Teaching Speaking (11)
Teachers of TESOL have been reporting on the strategies they use to develop the speaking skill of their students. The strategies adopted by experienced teachers are many and it may not be possible to list all these. However, in order to stimulate your curiosity and help you innovate your own strategies matching the needs of your students, we give below some sample strategies published by TESOL teachers.
Harsch (1994) suggests that we can use dictation to help students negotiate the meaning of utterances they hear. Such negotiations are carried through speaking and thus directly help improve the speaking abilities of students. Six steps are suggested: interrupt to stop the speaker with expressions such as Excuse me, or Pardon me, or Sorry, etc. Then the students question the speaker as to whether they heard him correctly by repeating the words or sentences they are unsure about. They will do it by raising their intonation at the end. Thirdly, the students will ask the speaker to repeat with questions such as You went where? Or She’s what?
Students will follow it up by giving feedback to show that they understand what is being spoken to them. The next strategy is to control the pace of conversation by asking the speaker to speak more slowly. Finally, the students would ask the speaker to repeat by saying, Could you please repeat that? Note that these strategies introduce the student to procedures in carrying out a conversation.
Asking students to introduce another student, friend, or visitor to the class, and speaking on a given topic in front of the class, are highly recommended by many teachers of TESOL. This helps students to compose their thoughts in English in a coherent and attractive manner, and to overcome any fear in speaking English in public.
Huntoon (1994) has used a language game in which each student uses a minimum of five past tense verbs to describe the activities. The sixth is passed to the next student as an incomplete sentence, and that student must incorporate it into a description of his own activities. No verb should be repeated. This game uses a lot of verb forms and helps students to master the structural and semantic conditions in which these verbs should be used, even as it demands a variety of topics to be presented by the students.
We have already discussed the usefulness of Total Physical Response activities for listening. This can be used also for developing speaking skill. Braverman (1994) seats her students in a circle, performs an action, and asks the students to say what she is doing. The students are expected give responses such as, You are walking, You are eating, etc. Then she calls upon students one by one to perform different kinds of action and to ask the question, What am I doing? The students are required to answer these questions.
Ted Plaister, a seasoned TESOL teacher trainer, uses a box of raisins to promote speech. In other words, anything in the environment can be used for getting students to speak in the class. Plaister (1994) suggests passing out boxes of raisins with a caution not open the boxes. Individual students are asked questions such as, How many colors can you find on the box? Students are asked to name them. Then they are asked to describe the girl on the front of the box. Questions such as, What is she holding in her hands? What does oz. mean? What is the girl wearing on her head? Then the students are asked to open the box and count the raisins in English. They are asked to make a report on the number of raisins they have. This is followed by questions such as What were raisins before they became raisins? What is the process called? What countries are the major producers? How are raisins used besides being eaten as they are? How would they describe a raisin to someone who hasn’t seen one before?
Asking students to Present Oral Reports for some minutes in front of the class on a given topic will help the students to edit their speech beforehand to make it suitable for their audience.
Life history and testimony of the student is a good topic for the purpose. He will focus upon his birth, family, childhood, school, work specialization, marriage, travel, present activities, and plans, etc. Note that practicing this as part of speaking skill will help develop the writing skill later on. In writing, this will take the form of guided composition. Subsequent assignments can include oral reports on other subjects, and may lead to debates between class members (Bowen et al. 1985).
Oral reports, telling anecdotes, or jokes are some of the activities you should incorporate in every class. The ability to talk about an incident, tell an anecdote, joke, etc., is a valuable social skill. Presentation should always be followed by a question-answer session in which the class will raise questions and the presenter will answer. Some assistance from the teacher may be required at this stage.
Learning rhymes, poems, songs, proverbs, sayings, etc., brings the student a little closer to the culture. Additionally, the rhythms learned along with the poems and even the songs are usually valid examples of the suprasegmental elements in the language. Note that this does not demand that students should be taught composing nursery rhymes. You should expose them to popular literature, ask them to imitate and repeat after you, and use these as interludes for fun and learning. A lot of learning does take place when students get involved in enacting the content of the rhymes. Intonations are easily acquired in a chorus drill.
To conclude, combine speaking practice with other skills. Let the students get source material for an oral report through a reading or a listening assignment. What is taught for the development of one language skill could be used for the development of other language skills. Repetition of the familiar material in another mode will help students in quickly mastering the related skill.