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.


  1. But although English is known throughout these countries, it's best to try and learn the basic phrases in the local language. It not only shows respect for the host country, but will give you a deeper appreciation of the culture. interesting website

    1. Thank you Warner for your comment and for the Link about Effortless English. I think I will adopt some of the 7 rules mentioned in the web (specially the one about Don't study grammar!). Anyway going slow, deep learning, listen and speaking are the clues for a good speaking command. Thanks a lot!