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Chapter 9    Speaking Activities

Talk is an essential part of communicating, thinking, and learning. It allows students to express themselves, to negotiate relationships, to give definition to their thoughts, and to learn about language, themselves, and their world. Talk lays the foundation for reading and writing. Oral language gives students their:

 - understanding of conventional and culturally specific ways to communicate with others, and the desire and ability to use speech for a variety of purposes in a variety of forms (pragmatic cueing system)

 - understanding of the different structures within various forms of oral text (textual cueing system)

 - understanding of the ways that language conveys meaning through such aspects of structure as word order and rules

 - for subject-verb agreement (syntactic cueing system)

 - information about word meanings (semantic cueing system) and pronunciation of words (phonemic cueing system).

Students need many opportunities to talk in a linguistically rich environment. Researchers have found that students' learning is enhanced when they have many opportunities to elaborate on ideas through talk (Pressley, 1992).

Language has purpose - to communicate needs, wants, ideas, information, and feelings. Students need many opportunities to use language for different purposes within meaningful contexts and concrete experiences. Halliday (1975) observed that students must learn to apply as well as learn the language itself.

In the previous chapter, we discussed the importance of reading aloud to young children. A companion activity is to have the children read aloud. * This can help to build reading and pronunciation confidence and it increases vocabulary understanding. However, reading aloud can be a traumatic experience for some children, and it is important that it be handled in a supportive and sensitive way if it is to increase rather than diminish a child’s self confidence. Reading aloud can be introduced in a non-threatening way by:

- getting children to read aloud together.  Dialogues can be great fun to read in teams. Have a boys and a girls team reading the different parts and then swap.  Make it more fun by introducing team competitions for the best reading, loudest reading, silliest voices, reading like a cat, a dog, a cow.  In this way, the less confident children can let their voices blend in with their more confident classmates, and get used to the feeling of speaking in English.  (Encourage the children to SPEAK the words rather than do the sing-song chant common to rote reading.)

- letting children read in pairs.  Allow children to choose a partner they feel comfortable with, and read aloud together from a selection of graded readers. In this way the teacher is free to move around the group,  reading with and giving individual attention to each pair in turn, while partners support each other in their reading attempts, without the inhibiting factor of being listened to.

- providing opportunities for the children to use scripts as role plays.  Let them practice a familiar script in groups, taking a part each. Spice it up with props, dress up clothes, whatever is at hand.  Encouraging them to organize their performance without teacher interference can help to dispel self-consciousness that would otherwise hold them back.  Let them perform for the class, if possible.

- using interactive storytelling.  Children of lesser reading ability can be encouraged in their pre-reading skills by sharing picture books with them, discussing the story,  eliciting as much of the language as possible from the children, and paraphrasing their offerings into the story.

- reading through singing.  Give the children a songsheet so they can follow along.  This has multiple benefits and enhances many skills at once.

- circular reading activities.  Once children are confident to read aloud, they may enjoy sitting in a circle and taking turns to read from a text.  Care must be taken to ensure no student feels threatened by this.

***Do NOT ask shy children or poor readers to read aloud, alone in front of the class.  It is a guaranteed way to discourage them from the pleasures of reading.

We stress the importance of keeping activities limited to short spaces of time. However, that does not preclude you from using a long story broken up into a number of short lessons.  If you are having children read a story aloud, they will look forward to the next episode of the story. If they don't like the one you chose, they will let you know soon enough!
Listen and Repeat
Listen and repeat exercises or activities can be from an audiotape, video, interactive CD or teacher-led.  Interactive ones seem to work best but remember to keep it short. Of course, if students are having fun, you can let it run a little longer depending on what else you have planned for the lesson.
Never-ending Stories:
Even before students can read, they can tell a story. Invented stories help students develop their oral language and give them an understanding of the basic ingredients of all stories (e.g., folk tales, fables, legends, ballads, short stories). The teacher can use a picture, an object, or an oral prompt (e.g., "Once upon a time ...", "It all began when my brother said ...") as a point of departure. Each student in turn can use his or her imagination and oral language to develop the story for a set amount of time or by adding one sentence.

Older students can use story starters (e.g., "One day I was walking toward the edge of town in a snowstorm. I was all alone ...") or story elements (e.g., a character, a place, and a problem) to create a never-ending story. Stories can be taped onto an audio cassette, perhaps to be transcribed and revised.

*Younger students can practice a single sentence structure by just adding one word to make a list.  Eamp;nbsp; Yesterday, I went to the zoo and I saw a tiger.Eamp;nbsp; “Yesterday I went to the zoo and I saw a tiger and an elephant.E....

Chanting and Sing-alongs:
Students delight in chanting and singing nursery rhymes, jump-rope jingles, and rhythmical games such as "Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?" (Moffett & Wagner, 1992). Chants and songs broaden students' experiences with language and give students a sense of rhythm and phrasing. Spice it up and make it relevant by letting children substitute key words.

When developing students' speaking skills and strategies, consider the following guidelines. A sample planning guide and teacher checklist are also provided at the end of this section to support the development of students' speaking abilities.

 *Provide many opportunities for students to speak daily.

Children use meaningful talk to express their needs and their feelings, to question and explore their surroundings, and to create imaginary worlds. Their speaking is improved when teachers allow for all kinds of talk in classroom activities, by engaging students in conversation, by assessing what students are thinking and saying, and by planning many opportunities for students to extend their language and thinking repertoires.

Some examples follow:

 - Plan and give time and opportunity for students to practise speaking and thinking skills. Provide for different opportunities to give students experiences with talk both inside and outside the classroom. Help students identify a focus for each situation. If necessary, demonstrate/model forms of language appropriate for the moment or situation.

 - Encourage students to think aloud. Listen actively and carefully to what they are saying. Take the role of "listener" and assess what students are saying. Respond by encouraging elaboration, clarification, rewording, and questions. Keep silent at strategic moments. Support and encourage students.

 - Conference and chat with students and encourage them to converse with classmates as they work together.

 - Encouraging conversations in the classroom is an important means of furthering students' thinking.

 - Give students many opportunities to speak in order to express their thoughts, feelings, and insights for a variety of purposes and audiences using a variety of forms including: anecdotes, announcements, audiotapes, choral readings, conversations, dialogues, debates, discussions, dramatizations, jokes, interviews, lessons, newscasts, oral directions, oral presentations, oral reports, plays, poetry readings, radio scripts, raps, riddles, reader's theatre, talking circles, skits, speeches, songs, and tributes.

The Role  of games and more structured language activities..

Beginner students will usually feel more confident in their oral communication if they are first given well defined language structures to use and adapt.. ie, a format, and opportunities to become comfortable in using them.  When planning EYL classes, it is important to keep in mind the need to prepare your students well for successful language experiences.

Drama ..for example is an excellent vehicle for spoken language.  Students create little scenarios on their own. Young children play 'house', 'doctor/nurse', 'doctor/patient'.  They can perform these little skits in front of the class.

* However, for your students to gain maximum benefit from an open ended activity like this, you will need to do some careful planning and preparation beforehand.  Use flash-cards to pre-teach the vocabulary.  Pre- teach some simple language structures that fit in with the scenario.  Prepare some sample dialogues for children to practice.  Give them prompt cards to help them recall  and use the language. Provide some structured activities, before turning them loose to extend their language in a free-speaking situation.  The danger of just “throwing them in the deep-endE is that they won’t have the tools or the confidence to carry out the activity in a meaningful way, and if they do perform at all, they will ofen resort to using their own language.  They will enjoy this kind of task, and make much better progress,  if they are well prepared.

Using games and activities to pr-teach and reinforce formats can be particularly valuable,  and enjoyable.

Mill drills. Einformation exchanging or gathering activities.  These work best if the students practice the language structures first and have some prompts to refer to.  An example of a simple mill drill is for the students to walk around the class asking questions to find out the birthdays of their classmates, and compile a list.  This can be extended with a set of questions to answer from the information gathered.

Children can become very competive if there is a prize for the first one finished! A more fun task-based  example is a cluedo type game.  Students are given  secret identities and must ask each other the target questions to find out who is the vampire, the murderer, the tiger etc. (Eg: Hand out “humanEID cards to most of the class, and one tiger, one elephant, one horse, one snake.  Children must ask each other “Have you got stripes?E “Have you got four legs?Eetc to discover the identities of the animals.  First one to identify all four animals is the winner.

Role-play type mill drills can be conducted by handing out new ID information for students to exchange  (“What’s your name?  Where do you live?  How old are you? etc), or other Q and A type exchanges.

A What Ea simple speaking game for breaking the ice.  Sit in a circle. Teacher starts by passing some classroom object on to the person on the left, and saying “This is a tigerE(or some other name, the more ridiculous the better.)  That student must turn to the teacher and ask “A WHAT?Eamp;nbsp; The teacher replies “A TIGER!Eamp;nbsp; The student then passes the object to the person on his left and say “This is a tigerE  That student asks him “A WHAT?E.  The first student turns back to his right to ask “A WHAT?EThe teacher replies “A TIGERE  The first student tells the second student “A TIGEREand so it goes on.

Each time the object gets passed on to a new person, the question must be passed right back to the teacher, and then the answer passed back to the recipient.  Stop when the students understand the task, and start again with a new name. Then introduce a second object going round in the opposite direction.  Chaos and hilarity will ensue when the two object meet on the other side of the circle.

Silly games are great for getting students over the initial silliness they feel when getting their mouths around the sounds of a new language!
Hello EChildren sit in a circle facing out. One child starts by walking round the circle, choosing a child to say hello to, and asking them the target question.  If that child answers correctly, he joins hands and follows the leader round the circle until the leader says stop, greets and asks the next child.  The leader continues to add children on to the back of the line, until he decides to shout “Sit down.Eamp;nbsp; There is a scramble for seats and the child who misses out is the next leader.

Fruit Salad EChildren sit on chairs in a circle.  The teacher (with no chair) starts the game by standing in the middle and telling some students to swap places. Eg: “If you are wearing shorts, change with someone who’s got a watch.EEamp;nbsp; If you have got brown eyes, change with someone who’s got long hairEWhile the players change places, the person in the middle attempts to steal a seat. The student left with no seat must call the next change.  If the caller says “FRUIT SALADE everyone must change places.  (This provides an easy out for less confident speakers.)

Running Dictations EStudents work in pairs to get, exchange and record information that is pinned up on a wall outside the classroom.  One is the recorder, the other is the runner/speaker. The runner goes out to look at the information, then comes back in to tell the recorder, who then writes down the answer.   For pre-literate students, use pictures and get them to  draw or colour according to the information.  Eg: give them a scene and have them complete it from a picture outside. EThere is a black cat under the carEamp;nbsp; “There are two birds in the nest.Eamp;nbsp; Or “Tom’s got black hair and blue eyes. Helen’s got blonde hair and brown eyes.Eetc.

Team Speaking Relays Elearn Q and Response structures first, then use a relay for speaking practice.  Teams line up at the back of the class.  Number ones stand at the front. On “GOE number two’s run to the front, and are asked a question by number ones. Number two’s must reply correctly, then number ones run back to their teams, and number threes run to the front to be asked the question by the number twos.  First team all finished wins. Can be made more interesting with the use of flashcards to vary the responses.  (I have seen some very reluctant speakers become hightly animated playing this!)

Telephone Race  You will need two toy phones and some flashcard prompts.  Seat the children, one behind the other, in their two teams.  Start the game by imitating a telephone ring, answer the phones, and say “Please hold on while I ask them.Eamp;nbsp;  Pass the phones to the first players in each line, and ask the target question.  The players repeat the question and pass the phones down the line.  When the play gets towards the end of the line, hold up a flashcard to prompt the correct response. The last player in the line, instead of repeating the question, formulates the reply, which is then passed with the phone, back up the line to the teacher.  (It is important to put the weaker and quieter students in the middle of the line.)

Once the students have gained a good understanding of a particular language point, the more  open-ended activities can be introduced to re-inforce it, and to give the students experience of using it in more real or student centred situations, such as free role-plays, interviews, reports, discussions, story telling, conversation...

Classroom language:
Encourage your students to use English as much as possible for their general classroom communication.  You can help them by

- teaching general classroom English.
- putting a classroom language poster up on the wall for easy reference.
- making it fun and a challenge.
- preparing them in advance.  When you are planning for a task based activity, don’t only teach the target structures.  Enrich their learning by thinking  about, prepping  and encouraging some simple language that is a natural part of the activity. “I’ts your turnE“How do you spell that?E“Is this right?Elt;/FONT>
- Rewarding  and remarking on all efforts to communicate with the teacher in English.
empowering them by teaching them to say “I don’t know.Eamp;nbsp; “I don’t understand.E“What’s this?Eamp;nbsp; Can you say that again please?Elt;/FONT>

Whatever young learners are doing in school, the activity will usually contain a spoken portion - whether this is chatting amongst themselves, responding to the teacher, discussing a book, spelling, singing or participating in a short play. Speaking is a very important skill.  It allows us to communicate information to classmates, teacher, parents and others. It helps us to gain information about things that are important to us.

A creative teacher will have no problem finding speaking activities in any textbook or situation.

The trick is to get them doing it in ENGLISH!

Sample prompters to encourage your students to speak:
What do you like to eat for breakfast? lunch? dinner?
Do you like to eat_______? What do you think about ______?
Do you like bugs? Some people eat bugs. Would you like to eat a bug?
What is your favourite colour?
Do you like dogs or cats better? Why do you like them better?
There are a million questions you can ask to get a conversation started.
Who likes to _________ (sing, swim, play basketball, draw...)?

Chapter 10
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