The aim of this paper is to present the importance of productive skills, either writing or speaking in teaching English to secondary school students. As far as I am concerned, I think that one of the most important skills to develop is speaking, as it demonstrates students’ ability to use language fluency and accuracy.
According to Jim Scrivener, when a teacher is about to encourage communication and make students speak, he/she must use “open questions” starting with wh-questions, like the ones below:
What is your opinion about sports?
When is your birthday?
Which is your favourite actor?
The above-mentioned “open questions” are designed to be addressed to secondary school students in order to make them spur into conversation, as this will provoke students reflect and find correct possible answers. But, if a teacher addresses students’ questions as, “Is this your pen?”, the latter will be likely to answer with “yes” or “no”, and this is not what a teacher expects from his/her students as it is a “closed question” and does not encourage communication.
Another aspect which a teacher must take into account is avoiding getting locked into a ‘talk- talk loop’, as Scrivener considers, that is, when a teacher says something and because there is no response from students, the former continues to add something else and thus making students less interactive, which is not a teaching class purpose.
Some of the best known techniques that help students spur into conversations are the following: Brainstorming, Gestures, The Mime, Eliciting, Seating, the Role-play, the real-play, Scaffolding etc.
Brainstorming is the means that a teacher usually applies at the beginning of a lesson , for instance as a first stage in order to prepare students for the basic topic of the whole activity. So, if I want as a teacher, to introduce a lesson on Sports, from the very start I can come up with general questions like asking students about their hobbies, expecting in this way for someone to answer in my interest that doing sports is one of his/her hobbies, and continue to develop among students interesting debates on sports and thus developing their interest to use language. Moreover, raising students’ interest is one of the most important aspects that a teacher must take into account when planning a lesson.
Gesture is another technique that a teacher can use in the class as it makes students feel more confortable when they are in difficulty.The moment they understand a teacher’s gesture, like raising his/her hand indicating to stand up, for instance, is the moment when attention appears. As long as attention is activated the succes of learning is raised and gestures can do this.
The Mime is, according to Collins dictionary, the use of movements and gestures in order to express something as telling a story without using speech.
Eliciting, according to Jim Scrivener, means drawing out information, language, ideas, etc. from the students. This occurs when a teacher helps students through gestures and various images in order to make them produce language.
For instance, when I want my students speak, I often try to say as little as possible and make them produce more language even if they are not successful and thus, allowing them to express themselves the way they can and making error correction only at the end of the conversation.One example can be as follows:
E.g: when working with the present simple and adverbs of frequency, a teacher can draw on the blackboard “a school” and write next to it the words every day, showing through mime that he/she goes somewhere, that is to school, by just pointing to the drawing. In this way, a teacher helps students produce coherent sentences and offer them the chance to speak and build better fluency.
Seating -is another technique a teacher has at his/her disposal. It is a class tool and helps a lot the teaching and the lesson in being more productive and motivating . Scrivener presents some examples of seating in a class and these are:
a) working in pairs-(adequate in dialogues)
b) working in groups-(good for students when they work for a project as this gets students together, training them to work in a team);
c) working face to face-( this seating provokes students to speak and build up words or it can also have its low point by getting students blocked the moment they are about to speak);
d) working in opposing teams-(it is adequate for a competition);
e) working in a circle-(It is good for primary school students, as they enjoy moving and watching themselves while dancing on a music sound).
The Role-play technique consists in giving students ’’roles” (e.g. a job, like a pop star) as Jim Scrivener considers in his book, Learning Teaching, and these are often printed on ’’role cards”. In order for this technique be successful, students are given a specific time to prepare themselves and then meet up with other colleagues to act out small scenes on personal ideas.To sum up, this technique is getting students use language related to the given role.
The Real-play technique is a variation of role -play.This time, learners are given situations to play not from cards but from real-life contexts.This technique is basically applied to secondary school students, more precisely to intermediate level as it offers them the possibility to use a range of vocabulary they need in their real life.
To sum up, the techniques I mentioned above can be successfully used by a teacher as all of them are basically training students’ language fluency.
Scaffolding. In Harmer’s book, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Lev Vygotsky believes that all learning, including language learning, is mediated by social interaction and that learning is ’’assisted performance’’, that is, when someone with more information, a parent or a teacher helps the learner to develop.This help is called Scaffolding.
To further discuss the matter, I shall exemplify a presentation and a practice activity; getting sixth grade students learn about Past events. The aim of the activity is to get students improve their speaking skills even if there is the major possibility to use the other skills too. What is really important is to develop one of the skills mentioned above more. In the case below, the focus will be more on speaking. Teacher, in order to present an activity on how students can better fix the past forms of regular or irregular verbs, he/she will bring up some resources that can help students understand what the lesson topic of the day will be about. These resources can include pictures/ posters/ flashcards/ worksheets, etc. Teacher will use pair work-seating/ group-work seating, dialogues’ techniques, etc.
As a warm- up activity, Teacher can come up with a game entitled “Find the lie!” in which students have say two real past events about themselves and a false one. Teacher can also write down the sentence below:
e.g: What did you do yesterday?
Students try to answer as well as possible but they also have fun and get engaged in the activity. Furthermore, by the end of this activity they will improve their language skills. In the practice activity, there is also a follow-up activity, a consolidation lesson on past form of verb “to be” where the focus is on writing and speaking. Students will present the homework they had. They will work in a pair dialogue, and by the end of the activity they will have improved the usage of past form of verb “to be”.
In what the writing skills are concerned, they are of great importance when developing one’s language fluency too. In addition to this, I can give myself an example of how I enjoyed writing and expressing my feelings and opinions when I was a pupil or even during my years spent in the faculty.
The reason to all these previously mentioned words is very simple. Since I was a child, I was very shy and found myself in big difficulty when I had to be marked on an oral evaluation. I can say that even if I prepared myself very well, the emotions were always there and felt better doing written tasks or being marked on written tests. Since I was very little, I enjoyed writing and music made me produce the first words in English and later writing them in my teenager journal. To tell you a secret, I am still having it and I am very emotional when I think of it. Furthermore, I should like to add that writing is a very important aspect in someone’s life. Nowadays, people use less the handwriting form, as there are so many electronical means (emails, smartphones, iPhone, Facebook, etc.) but this, does not mean that the accuracy of handwriting or electronical one is not important anymore. In fact, it is even more important.
According to Jeremy Harmer, teachers need to build the “writing for learning” but also the “writing for writing” if we want our students build the writing ability. For instance, the former involves students to write for knowing the language and the latter involves students to write for pleasure and ultimately develop the writing habit.
To further discuss the matter, for a “writing for writing” activity that is, focusing on the language forms or writing for pleasure, a teacher can give his/her students an advertisement to write, and thus, developing their vocabulary knowledge. This activity can be applied to a secondary school class, more precisely to sixth grade students. Students can work in groups of five and thus, involving not only the writing but also the speaking skills.
By the end of this activity, students will get enthusiasm in writing for pleasure and exploring as many words as possible. Moreover, this will help them develop their writing skills and ultimately their vocabulary knowledge.
In the end, I would also like to say that for the majority of people, even for the ones with sensory disabilities, writing is probably the most important channel of communication. It is the source that made us grow, it is the proof of what we represent in terms of education, self-esteem, ambitions and thus, as writing is for poets an inheritance of expressing feelings, emotions and ideas one can conclude that writing will always mark the traces of our destiny regardless the job one is to serve during his/her life.
Scrivener, Jim. Learning Teaching.MacMillan. 2005
Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching.Longman, 2001.