The following activities are also helpful in getting students to practice ‘speaking-as-a-skill’. Although they are not level-specific, the last four will be more successful with higher-level students (upper intermediate plus), whereas the first two, in particular, are highly appropriate at lower levels (but can also be used satisfactorily with more advanced classes). Information-gap activities: an information gap is where two speakers have different bits of information, and they can only complete the whole picture by sharing that information — because they have different information, there is a ‘gap’ between them.
One popular information-gap activity is called describe and draw. In this activity, one student has a picture which they must not show their partner. All the partner has to do is draw the picture without looking at the original, so the one with the picture will give instructions and descriptions, and the ‘artist’ will ask questions. A variation on describe and draw is an activity called Find the differences — popular in puzzle books and newspaper entertainment sections all over the world. In pairs, students each look at a picture which is very similar to the one their partner has. They have to find, say, ten differences between their pictures without showing their pictures to each other. This means they will have to do a lot of describing — and questioning and answering — to find the differences. For information-gap activities to work, it is vitally important that students understand the details of the task (for example, that they should not show each other their pictures). It is often a good idea for teachers to demonstrate how an activity works by getting a student up to the front of the class and doing the activity with that student, so that everyone can see exactly how it is meant to go. Telling stories: we spend a lot of our time telling other people stories and anecdotes about what happened to us and other people. Students need to be able to tell stories in English, too. One way of getting students to tell stories is to use the information-gap principle to give them something to talk about. Students are put in groups. Each group is given one of a sequence of pictures which tell a story. Once they have had a chance to look at the pictures, the pictures are taken away. New groups are formed which consist of one student from each of the original groups. The new groups have to work out what story the original picture sequence told. For the story reconstruction to be successful, they have to describe the pictures they have seen, talk about them, work out what order they should be in, etc. The different groups then tell the class their stories to see if everyone came up with the same versions. We can, alternatively, give students six objects, or pictures of objects. In groups, they have to invent a story which connects the objects.
We can encourage students to retell stories which they have read in their books or found in newspapers or on the Internet. The best stories, of course, are those which the students tell about themselves and their family or friends. We can also offer them chances to be creative by asking them to talk about a scar they have, or to tell the story of their hair, or to describe the previous day in either a positive way or a negative way. When students tell stories based on personal experience, their classmates can ask them questions in order to find out more about what happened. Storytelling like this often happens spontaneously. But at other times, students need time to think about what they are going to say. Favorite objects: a variation on getting students to tell personal stories (but which may also involve a lot of storytelling) is an activity in which students are asked to talk about their favorite objects (things like MP3 players, objects with sentimental value, instruments, clothes,, pictures, etc). They think about how they would describe their favorite objects in terms of when they got them, why they got them, what they do with them, why they are so important to them and whether there are any stories associated with them. In groups, they then tell each other about their objects, and the groups tell the class about which was the most unusual/interesting, etc in their group. Meeting and greeting: students role-play a formal/business social occasion where they meet a number of people and introduce themselves. Surveys: surveys can be used to get students interviewing each other. For example, they can design a questionnaire about people’s sleeping habits with questions like ‘How many hours do you normally sleep?’, ‘Have you ever walked in your sleep or talked in your sleep?’, ‘Have you ever fallen out of bed?’, etc.
They then go round the class asking each other their questions. A variation of this is a popular activity called Find someone who....In this activity, students list activities (e.g. climb a mountain, do a bungee jump, swim in the Pacific, act in a play, etc) and they then go round the class asking ‘Have you ever climbed a mountain?’, ‘Have you ever done a bungee jump?’, etc. Both activities are good for getting students to ‘mill about’ in the class, talking and interacting with others in a way that is different from many other activities. There is no reason, either, why they should not go outside the classroom to conduct surveys. Famous people: students think of five famous people. They have to decide on the perfect gift for each person. We can also get groups of students to decide on which five famous people they would most like to invite for dinner, what they would talk about and what food they would give them. Student presentations: individual students give a talk on a given topic or person. In order for this to work for the individual time must be given for the student to gather information and structure it accordingly. We may want to offer models to help individuals to do this. The students listening to presentations must be given some kind of listening tasks too — including, perhaps, giving feedback. 130Teaching speaking Balloon debate: a group of students are in the basket of a balloon which is losing air. Only one person can stay in the balloon and survive. Individual students representing famous characters (Bobur, Amir Timur) or professions (teacher, doctor, lawyer,) have to argue why they should be allowed to survive. Moral dilemmas: students are presented with a ‘moral dilemma’ and asked to come to a decision about how to resolve it. For example, they are told that a student has been caught cheating in an important exam. They are then given the student’s (far-from-ideal) circumstances, and offered five possible courses of action — from exposing the student publicly to ignoring the incident — which they have to choose between. Correcting speaking It will probably be necessary for teachers to correct mistakes made during speaking activities in a different way from those made during a study exercise. When students are repeating sentences, trying to get their pronunciation exactly right, then the teacher will often correct every time there’s a problem. But if the same teacher did this while students were involved in a passionate discussion about whether smoking should be banned on tourist beaches, for example, the effect might well be to destroy the conversational flow. If, just at the moment one of the students is making an important point, the teacher says ‘Hey wait, you said “is” but it should be “are”, beaches are... repeat’, the point will quickly be lost. Constant interruption from the teacher will destroy the purpose of the speaking activity. Many teachers watch and listen while speaking activities are taking place. They note down things that seemed to go well and times when students couldn’t make themselves understood or made important mistakes. When the activity has finished, they then ask the students how they thought it went before giving their own feedback. They may say that they liked the way Student A said this, and the way Student B was able to disagree with her. They will then say that they did hear one or two mistakes, and they can either discuss them with the class, write them on the board or give them individually to the students concerned. In each case, they will ask the students to see if they can identify the problem and correct it. As with any kind of correction, it is important not to single students out for particular criticism. Many teachers deal with the mistakes they heard without saying who was responsible for them. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about correcting. Some teachers who have a good relationship with their students can intervene appropriately during a speaking activity if they do it in a quiet non-obtrusive way. This kind of gentle correction might take the form of reformulation where the teacher repeats what the student has said, but correctly this time, and does not ask for student repetition of the corrected form. Some students do prefer to be told at exactly the moment they make a mistake; but we always have to be careful to make sure that our actions do not compromise the activity in question. Perhaps the best way of correcting speaking activities appropriately is to talk to students about it. You can ask them how and when they would prefer to be corrected; you can explain how you intend to correct during these stages, and show them how different activities may mean different correction behavior on your part. What teachers do during a speaking activity some teachers get very involved with their students during a speaking activity and want to participate in the activity themselves! They may argue forcefully in a discussion or get fascinated by a role-play and start ‘playing’ themselves. There’s nothing wrong with teachers getting involved, of course, provided they don’t start to dominate. Although it is probably better to stand back so that you can watch and listen to what’s going on, students can also appreciate teacher participation at the appropriate level — in other words, not too much! Sometimes, however, teachers will have to intervene in some way if the activity is not going smoothly. If someone in a role-play can’t think of what to say, or if a discussion begins to dry up, the teacher will have to decide if the activity should be stopped — because the topic has run out of steam — or if careful prompting can get it going again. That’s where the teacher may make a point in a discussion or quickly take on a role to push a role play forward. Prompting is often necessary but, as with correction, teachers should do it sympathetically and sensitively.