There are three main reasons for getting students to speak in the classroom. Firstly, speaking activities provide rehearsal opportunities - chances to practise real-life speaking in the safety of the classroom. Secondly, speaking tasks in which students try to use any or all of the language they know provide feedback for both teacher and students. Everyone can see how well they are doing: both how successful they are, and also what language problems they are experiencing. (This is a good reason for boomerang lessons, see page 55.) And finally, the more students have opportunities to activate the various elements of language they have stored in their brains, the more automatic their use of these elements become. As a result, students gradually become autonomous language users. This means that they will be able to use words and phrases fluently without very much conscious thought.
Good speaking activities can and should be extremely engaging for the students. If they are all participating fully - and if the teacher has set up the activity properly and can then give sympathetic and useful feedback - they will get tremendous satisfaction from it.
We need to be clear that the kinds of speaking activities we are looking at here are not the same as controlled language practice, where, for example, students say a lot of sentences using a particular piece of grammar or a particular function. That kind of speaking is part of study and is covered in Chapter 6. The kind of speaking we are talking about here almost always involves the activate element in our ESA trilogy (see Chapter 4). In other words, the students are using any and all of the language at their command to achieve some kind of purpose which is not purely linguistic. They are practising what Scott Thornbury, in his book How to Teach Speaking, calls speaking-as-skill, where there is a task to complete and speaking is the way to complete it. In the same way that 'writing-for-writing' is designed to help the student get better at the skill of writing (see page 112), so the activities in this chapter are designed to foster better speaking, rather than having students speak only to focus on (and practise) specific language constructions. As with any sequence, however, we may use what happens in a speaking activity as a focus for future study, especially where the speaking activity throws up some language problems that subsequently need fixing.
Scott Thornbury suggests that the teaching of speaking depends on there being a classroom culture of speaking, and that classrooms need to become ‘talking classrooms’. In other words, students will be much more confident speakers (and their speaking abilities will improve) if this kind of speaking activation is a regular feature of lessons.
21.You have been using communicative methods in your lessons and your students are comfortable speaking but they fail the state test in reading and writing. Your director is very angry with you and wants to fire you. How can you save your job?
Firstly, writing gives them more 'thinking time' than they get when they attempt spontaneous conversation. In order to help students write successfully and enthusiastically in different styles, we need to consider three separate issues:
1)Genre - One of our decisions about what to get students to write will depend on what genres we think they need to write in (or which will be useful to them). Once we have done this, we can show them examples of texts within a genre (for example, a variety of different kinds of written invitations) so that they get a feel for the conventions of that genre. Such genre analysis will help students see how typical texts within a genre are constructed, and this knowledge will help them construct appropriate texts of their own. At lower levels, we may give them clear models to follow, and they will write something that looks very much like the original. Such guided writing will help students produce appropriate texts even with fairly limited English. However, as their language level improves, we need to make sure that their writing begins to express their own creativity within a genre, rather than merely imitating it.
2)The writing process – When students are writing-for-writing, we will want to involve them in the process of writing. In the 'real world', this typically involves planning what we are going to write, drafting it, reviewing and editing what we have written and then producing a final (and satisfactory) version. Thus we may plan, draft, re-plan, draft, edit, re-edit, re-plan, etc before we produce our final version. We will need to encourage students to plan, draft and edit in this way, even though this may be time-consuming and may meet, initially, with some resistance on their part. By doing so, we will help them to be better writers both in exams, for example, and in their post-class English lives.