The Fantastic Speaking Fluency and Where to Find It: Part 2

This post expands on the article I wrote for ELTA newsletter.  The post consist of two parts (Part 1 here). Part 1 focuses on the definition and components of fluency, while Part 2 suggest practical ways of developing fluency and addressing specific issues hindering fluency. 

In Part 1, I talked about what speaking fluency is and what might stop students from developing it. Now, armed with that knowledge, let’s see what we can do to overcome those difficulties.

Fluency Development Strategy #1:  Repetition and time pressure

How many times have we heard  repetition is the mother of all learning? Turns out, it really is!  Paul Nation, my go-to source for everything ESL, suggest “repeated practice on the same material so that it can be performed fluently” as an effective approach to developing fluency (in Nation & Newton, 2009:157). To ensure that learners do not become bored with repeating the same message, they suggest changing the audience for each subsequent retelling, and introducing a time limit.

4/3/2

A technique that incorporates both suggestions is 4/3/2 where learners repeat the same text with the time limit decreasing from 4 to 3 and then 2 minutes, speaking to a different partner every time. Research (Nation, 1989) shows that 4/3/2 helps learners increase the rate of speech and reduce pauses and hesitations. In addition, repeat performances help learners build confidence in speaking.

I like to combine this technique with a task-based approach for a complete speaking lesson which can be done with minimum (or none!) materials  and be tailored to any level/grammar or vocabulary area/subject matter.

In this example, pre-intermediate level learners are revising the use of past tense and the language related to people’s lives and life events by delivering a short talk about their personal hero.

The lesson handout is here: Personal Hero Lesson Handout and while it can’t be readily used by anyone else (because it talks about my personal hero who happens to be my grandmother), it serves as an example of how easy it is to create a lesson out of thin air, and may be used as a template of sorts.

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The Fantastic Speaking Fluency and Where to Find It: Part 1

This post expands on the article I wrote for ELTA newsletter.  The post consist of two parts. Part 1 focuses on the definition and components of fluency, while Part 2 suggest practical ways of developing fluency and addressing specific issues hindering fluency. 

Why fluency?

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Whether you are teaching English as a second or foreign language, in a private language institution or a state university, a large number of students will say that the reason they want to learn English is ‘to be able to speak English fluently’.  Moreover, upon reaching a certain level of English proficiency, learners are expected to demonstrate increased fluency – a look at textbooks of B1 level and above will show you that they include increasingly complex speaking tasks which require students to produce longer stretches of language. However, in my experience, learners are not given enough resources and strategies that allow them to consciously work on developing their speaking fluency. So how DO we help our students get there? Let’s start by figuring out what fluency actually is.

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Using Kahoot! in a language classroom

How I found out about Kahoot! 

“I did not sign up for this! I am an English teacher, not a wildlife wrangler! And I am never playing competitive games in my classroom again!”, I was thinking to myself as I watched my 20-student class erupt into shouts, scattering answer cards around the classroom and stabbing the air with uncapped (oh horror!)  markers for emphasis.

 

It all started well enough. In order to review some of the material we covered in the last few weeks, I devised a PowerPoint-based quiz. Students were working in groups and had to answer a variety of questions, i.e. finding a spelling mistake in a sentence, choosing a word that matches the definition on the screen etc. The teams had to write their answers on large answer cards and lift them in the air. The first team who displayed a correct answer (including correct spelling) gets a point. And here lies the problem. Hard as I tried, I was never sure if I made the right call as to who was the first. The students didn’t help the matters, claiming that it was definitely their team who answered first, even as their teammates were still writing an answer down.

It was during one of these ‘WE WERE FIRST TEACHER’ shouting matches when a student asked me why I wasn’t using Kahoot! He had me at ‘you answer with your mobile phone and the game sees who was first’. I questioned the student about which of my colleagues used this amazing game and set to researching.

What is Kahoot! and how does it work?

As I found out, Kahoot! is a free online platform for creating and running learning games. It can be used to create multiple-choice questions with embedded pictures and videos. . Teachers can either create their own Kahoots or search for publicly available games. There are tons of Kahoots out there based on specific textbooks such as New English File or specific grammar points. You can also check out trending Kahoots as well as most popular ones, although bear in mind that not all of them will be related to language learning – Kahoot! is popular in all learning environments and subjects including regular school subjects like chemistry or math.

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Using Whatsapp for Speaking and Listening Practice

This post expands on a presentation titled Extending the Classroom: Using Whatsapp for Listening and Speaking Practice which I made at the TESOL Greece 37th Annual Convention 2016 in Athens, Greece.

As I wrote in my conference presentation abstract, one of the biggest challenges EFL teachers face is providing students with opportunities and reasons to engage in meaningful interactions. Constraints imposed by curricula (e.g. not enough class hours for speaking) or classroom sizes often mean that the ways students interact in the classroom are limited and insufficient for achieving desired language proficiency. Introduction of mobile technologies into the classroom provides an additional platform for interaction and communication, as, according to Kukulska-Hulme et al (2015), “Mobile technologies expand and extend the territory where language may be rehearsed and practised.”

Mobile phones are everywhere, including the classroom, and they are here to stay.The multitude of articles and blog posts providing ideas on using mobile phones, WhatsApp or talking about mobile learning attest to that.

Finding practical and meaningful ways to utilize mobile technology in the classroom has become an important part of my teaching practice and I am very happy to have developed activities that use mobile phones to practice English in a very organic way.  I also found that having students do things with instant messaging apps like Whatsapp outside the classroom fosters learner autonomy and peer learning.

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My students doing a listening activity via WhatsApp

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