To learn English, speaking skill is fundamental. This post explores the reasons why young English learners remain silent when they are given the opportunity to use the language. A very simple daily activity can help your students to gain confidence and to build up an appropriate use of the language saving that confidence-lack gap. Plus… I provide the materials for you!
FACT: SOME STUDENTS ARE NOT USED TO ENGLISH
Sometimes teachers get crazy trying to keep their students talking in English. Even more when students are not used to listen and to speak English. The reasons can be many but I think these are the three which have more impact:
- When we live in a non-bilingual context.
- When English Teachers work in a non-bilingual school, which means English is just an extra area to work one, two or three lessons a week. We find then that:
- The students have less English lessons.
- The school’s English environment is poor or even nonexistent. Therefore, kids do not have an “English atmosphere” at school.
- The “alone feeling”. English Teachers feel quite alone having less support to their work and teaching ideas from other staff members’.
- When, unfortunately, some English Teachers teach English through mother tongues. There are many reasons why a Teacher can use the mother tongue in class, but teaching English cannot be one of them.
Let me make an aside…As you may know, I am English Teacher. Recently, it happens to me that some parents were kind of concerned and upset because “the Teacher speaks all the time in English and the poor kids don’t understand her”. It seems my students never had such an English lesson! How I dare! Evenmore, I told families in the meetings that I intend to speak English to my students everywhere we see each other: Supermarket, street, doctor’s, etc. I may have lost my mind…
Well, it is a matter of fact that we have to fight against misconception in the popular idea of languages learning and that at the end of the year students’ progress will talk by itself. But in the meanwhile, to involve students in the English language class and to motivate them enough to make them forget they are working in a foreign language; is a really huge challenge.
To be honest, I felt quite sad with that. This “alone-feeling”… Anyway, neither me, nor you (if this is your case too) are going to teach English in Spanish. And this is the attitude. What works: works. What doesn’t work: doesn’t work. And that’s it.
Let’s continue with the post!
FACT: MOST STUDENTS DO NOT BURST INTO SPEAKING
There are many reasons why our students do not burst into uncontrolled speaking as they do constantly in their mother tongues. Some of them are:
- The lack of self-confidence.
- Fear to failure and to make mistakes.
- And the fact that when they have to say something they always think of difficult words/structures trying to translate instead of using the language they know making it easier.
All of these together make most English young learners be quiet and do not participate in speaking tasks.
FACT: THE MOST SIMPLE DAILY ACTION CAN CHANGE IT ALL
There are many different activities to be done in class with them, but today I am going to introduce you to one really simple I have integrated in my daily routine, (thanks to Pepa Sanjurjo,Teacher in Galicia who worked with me in Torrejón de Ardoz). This activity lasts about five minutes and if you do daily it reverts into success. because it would allow your kids to gain confidence and language which will make them to participate increasingly in English class.
My proposal is as simple as this:
- Ask for one volunteer (or go with the list order. Consider that all students should do this regularly so you can have the opportunity to assess individual speaking progress) to come to the front.
- The student writes the date on the board and tells the weather.
- Then, the rest of students should raise hands to ask one questions. The volunteer will choose who is going to ask his/her question. Only three students would ask every day.
- To make this simple task better, you can use at the end of the lesson the self-assessment grid to evaluate the use of English during the lesson/morning. (Have a look at assessment page)
Students will love soon this task. They will get used to make questions and give full answers and they will be soon using English as part of a game. But consider that here the most important thing is perseverance: daily work.
What is true is that if you do not provide kids with some prompts, soon they will all be asking the same two kind of questions: what’s your favourite…? and can you…? To prevent this from happening and, because we are really concerned with the language they need to build, some Questions Cards should be provided. Fortunately, you do not have to prepare any materiaI because I am here to help! I put them up and you just:
- Choose which ones to use,
- adapt some if you need to do so,
- print them in cardboard and put them into practice.
Kids should cut out their cards, make a hole and put their questions together with a binder-ring.
Find them in EFL/ESL page: Questions Cards.
ADDITIONAL TEACHER’S WORK
Apart from this simple activity I have presented, an individual Teacher’s control should be required to foster oral communication. I have developed a list of Questions students should work on to be able to answer to. With this list, kids will become able to keep a very simple conversation related to personal issues and daily life. It is designed to assess progress five times a year, but its purpose is not just assessment. The idea is that you work in groups with this questions. Kids can ask and answer with classmates while you monitor and check appropriate answers.
I hope you find this useful. Use them and let me know if they work for you!
Have a lovely week!