Getting ESL learners involved in class helps facilitate language learning. And sometimes people just need something to talk about. So, if you’re looking for a way to get your class members talking, a speaking activity is what you need. Creative speaking activities can provide the right stimulus to engage your learners and facilitate acquisition. They also provide a means to assess language skills and identify weak areas. Not only that, they can help you teach targeted language goals.
The more learners speak, the more feedback you can give. The more feedback you can give, the more you can pinpoint specific areas for improvement. In other words, the more you know about their weaknesses as a class (and as individuals), the more targeted your lessons can be. And as a bonus, speaking activities can help them realize where they need improvement.
Sometimes, learners are under a false impression of their skills and focus where they don’t need it. For example, a learner may be under the impression he/she needs to focus on present and past tense. But after evaluating their skills you determine that he/she has no problem with them. You can use speaking activities to dispel falsely identified weaknesses and help them focus on areas where they really need help.
We’ve shared several speaking activities already, but there’s more. We call today’s speaking activity, “Which Place?” Read further to know how it works.
Imagine your class is a city committee designated to receive a group of international delegates scouting locations for their conference on sustainable living (or any reason you can imagine). Of course, you want to show them a good time. So, you must decide as a group (class) which places would be best for them to visit to promote your city to them.
The following steps will help you get started:
1. Brainstorm Attractions
With your class, brainstorm tourist attractions that highlight the current city. If it’s a mixed class, decide on a city. But usually, the city you’re in would be the most practical. Probably since your class members may have already visited some places in their free time.
After brainstorming tourist attractions, quickly jot down on a whiteboard the pros and cons of each place. This should be based on inputs from class members. A pro might be that it’s a famous sight. A con might be, it’s too common and might bore the delegates.
2. Brainstorm Sites
Brainstorm with your class sites that might convince the delegation to hold their conference in your city. As mentioned previously, the purpose of the delegation’s visit can be any reason you imagine. But for now, let’s stay focused on sustainable living as the reason for the visit.
After brainstorming sites, as in item 1 above, quickly jot down on a whiteboard the pros and cons of each place for all to see. This is based on inputs from class members. For example, using sustainable living as the concept, a pro might be that a site displays features needed for sustainable living. A con might be that it isn’t a good example of possibilities, and another location might be better.
3. Hash it out!
Now that you’ve built a working vocabulary of locations and pros and cons, it’s time to get to work. Decide on the number of places to visit for a three-day tour by the delegation.
Now there is little reason not to participate: learners have locations, pros and cons, and length of stay. Now, turn them loose and let them work out which places would be best. The object is to facilitate maximum participation. If need be, break the class into smaller groups so everyone can be assured an opportunity to share their opinions.
Get quieter learners involved by asking direct questions if need be. Or, you can do what I like to do which is “pass the question” to each other. What that means is, instead of the teacher deciding who to ask, the learners get to. So, one student might give their opinion then ask another student, “what do you think ___[name]?” This not only gets quiet learners speaking, but also helps the more active ones develop their conversations skills.
Be sure to take note of the locations agreed on and write them on the board for all to see. Also, be sure to take notes of grammar, lexical, or phonetic issues for review after the activity.
You can always vary the purpose of the delegation visiting your city. That of course can be based on the type of environment you’re in. For example, a delegation for sustainable living may not work in say, an academy or school in Tokyo. Therefore, you could go with something like a delegation for a conference on infrastructure or one for pollution prevention. Again, it really depends on your vision for the class.
Another variable is deciding between a full class speaking activity or putting members in groups. Some people might feel more comfortable in smaller groups, others may work well with the class. Because the dynamics and chemistry vary from class to class, you must make the final decision on that.
The activity ends when everyone agrees on the places to visit. You might have some holdouts or disagreements, but this, as in other speaking activities, promotes cooperation between class members. By working together toward a common goal, students learn to collaborate; at times, sacrificing their wishes when valid arguments are made.
“Which Place” also helps learners prepare arguments. You can incorporate the use of courteous terms for agreeing and disagreeing into the lesson. Get creative, and you can turn this into a learning opportunity in addition to a speaking exercise.
By getting all members to speak, you can take note of areas that can be addressed in future classes. So, speaking activities have their purpose. Of course, it wouldn’t be practical to use them at every turn, but certainly something that can be done once or twice a week for the purposes already mentioned.
Tell us what you think. And if you’ve tried it, share your experience with us here.