Monday, May 14, 2012

How to facilitate speaking in the ESL classroom

Upper Primary Level. 

How difficult is to teach conversation in the ESL classroom! How difficult is to stir spontaneous speaking!

Repetition kills motivation!
If you are using a textbook you will realize that the material found in ESL textbooks are dry and lack the variety and authenticity of real-world conversations. Teachers need something that can stimulate students and get them motivated to speak English in the classroom.

A good way is using video clips as a conversational prompt. They provide students with authentic situations in which the English language is used and can help them speaking in the classroom. 

First problem:  To find one that is appropriate. Just ask you few questions:
Is the content suitable for the students?
Does the content appeal to the students?
Is the length of the clip too long?

Clips shorter than two minutes may not provide enough substance from which students can create a narrative. On the other hand, clips more than five minutes in length may be too challenging for upper primary students.

Second problem: Where to find suitable video clips? You can search popular video sites such as, or Google videos for the video clips.  In these sites, video clips are abundant and are easily accessible in the classroom (type "animated short films" or "animated commercials"... you will get some good stuff to use in the ESL class).

Personally, the ones I like the most are: the YouTube Pixar channel and Ringling College of Art Design channels in Vimeo. 

I recently used this video from the YouTube Pixar channel in Year 5, just after reading the Heinemann book "Castles. King Arthur Treasure"

Third problem: What to do with it? It is a good idea to create a worksheet that has sections in which students can write down ideas, single words, new vocabulary, actions (verbs), and things they don’t know or they do not understand, that will later be used in speech. At the bottom of the worksheet, just add a few lines so that students can write a short narrative, both in L1 or L2, depending on the level.

My students usually work in small groups. I distribute a specific worksheet and introduce briefly the video to them. Take care to not give away what is happening in the video, otherwise they will not have much to write and later narrate. Simply inform the students of what are they going to do, the name of the video and some clues to watch it.
The first time I play the video, I ask children to do nothing: just watch and listen. The second time I ask them to write down, on the worksheet, what they see in the clip.
This video is from the student gallery of Ringling College of Art and Design. Carrot Crazy! from Ringling College of Art + Design on Vimeo. Once the video clip has been played I ask some questions regarding the clip: What did you see in the video clip (objects, places,)? What was happening (actions, verbs…)? What emotions, do you think, the actors felt (feelings, adjectives…)? Why did the characters do this or that? … Now, here it comes the most amazing part of the activity: students are asked to write a small narrative that will accompany the actions in the video.  Students can write the narrative in the third or the first person: just they are different ways of expressing what is happening in the video. Play the video again without sound. Give ten minutes to groups to come up with a narrative for the video clip. While students are writing, walk around and assist as necessary. When the groups have completed their narratives, choose alternative groups to narrate the video clip while it is being played. Make sure each student from the group has a chance to read a few lines of the narrative. You can conclude the session by asking their opinion, comment or just giving an adjective for the video.
With a little extra work you can add the narrative to the video by using Overstream or another subtitle adding app. Watch an example in vimeo


  1. Nice ideas :-) How did your students handle the Scottish accents or did they just get the gist from the visuals? I like the second video without the speech. It is difficult finding material with the appropriate level of language as English audio tracks are often very muffled - especially films when there is a lot of background noise to contend with.
    I can recommend the short film "The Lost Thing" which is also available as a graphic novel (just 950 words or so). The speech is well spaced and fairly simple: or available from itunes for a couple of euros.
    I have a feeling that it is also available in Spanish which you could show to quicken comprehension if you want, before showing in English.
    Btw I quoted your blog name on my blog. I would be pleased if you have a look at some time, although there isn't a lot there yet (

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment on my post about facilitating speaking. You are true! My students just get the gist of the story through the visuals (even me find hardly difficult to get the scottish accent!).
      For me it is most important to "produce" language than to understand the complete story from a video, but I don't miss any opportunity to practice listening or even reading, as you propose with "The Lost thing" (great film!).
      Of course, thank you for to mention my blog in yours. I will follow you closely and mention it asap.

  2. OK - "The Lost Thing" is by Shaun Tan and available on youtube but the link got deleted.
    For older students, he produced "The Arrival" which has no words at all and it a graphic novel in the truest sense. It is like looking at a photo album of black and white phantasy pics.