Teaching Speaking

Teachers should encourage students and pupils to speak as much as possible. One may ask a simple question: „Why is it beneficial for students to speak as often as they can in the classroom?” The answer to this question is not as simple as the question itself. First of all, learners have got the opportunity to involve themselves in real life situations which are created in the safe atmosphere of the classroom.

In order to take part in these situations of communication, students have to use and rehearse the language they know when speaking. For example, a learner can play the role of a traveler who finds himself or herself at an airport. That traveler needs to communicate and utter the words related to this real-life situation if he or she wants to get on the plane. In this case, the situation should be initiated by the teacher who makes use of the role-play as a useful communicative technique. In other words, real-life communication makes students use the language they know.

There is another reason for which learners should be encouraged to speak in the classroom. Teachers and students themselves become aware of the language problems they face. They can see if they are successful and if they are able to communicate efficiently in certain situations of communication. This implies that speakers send messages which later help them to assess themselves. Teachers are also helped to assess their students. In simple words, this is called feedback or the boomerang effect.

When speaking, children and adults activate and repeat the language they possess. At the same time, they have the opportunity to enrich the grammar and vocabulary they know. Their activating and repeating the language lead to the creation of automatisms. As a result, they succeed in speaking fluently without too much conscious effort and help from teachers or other people. Speakers manage to become autonomous.

Speaking activities need to be inviting for the students. There must always be a task to achieve and speaking has to be the way to achieve that task. Teachers should provide effective and sympathetic feedback so that speakers can be satisfied with their speaking performance and learn as much as possible from it. Both children and adults want to be capable of identifying their strong and weak points after the act of speaking has come to an end. It is necessary that speaking activities should be an important part of English lessons so that speakers will become confident in their abilities. The purpose of speaking activities is to improve speaking as a skill, not as a way of commenting upon grammar or upon a certain linguistic function.

Let us pay attention to some activities which develop speaking as a skill. An example of such an activity is the information-gap activity. This means that two speakers possess different pieces of information and they have to complete a picture sharing those bits of information. A well known activity of this type is named „Describe and draw”. The speakers work in pairs. One of the students has a picture which he/she must not show to his/her partner. The partner (the one who draws) ask questions and the speaker with the picture answers and gives instructions. The task of the partner is to draw the picture following the instructions. It is advisable for teachers to demonstrate in front of the classroom how such an activity works so that students can understand the task they have to complete. The best way the teacher can do this is by choosing a learner as a partner.

Another activity may be called „telling stories”. Pupils often spend time telling stories about themselves or about the others. They should also be capable of telling stories in English. They could start by retelling stories they heard or read in books or newspapers. In this way, learners activate the language they have acquired or learnt. Students may continue by telling stories about themselves or about their family. Other students can ask questions as to find out more details.

„Meeting and greeting” represents another speaking activity. Pupils role-play a business meeting where they introduce themselves to the persons they meet. „Famous people” is also a speaking activity. Students may think about six famous people. They should decide upon the gift they will offer to each person, upon the persons they will invite to lunch or upon the food they are going to give those persons.

Another activity is called „Surveys”. The advantage of this activity is that students interact with one another by designing interviews and questionnaires about their habits, for example. In other words, pupils ask each other questions such as „How many books do you normally read in a year?” or „Do you know what colours you look best in? Do you wear those colours?”

The activity „Balloon debate” is also worth considering. Students imagine that they are in a balloon losing air. They play the role of famous persons such as Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Nelson Mandella or George Bush. These characters need to argue why they should survive and not jump out. The idea is that only one character is allowed to stay into the balloon.

It is also worth mentioning that discussion and debate are essential for developing speaking as a skill. The purpose of discussion is to activate fluent language, but students should be given time to gather their thoughts and explore the topic they want to discuss. For example, learners can be divided into two groups; one group could argue against the topic, the other in favour. An example of such a topic may be: „Technology is beneficial to the world”.

There are sometimes cases when the teacher must intervene and even stop the discussion if it becomes sterile and swerves from its theme. In general, the presence of teachers in the speaking activities should be discreet. They needn’t interfere too much even if they initiate, guide and impose the speaking activity.

1. Brown, H.D., Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, New York, Pearson, 2000.
2. Scrivener, J., Learning teaching: A guidebook for English teachers, Macmillan, 2009.
3. Rodgers, T., Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, Cambridge University, 2001.


prof. Bogdan-Mihai Măimăscu

Liceul Tehnologic Grigore Antipa, Bacău (Bacău) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/bogdan.maimascu

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