Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Effective Spontaneous English Speaking Activities

Speaking is probably the most important skill in learning English as a second language and it is the most difficult one that primary English teachers have to deal with. 

At some point children need to have speaking activities that will allow them to improve their communication and language interaction skills. Spontaneous speaking activities are perfect for this.

But we have to consider some points... What is spontaneous speaking and what is not?

A spontaneous speaking activity is not synonymous to “speak whatever you want”. "Spontaneous speaking means that students have the chance to use the language resources they consider to be necessary or useful to achieve the task”.

In our ESL classes we do lots of activities to introduce new topics and new vocabulary. We also do enough drilling and repetition. But we must emphasise the performance: It’s the chance children have to put everything they’ve learned to good use. (1)

Here it is an ESL Checklist for Effective spontaneous-speaking activities, I found in written by Claudia Pesce. It is an extremelly useful list in order to plan your speaking activities.


Does it have a clear learning goal?

Why are you using this free-speaking task? Are you giving your class a chance to practice vocabulary they’ve just learned? Review grammar, phrases or expressions? Free-speaking activities can’t just be a time to speak freely, there has to be some connection to something students have been presented and practiced recently. Say you recently taught them expressions for agreeing/disagreeing. Give them a chance to use them!

Is there a clear objective?

Courtesy of Public Speaking for Kids
Students won’t know if they have successfully achieved the learning goal if they don’t know what the task objective is. Do they have to reach an agreement? Find a solution to a problem? Brainstorm ideas? Here are some examples of speaking tasks with clear objectives:
Students must reach an agreement on where to have a friend’s surprise party.
One student tells the class about his/her eating habits and lifestyle. The rest of the class has to provide ideas for a healthier lifestyle.
Students discuss ways to protect the environment and come up with a list of 10 ideas they can start implementing today.

Is it fun/interesting/appropriate?

It goes without saying that the success of the activity hinges on how engaged your students are. And activities that are not fun or interesting will fail to engage them. Try tailoring each activity to your student’s interests and level. For a group of Business English learners, change the surprise birthday party scenario mentioned above; have the class reach an agreement on where to host a conference/meeting,

Is it competitive?

Young students and teens, in particular, thrive in healthy competition. Is there a way of breaking the class into teams, so they can compete to provide the best/most ideas/results? See which group comes up with the most ideas to protect the environment.

Is it challenging?

Speaking tasks that are too easy will be over in 5 minutes. Good speaking tasks last at least 10-15 minutes – remember you want to give your students a chance to speak. Have you introduced and obstacle or complication they must overcome? Here are some complications for the surprise birthday party scenario:
Give them a limited budget
Tell them that because it’s winter, they can’t have the party outdoors
They only have three days left to plan and buy everything!

Will there be something to report in the end?

Good free-speaking tasks give students something they can summarize/report to the rest of the class. Will they be able to provide an action plan for the surprise birthday party? A list of tasks and who's responsible for each?

Is it structured?

What is the procedure your students should follow? Is it clear? A structured activity gives students who are not so confident a backbone to support them. For the birthday party scenario, give students the items they must decide on:
Date and time
Number of Guests

Can it be repeated?

When they are done, and you give them your feedback, can they re-enact it? Reenactments gives them a chance to fine tune things that were not so accurate so that they can improve their previous performance. Did they forget to decide on a date and time? No one’s taking care of the music? Re-enact the discussion and try not to forget these points.

Is there enough room for students to show their creativity?

Even structured free-speaking tasks need to give students enough wiggle room to make adjustments as they go, and find creative solutions to problems. If there’s no money for the DJ, one of your students may volunteer to be the DJ for the night.
What you need to do is create an environment where students speak freely - not a free- for-all. Give them the right indications, and they will do just that.


Do not miss my next post about Spontaneous Speech! There will be a video with one of these planned activities.

(1) "PPP" (or the "3Ps") stands for Presentation, Practice and Production - a common approach to  communicative language teaching that works through the progression of three sequential stages.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Three Kingdoms, a good example of how to use a blog in the ESL class

Some time ago I posted a reflection about the use of Blogs or wikis to work English language in the school...  

At that moment I didn’t know about the blog I want to present today: Three Kingdoms.

This is a primary ESL blog full of challenging proposals to students, involvement and cooperative work, it is to say, the main features a school blog has to have.

Apart to be a great source for concrete information, it is chronologically oriented, with interesting activities, finds and researches children must do as the school year goes on. Students can share their work, ideas and thoughts with the teacher and the other students of the class and can compete among them for new tokens or points.

At the beginning of the year Luisa, the ESL teacher, introduced the blog in this way:

The land of the three kingdoms
KET the dragon

Far far away, there is a place where a sleeping dragon dominates the earth. This dragon's name is KET. It wakes up every June and many warriors try to defeat it.

The land of the three kingdoms is a magical place. There are many knights and ladies willing to defeat KET, but they are not prepared yet. The Black Witch will help them to prepare the battle and win KET.

Are you ready to live adventure?

Luisa, is the Black Witch and organize the class in three different teams. The blog is the media for proposing different tasks, short projects or homework. Once the tasks are completed children get points individually and/or for the group. The goal at the end of the year is to defeat KET the dragon and to get enough points to buy some prizes the Black Witch will announce.

I think it is worth to have a look, because you can get great ideas to organize your next ESL blog!

Five key issues in school ESL blogs

Motivation: it is literally the desire to do things.
Involvement or engagement to participate.
Interaction: It allows communication of any sort.
Challenge: with a sense of difficulty and victory. But always affordable!
Consistency: without contradiction and with logical coherence.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Get the most of the videos in the ESL Class

There are many things we can do with videos in the ESL class to actively involve children into the language learning.

By using videos we are introducing children into a different listening experience far away from recorded conversations of people they never see (telephone practice, loudspeakers in an airport or in a train station...).

With videos we are adding a new aural dimension: action, images, gestures, emotions, all sorts of visual aids and stimulus language comprehension, language production and practice. We are also allowing lower level students to be creative in the classroom. It is a stepping stone to fun and communicative activities.

Few days ago, I had the fortune to watch a Power Point made by David Deubelbeiss (Professor at Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University –Ontario, Canada-), titled “50 ways to use a video in the classroom”.

Professor Deubelbeiss demonstrates a wide variety of activities you can carry on in your ESL class. Each one has got a link to a video from which you can get tones of activities to exploit them. Some of them are specifically for very young learners, some other for elementary or high school ones, but you can always adapt them according to your criterion.

You will find different ways to go further in your teaching goals. You can use videos as writing or speaking prompts, as a hook or vocabulary builder, as a practice of the 5 W’s, as a shadowing, as a practice of instructive language, and so on.

I really recommend you to have a look. They are already in my “Special Bank of Activities

You can use it in different ways:
1. Pause ask what is the right animal.
2. Watch, students write down the names of all the animals. Then organize or write sentences using "can" A monkey can.... etc...
3. Sing the song/rewrite the song using different animals.
4. Make/draw Wingdingdongdilly's (animals with different body parts). Discuss as a group to review body part vocab.
5. Just enjoy!

 Thank you David!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

When I grow up I want to be...

Talking about the future and the jobs students plan to do, it is always very rewarding. Children like to imagine how things will be like in their lives and, what’s more, you as a teacher can learn a lot about the personality of your pupils.

In my year 4 Primary ESL class we were involved during three sessions in practicing some research, reading, talking and writing to do a final display on the window corridor about future jobs

This is the way we did in our class, and it was a complete success.

As main objectives I planned:
  • Students will practice their writing skills by writing about what they want to be when they grow up.
  • Students will learn about their profession of choice by researching it.
  • Students will read, choose and write positive comments for their mates and their future jobs
  • Students will practice small motor skills by making a flower for a big display of what they want to be when they grow up.
Materials Needed:
  • The corridor wall or a window for the display
  • Coloured Papers Pencils
  • Crayons/Markers
  • Glue (or other ways to attach finished products to the window)
  • Posters, books or Internet finding on various professions
  • 100 ways to praise a child poster

You can start by leading a group discussion on different jobs…have the students discuss things like what jobs their parents have and what they think they want to be when they grow up.

Show the students the blank space where the project will be displayed. Explain that they are going to fill it up with their writings and pictures (or flowers with a positive comment in each petal).

Invite them to write a paragraph on what they want to be when they grow up. For struggling students, you can make the writing assignment shorter; for advanced ones, you can have them write more. They may go to the school library to get a book on that profession or have a research in Internet in order to know some basic characteristics on it. Then, ask students to draw a picture of themselves in their chosen profession.

You can either post on the display their drawing and writing, or the flowers with nice and praising sentences (this was the way we did!).

To do it more challenging:
  • Put all of the writings together in a class book about jobs.
  • Invite other classes to come take a look at our jobs display.
Please share any new ideas or resources on this topic!