Thursday, May 04, 2006

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.


Teaching Speaking (10)


While the role play gives practice in using English in situations similar to those outside the classroom, the situations are still controlled in some sense, because of the presence of the teacher and other prompts. On the other hand, use of English in the real world may offer features that are not captured in the classroom pretend situations.
Also, use of English in the real world will demand a competence that solely, if not wholly, revolves around the student’s attainment of English. Several community interaction activities are advised in order to develop the speaking skill in real world situations. Assignments should be given to students which will require oral communication between the student and the community. These assignments must be task-oriented.
For example, these assignments may involve buying a train or bus ticket, getting information about schedules of trains or buses, transactions with the “dry cleaners, shoe repairs, self-service laundries, auto repair shops, employment agencies, fast food establishments, the public library, fire stations, car wash facilities, state highway patrol, ambulance service, self-storage facilities, airport transportation, etc.”
However, I would urge that you choose your contexts in such a manner that what you have chosen would be familiar to your students and would be appropriate to their level of competence in English. Note that it is not necessary for all the material culture facilities of the West to find a place in the English language lessons for the non-native speakers. If you can find suitable contexts within their own country in which the use of English would lead to an appropriate diction and structure in English, please prefer these contexts first.
Since English plays a very crucial and important role in India in all walks of life, the Indian teachers of TESOL should identify situations that are relevant to life in India relating to a variety of professions where English is ordinarily used. And use these situations to develop communicative competence in their students.
Gathering information from the community is another important way of using English in the real world. This requires going to the community institutions and getting information about the services they offer. These institutions are many, such as the post office, a bank, a movie theater, the bus company, a car rental office, the International Student House, and so on. Include in it dialogues in a doctor’s office with the nurses and doctor, dialogues in a department store, with a waiter and so on. In all these instances, the student should acquire adequate vocabulary, relevant structure, and socially appropriate usage (Bowen, et al. 1985).
Interviewing native speakers in the classroom is an important exercise that will encourage speech. This will also be an occasion to explain certain cultural constraint one is expected to observe. For example, questions relating to the age, weight, or salary of the interviewee, are not considered appropriate in native English-speaking context.
Another important step in developing speaking skill is to ask and enable students to pass on the information they have collected to other students in the class. This will help students focus on the essentials and compose their thoughts and sentences accordingly.
In the real world, making excuses and getting oneself excused from an activity is a very important skill in the domain of conversation. It requires tact, understanding of the parties involved, succinct and convincing explanations, not too much prodding and such other characteristics that would be considered imposition or intrusion, and other socially appropriate usage. There may be differences in this area between practices followed in English-speaking societies and the society of the second language learner. You should learn how excuses are made in an appropriate manner in the language of your students and ask your students to imagine such situations in native English- speaking contexts and teach appropriate usage.
Developing abilities to understand the intentions of someone, and to communicate your own intentions in a more sophisticated indirect manner, are very much demanded in native English. Recognizing the intentions of the speaker often requires a good linguistic and sociolinguistic sensibility.
It will be hard for you to imagine and prepare passages of this type. My suggestion is that you watch for these passages in the day to day conversations you may have with your friends, in cartoons, and in books which focus on jokes. Consider this dialogue reported in Bowen, et al. (1985). Teen-age son: The manager at the used car lot assured me that the Plymouth had only one previous owner, an elderly lady who drove it very little and treated it like a jewel. Father: That’s a man you can really trust.
Expressing Politeness/Annoyance requires a skill in the manipulation of intonation (tone of voice), as well as in the use of words and expressions. A number of situations may be presented to the class for practice. Students will be given a description of the situation and asked to generate appropriate sentences to the roles they are assigned. While suggesting situations for practice, look for the most appropriate contexts for your class. The class should not be expected to know a lot more about the social life of the native English speakers to understand these passages. If a lot of explanation is to be given, the fun in learning these would be lost. Choose those contexts which are easy to recreate and easy to explain. Choose those contexts which would not demand complicated structures. Also choose those contexts which would use only those structures which are familiar, and which have been practiced already in the class.
Sometimes it may be necessary to analyze and describe situations to enable the students to understand whether an utterance is a formal one or not, whether it is an informal utterance, rude, neutral, etc. This discussion may be incorporated as part of the introduction the teacher gives to the class before speaking practice of selected utterances begins. Problems in interpersonal relations are easily revealed in linguistic exchanges. Linguistic exchanges reveal the attitude of the participants in the conversation process.
Language Games such as “rumor” help students to compose their own sentences and speak. The class is lined up and the teacher whispers a message (length and difficulty level appropriate to the class) to the student on the end of the line, who listens and repeats, again in a whisper, to the next student, continuing down the line. What emerges is seldom recognized (Bowen et al. 1985). What other games would you like to introduce for the development of the speaking skill?
Translation is another helpful device to encourage students to speak in English. The students may be given some sentences in their own native language and asked to translate them and use these to answer or ask questions. There are several other ways of using translation as a tool to develop speaking skill.
Survival English is basic English which one needs to use to get around places and meet some basic necessities of life in a native English environment. For example, one needs to know how to flag down a taxi and to tell the taxi driver where to take him. One needs to know how to get to the Underground station and to reach places in London. This kind of English focuses on the needs and problems of the student in his immediate environment.
The student should have the ability to produce expressions in a manner comprehensible to native speakers of English. “If he depends on trains, he’ll need expressions about departures, stations, destinations, tickets, etc. Regardless of where he is, he should learn to count and should master directional terms necessary to communicate with a taxicab driver, such as ‘right, left, straight ahead, stop here, how much,’ etc. He should learn to use gestures, pointing, finger counting, etc. that will support his attempts at oral communication, and he should have the means of enlarging his vocabulary when bilinguals are available, by asking questions to clarify meanings and pronunciation” (Bowen et al. 1985:110-111).
Survival English should not be taught separately as an end in itself in a TESOL class. It is to be considered only as a stage or a part of the learning process. If survival English is focused upon as an end in itself, students may have no motivation to develop proficiency in English. They may lose their motivation to seek further improvement in using English. They may develop a “pidgin” English of their own.


Teaching Speaking (9)


Role play is perhaps the liveliest form to get the class involved in speaking. Role play brings situations from real life into the classroom. Students imagine and assume roles. They create a pretend situation, and they pretend to be some different persons.
Once they assume a role the students are forced to improvise and to produce words and sentences appropriate to the situation as well as to the roles they have assumed. Teachers should select the roles beforehand so that the roles to be assumed are familiar and are within the linguistic competence attained until then by the students.
Roles such as friends, brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, shopkeepers, police officers, characters from the textbook and popular television programs have been suggested by Doff (1988) and others. Everyday life situations such as shopping, holidays, camps, local journeys, fables and folktales, etc., have been found very useful. Interviews are yet another excellent situation for role play.
As Doff (1988) points out, role play increases motivation. Always talking about real life can become very dull, and the chance to imagine different situations adds interest to a lesson. In addition, role play gives a chance to use language in new contexts and for new topics.
Students may have difficulty composing their thoughts in English or expressing them coherently, using appropriate grammatical structures and words. Teachers should give prompts wherever necessary, which would encourage students to guess and produce utterances appropriately. Role plays help reduce the common reluctance found among the second language learners in using English because of fear of committing errors in English. Teachers can improve structure practice by encouraging students to give a variety of responses, rather than the usual set responses a situation and a role may demand. The focus of practice should be on producing a text of related sentences suitable for the role and the situation, rather than on the production and practice of single sentences.
Role-play involves several students at once and holds the attention of the class, even as it enables students to be original and produce utterances often on their own. Begin first with the contexts of familiar stories. Go to local contexts including market situations, and then to contexts that may be peculiar to the native English speakers. I would recommend this activity for all classes. Try to include a role-play for every lesson you teach.





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