ESL students need to speak English well. Students may understand how to write and employ good grammar and vocabulary. They may get good scores on tests. Yet if they can’t express ideas or instructions smoothly in a conversation, few would call them proficient. Language is for communication, and that primarily means speaking.
As teachers, we must continually assess the strengths and weaknesses of our classes. We take this information and develop effective lessons, always working towards improved speaking skills. We consider how to balance fluency with accuracy, or how smoothly and quickly students speak with how accurately they use grammar and vocabulary. Here are four steps which serve as a guide for how to teach English speaking. These steps work towards free use of the language in the classroom.
Before the four steps are explained, let’s define conversational ability. Conversation involves the following: using the language, listening to the language, processing the information, and then responding to information. The reason for the conversation affects the process. In addition, the people in the conversation and the place in which the conversation takes places also affect the process. For example, communication with business colleagues over lunch will use very different language from communication with friends over lunch.
A good speaker of English uses grammar and vocabulary effectively and accurately. Someone who speaks well should understand when to use various grammar points, the meaning and nuance of words, and even specific phrases or idioms related to English for specific purposes. Lessons which involve speaking activities should always strive to build and reinforce these skills. Over time, decisions in language usage like the above need to become more automatic.
Preparation: You should allow the students to prepare for the tasks ahead with an effective warm-up. The warm up gives all of the students in the class enough time to get their English wheels turning. Adequate time translates into fewer mistakes when you present and practice the target language (the two steps which follow).
Present: Next present the target grammar or any vocabulary selected for the lesson. The warm up can serve as a first step into the lesson. Information from the warm up gets recycled, with vocabulary or target language unknowingly used serving as examples in this step.
Practice: After the presentation, the ESL class needs to practice the new material. It’s unfair to expect them to make use of the material without adequate practice. Drills work to achieve automaticity, even with upper-ability classes. Restrictive drills, or controlled practice, with new grammar points or vocabulary provide the foundation and provide examples. Activities should then move into freer and freer use of the language. This will allow each student to integrate the lesson material with pre-existing language.
Free Use: You should always work towards real use of the language. The first part of the lesson focuses on accurate language production. It’s done to let students build their fluency skills – in other words, to speak smoothly, quickly, and expand on their ideas. Activities towards the end of the lesson let students select vocabulary and grammar structures, both studied that day and in past lessons, and use them in real, meaningful conversation. These activities also let upper-level learners apply speaking strategies, use gestures and body language, and change their language for the intended listener.
For students to be considered proficient in English, they need to speak well. Language is part of communication, most often used in oral communication. Teachers should work towards incorporating these four steps: preparation, presentation, practice, and free use of the language.
These steps allow you to teach English speaking that gets students to talk more. They then achieve more in each language lesson, and over time make greater strides towards proficiency with the language.
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