough or clever enough to be in a position to finish it (with just one word). The following example shows how it might begin:

'Experts' encourages even reluctant speakers on the panel to speak, even if (or perhaps because) they only have to produce one word at a time. It keeps both experts and questioners engaged in the construction of utterances in a controlled but often surreal environment.

In this sequence, the class have recently been working on the contrasting uses of the present perfect and the past simple.

The activity starts when the teacher talks to the students about the five or six most popular films that are currently on show or which have been extremely popular in the last six months or a year. They are then told that they are going to find out which of these films is the most popular in the class. The teacher hands out the following questionnaire form - or writes it on the board and has the students copy it. They put the names of the films they have discussed in the left-hand column.

The class now discuss the kinds of questions they can use, e.g. Have you seen X? What did you think of it? In pairs, students now interview each other and ask if they have seen any of the films and what they thought of them. They complete the charts about their partner.

The teacher now gets a student up to the board and asks them to fill in the chart based on what the other students have found out, e.g. How many people have seen X? and How many people thought that X was very good? This can then lead on to a discussion of the films in question. Students can be encouraged to say which was the best part of one of the films, who their favourite actors are, etc. The results of the questionnaires can be put on the board.

Questionnaires are often the first stage in much longer sequences, leading on to written reports and discussions. In this case, for example, students can use the questionnaire results for discussion or to write their own 'film page' for a real or imagined magazine.

Adapted from The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer 2007, Longman.

Лилия Громова
Лилия Громова
1 октября отправила на проверку первое задание, до сих пор не проверено, по этой причине не могу пройти последующие тесты.
Светлана Носкова
Светлана Носкова