For many who teach English abroad, one of the biggest challenges is to teach speaking skills to a large class of 30 or more students. When there are so many students, it is difficult to get them to practice enough in order to continue improving. The other three macro skills – reading, writing and listening – sometimes present difficulties in logistics, organization and mostly marking because of the sheer amount of students’ work; however, when it comes to teaching speaking skills, the number of students makes it more difficult to organize activities and foster participation in the classroom.
Speaking Activities – Large ESL Classes
Teachers must make sure that as many students as possible get a chance to practice their speaking skills in class since they do not usually get this chance after they leave the classroom. The amount of time it often takes to get students organized and ready to start a speaking activity is one of the main difficulties that teachers face with large classes.
Some things to bear in mind are:
- Make sure everything’s organized ahead of time
- All aids and props need to be ready
- Instructions need to be very clear
- Activities need to have possible variations so they can be transformed into pair work or group work so that more students can be speaking at the same time
- Have students coach each other so they can spot pronunciation mistakes and give each other advice on how to improve
- Have a clear plan for how you will assess and / or evaluate the students while they speak
It is very important to have different kinds of activities that are solely or mostly for developing speaking skills. This needs to be clearly planned ahead of time and it is important to have enough weekly or monthly speaking practice sessions since it can be easily overlooked.
Participation – Teaching Speaking Skills to Large ESL Classes
One solution for making sure that students have enough chances to participate and speak in class is to have a ‘participation list’ where you check off the students that have participated already and you make a point of calling on students who have not spoken yet during that class. A great way to do this is to use a random name generator. Many smartphones nowadays have them as Apps, but you could also use one online for free at primaryschoolict.com/random-name-selector/. It’s very user-friendly and reliable
If you do not have a computer in your classroom, using the class list and running your finger up and down the list without looking until a student says ‘stop’, can be effective as well with some classes. Also, having the students’ names in strips of paper in a hat or bowl can ensure you choose students randomly and you give everyone a chance if you don’t return the names to the bowl once they are taken out.
Another solution to make sure that all the students can participate is to have them record themselves. If you have computers available for at least half of your class, you can ask your students to use a program called Audacity: Free Audio and Recorder Audacity, which can be downloaded for free, and have them record short presentations or spoken answers to different questions. If students have their own smartphones they could do this on their phones as well and then email you the file so that you can review and/or even mark it later.
The benefit of having students record themselves is that they can all make the most out of each class. However, this method can represent a big load of marking for the teacher later on.
More tips on assessment and evaluation, ideas for speaking activities and pronunciation practice for large ESL classes to come on future posts.
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