Thursday, April 04, 2013

Children Speaking English Spontaneously? Are you serious?

Trying to encourage children to speak English spontaneously in the ESL class is a "tough cookie".

Some time ago I posted about different activities and proposals to do so. May you remember: How to facilitate speaking in the ESL classroom or Get the most of the videos in the ESL class... or Effective Spontaneous English Speaking Activities.

Today I want to show you one of my “Speaking more freely” sessions with some of my students of grade 6.

A rewarding overtime!
I often try to do it in small groups, after the class, in a more relaxed atmosphere (sometimes a class with 25 pupils can be stressing!) and without the pressure of being observed by others. This is one of those “overtimes” you give for free to the school, because there is no other way to organize it, but it is very rewarding both for students and for the teacher!

First of all, let me make some considerations about this.

  1. The topic. It is very important to choose a familiar topic to talk about and different types of activities in order to encourage children cognitive development. In primary talking about pets, leisure activities, sports, travelling or future jobs are always good topics to improve the speaking skills.
  2. It is also very important to choose a real context and let the children think of the meaning, not just repeating words or chunks of grammar structures to practise pronunciation.
  3. Communication. Interaction must be controlled because of the limitations of the language, but you can allow some spontaneous interaction and give some directions to follow
  4. Some tips:
Interaction is paramount.
  • Recasting. Repeat what children say in their mother tongue in English. It is a very important step in children’s language development because they know they are understood, they hear what they wanted to say repeated in English and they strength the idea that they can communicate in English as they do in their mother tongue.
  • Rephrasing. It is very supportive if you change what the child say in English into better English without any negative comments. By rephrasing children realize that their communication is valuable, that they can communicate successfully, they can improve as they hear a better version of what they were trying to say
  • Correcting. It is important to distinguish between errors of form and errors that affect meaning and comprehension. You may use the correction as a learning tool, and having clear in mind that you are not changing what a child is trying to say.
  • Support children’s early efforts by waiting for their responses (don’t be afraid of silences) and frequently summarizing what different pupils say.
  • Give children opportunities to speak.
  • Don’t put pressure on children to speak if they are not ready.
  • Pronunciation. I do not correct pronunciation unless it affects understanding or it is so evident! (common words)
  • Interaction in these sessions is paramount. I always invite to dialogue, to give reasons, apologies or to interrupt each other. 

The following materials (script, rubric and observation grid.) were used for one of my "Spontaneous speech session". This one was about “Travelling to another country”.

First, I gave to the students the script and I ask them to prepare a little bit the ideas. This is only the frame of what will the session be and what we are going to talk about. They can prepare and practice in advance, but they know that the script is not allowed during the session.

Before the session I have to prepare all the materials I will need: the rubrics and the observation grid, in order to note down important issues like recasting, rephrasing, corrections errors of pronunciation or interaction. In the session I must act as a facilitator eliciting, inviting and engaging children to speak...

Sometimes I ask someone to record a video of the session, so children can see themselves speaking, interacting and talking in a spontaneous ways. It is a great fun, but also a wonderful time to correct mistakes!

SLATTERY, M and WILLIS, J (2009). English for Primary Teachers. OUP: Oxford.


  1. Excellent Work Enric!!!! As usual ;-)
    Pinned it! Thank You!

  2. I'm really proud with your comments. Thank you very much Patricia!

  3. Your blog posts are so interesting !!! Please be my Guest Blogger at
    and join me at my Facebook Group: ESL/EFL Preschool Teachers.
    Rosa Amelia

    1. Sure I'll do it!! Let me have a deep look to your blog and soon I join you in F'book! Thanks a lot!

  4. Excellent job Enric! Congratulations!

    1. Thank you Ana for your kind comments and for reading my blog!!