Speaking and Conversation with a Focus at Elementary Level
by Sam Smith

Introduction

In my experience of teaching English I have often noticed that my students have been continuing to commit the same errors again and again with little being gained from my focus on speaking practice.

This problem has been particularly noticeable in the last 2 years while I have been teaching 'conversation classes' at various levels. I have wondered if what I have been doing with my students has been helping my students to improve anything but their spoken fluency and communication strategies without making any real advances in accuracy, syntactic and lexical complexity and range, lexical selection or collocation and particularly in conversational structures, strategies and the use of functions and meaning in conversation.

I have decided to look at this problem from the point of view of elementary students to try and attack this problem from the beginning, in an attempt to get my students off on the right path. While I will be looking at improving speaking in general, I shall try and relate this to my students' needs at this level.

I will begin by looking at the complexities of speaking, particularly conversation, then go on to look at some problems before suggesting some solutions.

Why Conversation is Not So Easy

Speaking and conversation in particular is a very complex thing to do, especially in a foreign language. Bygate (1987) draws a distinction between knowledge and skill. Knowledge being knowing what to do and skill being how to do it, and doing it well therefore needs practice. The skill side, he says is very complicated. As well as motor perceptive skills, i.e. 'perceiving, recalling and articulating in the correct order sounds and structures of the language' (Bygate, 1987, 5), students need interactional skills which involve 'making decisions about communication, such as: what to say, how to say it, and whether to develop it, in accordance with one's intentions, while maintaining the desired relations with others' (Bygate, 1987,6).

These interaction skills are affected by 2 conditions according to Bygate: processing conditions due to time, meaning that we think as we speak and therefore leading to features of speech such as shorter sentences, mistakes, repetition and clarification; and reciprocity conditions or having to adapt your message due to the listener's feedback and the level of shared knowledge.

These conditions give rise to specific features of speech, particularly conversation that make it different to other forms of communication. For example, less complex syntax or parataxis such as 'and', ellipses, use of a lot of fixed phrases, and fillers or devices to gain time such as 'you know', all of which can be referred to as facilitation skills. As well as facilitation skills we use compensation skills, like the reformulation of our message and the fact that speech occurs in short bursts back and forth between the speakers, allowing understanding to be negotiated between the people who are speaking.

Discourse Analysis and Students' Problems

Discourse analysis can give us an insight into how a learner's lack of awareness of the features of spoken language, or of the cultural norms of how the language is used, can cause problems for learners. Michael McCarthy (1991) gives us some good ideas.

He mentions 'adjacency pairs' or that an initiating remark and a response are interdependent, for example 'Change at Peterborough' in form is an imperative but when we see it with the response 'thanks' we realise that it is in fact an informing utterance. Students need to understand and use the correct language in context. McCarthey highlights invitations, where students are often too blunt, and apologies, where students often use ritualised apology structures, as places where discrepancies occur between real and student language.

He develops adjacency pairs to talk about exchanges, i.e. initiation, response and follow up, and to say that this last part, the follow up can often be missing from student language. This could be due to the way we teach. If the students are mainly involved in the situation where the teacher initiates or elicits an initiation, the student responds and the teacher follows up with something like 'very good', then how can we expect students to get practice in initiating and following up. A solution would be group or pair work, but we must make sure the activity will provide a chance for these features to naturally occur. A journalistic interview, for example, would not, whereas more open, less restricted conversation hopefully would. From my personal and professional experience, this is an area which does not transfer from one language to another, here in Spain I find my students, particularly at lower levels are silent and do not follow up, simply because they do not know the correct phrases in English to do so.

Closely related to this is that listeners are usually active and provide some sort of comment on what they hear. I again have noticed that my students do not do this, and the particular case of me and my wife could show why this again does not transfer from language to language. When we speak in Russian, my desire to hear some sort of response such as 'uh huh' or 'yeah', which is not forthcoming, has made me use similar noises to elicit the response from her. This my wife assures me sounds terrible in Russian, as would her response if she gave it. Language norms are just not the same in different languages.

McCarthy goes on to highlight turn - taking as another problem area. Students need to be aware of lexical, syntactical and intonational (i.e. a drop in pitch) ways of signalling the end of a speaker's turn. Taking or rejecting a turn is also a difficult thing to do and also needs teaching e.g. lexically interrupting 'Can I just come in here', lexically urging the speaker to continue through back channel 'mm', 'aha' and even paralinguistically by inhalation, head movement, eye-contact and intonationally through pitch. These features again may not transfer linguistically, for example silence is much more tolerated by Finns than by English native speakers.

Another area that needs attention is topic and topic shift. Again realised lexically by markers such as 'incidentally' to open a topic and 'right', 'still' or by an evaluative comment 'sounds awful' to close a topic and intonationally by a high pitch for opening and low pitch for closing, it is something that students need drawing attention to. Similarly the logical sequence of one topic being related to another and one story sparking off another related one is something worth highlighting. McCarthy suggests raising students' awareness through listening activities, adding a beginning and ending to a decapitated dialogue (thus also providing useful practice in openings and closings of dialogues), setting a time limit for students to cover a set number of topics, recounting anecdotes to spark off related ones and finding things in common or differences from a list of subjects as ways of helping students practice.

Of course, at lower levels we must keep in mind that students need the vocabulary to deal with the topics to be talked about, but I believe that practice in the mechanics of conversation can go along way to helping students cope both receptively and productively and the ability to handle conversation shows the learner as someone to be talked to and therefore provides them with valuable input.

My last point to mention is that of the formulae that spoken language follows or of routines. Bygate (1987) talks about information routines, such as narration, description and instruction, and interactional routines such as in a restaurant or on the telephone where as well as your business to discuss you need a greeting and a way of finishing, not just saying 'bye' and hanging up, which would seem very rude.

For the sake of space I will give only one example from McCarthy of the elements found in a narrative routine: Abstract 'I'll always remember the time..'; orientation 'we were..'; complicating event 'next thing we knew..'; resolution 'so we had to..'; coda (or the bridge between the real world and the story) 'and ever since I've..'. An important part of this routine which is present throughout and often lacking in students' speech is evaluation, or making the story worth telling by devices such as exaggeration, recreating noises, by simply telling the audience 'you'll love this one' or by personal orientation 'which made me feel..' As we can see, all this is a tall order when we take into account that the student has to also think of the other motor perceptive and interactional skills mentioned above that have to be employed at the same time.

Of course, at lower levels we must keep in mind that students need the vocabulary to deal with the topics to be talked about, but I believe that practice in the mechanics of conversation can go along way to helping students cope both receptively and productively and the ability to handle conversation shows the learner as someone to be talked to and therefore provides them with valuable input.

My last point to mention is that of the formulae that spoken language follows or of routines. Bygate (1987) talks about information routines, such as narration, description and instruction, and interactional routines such as in a restaurant or on the telephone where as well as your business to discuss you need a greeting and a way of finishing, not just saying 'bye' and hanging up, which would seem very rude.

For the sake of space I will give only one example from McCarthy of the elements found in a narrative routine: Abstract 'I'll always remember the time..'; orientation 'we were..'; complicating event 'next thing we knew..'; resolution 'so we had to..'; coda (or the bridge between the real world and the story) 'and ever since I've..'. An important part of this routine which is present throughout and often lacking in students' speech is evaluation, or making the story worth telling by devices such as exaggeration, recreating noises, by simply telling the audience 'you'll love this one' or by personal orientation 'which made me feel..' As we can see, all this is a tall order when we take into account that the student has to also think of the other motor perceptive and interactional skills mentioned above that have to be employed at the same time.

Ways of helping

Following from all this, we need to help students as much as possible when speaking. Firstly they need a large enough vocabulary and sufficient grammatical knowledge to be able to speak, but as the weight of evidence of the difficulty of communicating shows, they need direct teaching and awareness raising of features of speech and conversation. Firstly I will look at some suggested ways of doing this and then at some suggestions for improving the way we conduct tasks.

Direct Teaching

In an article in the ELT Journal (ELT Journal volume 48/1 January 1994) Zoltan Dornyei and Sarah Thurrell put forward the view that the indirect approach of communicative language teaching is not doing enough. I myself have recently thought the same, i.e. just giving students to practice their speaking through communicative activities falls short of actually teaching them how to speak. Dornyei and Thurrell suggest a 'direct method' which:

'involves planning a conversation programme around the specific microskills, strategies, and processes that are involved in fluent conversation.......it aims at fostering the students' awareness of conversational rules, strategies to use and pitfalls to avoid, as well as increasing their sensitivity to the underlying process.'
(Dornyei and Thurrell, Teaching conversation skills intensively, ELT Journal volume 48/1 January 1994, 41)

They recommend basing a conversation course on teaching:

Conversation rules and structure; openings, turn-taking, interrupting, topic-shift, adjacency pairs, closings.
Conversational strategies; message adjustment or avoidance, paraphrase, approximation, appeal for help, asking for repetition, asking for clarification, interpretive summary, checking, use of fillers/hesitation devices.
Functions and meaning in conversation; language functions (e.g. expressing and agreeing with opinions), indirect speech acts (i.e. in 'I wonder if you could post this letter for me' no actual wondering takes place), same meaning - different meaning ('What a nice car you have' could really mean 'I didn't know you were so rich').
Social and cultural contexts; participant variables - office and status, the social situation, the social norms of appropriate language use, cross-cultural differences. They suggest doing this through:

Adding specific input, for example by giving cue cards to students or requiring students to use a set number of different phrases in an activity.
Increasing the role of consciousness raising, by providing a focus in the context of communicative activities, helping learners construct their own internal grammar inductively and providing learners with input containing the features the teacher would like to focus on.

Sequencing communicative tasks systematically, for example a role-play to practice agreeing and disagreeing followed by adding interruptions, then looking at a formal and informal version of it.
(Dornyei and Thurrell, 1994)

For some good ways of implementing these ideas see Conversation and Dialogues in Action by Dornyei and Thurrell and for some similar ideas see Conversation by Rob Nolasco and Lois Arthur.

Improving the Task

Finally I would like to briefly draw attention to 3 ideas for improving students' speech related to task based learning. The ideas have their root in the idea that having to do too much at one time can have a negative effect on students' language and therefore reinforce errors and more importantly deny students the necessary time and resources to consciously or unconsciously fully practice and therefore hopefully improve their existing language.
Firstly, Helen Johnson in an article in the ELT Journal criticises the traditional PPP method of teaching and the Deep End Strategy (1st do the task, 2nd the teacher sees what language is needed and 3rd teaches it), saying that they both lead to the fossilisation of students' language as the teaching takes place at the wrong time. With PPP students don't have an internal need for the language taught and with the Deep End Strategy, students have already done the task with their flawed but coping language before the teaching takes place and therefore do not, again have a need for the language taught.

She suggests instead the 'tennis clinic' approach, where 1st the students are set the task, then they work alone to prepare what they want to say and can interact with the teacher, using their communication strategies to tell him what they need, 3rd they work in pairs to practice their individual input and lastly work in small groups to do the task. Thus the learning of new language comes from the students' needs, is put in at the right time, i.e. before communication, is practised and finally is used for communication. (Helen Johnson, ELT Journal 46/2 April 1992, 180)

Johnson suggests this strategy to be used with intermediate students but I see it as valid at lower levels too as the same problem of students not using their full range of language still occurs and if introduced earlier will start students off on the right foot when learning.

Secondly, Pauline Foster, in Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, suggests simply giving students some planning time in an effort to encourage students to use their liguistical resources to the full. In a study carried out on 3 groups of learners of the same level, one group with no planning time, a 2nd with 10 minutes planning time and a 3rd with planning time and a list of suggestions on how to use their planning time (considering vocabulary, grammar and content of the task). The students were to do 3 tasks, exchanging personal information, a narrative and a decision making task. The results, for me, were highly enlightening and their implications are having and will have a great effect on my teaching of speaking. In summary, planning time meant: fewer pauses and less silence; syntactic variety greatly increased; greater syntactic complexity; planners were more accurate than non-planners though unguided planners were more accurate than guided planners; lexical variety greatly increased. The effects of planning time also had more significance as the complexity of the task increased. (Pauline Foster, Doing the Task Better: how planning time influences students' performance, Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, 1996, 126)

Thirdly, in the same publication, Martin Bygate takes the point that due to the pressure of conceptualisation of the content, formulation of the words and phrases, grammatical markers and the sound pattern, and articulation of the phrase, errors occur. He suggests solving the problem by repeating the task so therefore less planning work is needed. Familiarity with the content allows learners to pay more attention to its formulation. In his experiment, a learner watched a scene from a Tom and Jerry cartoon and was asked to recount what he/she had seen. The task was repeated in the same way a few days later with no prior warning given to the learner and again some interesting results were found: fewer errors; increased use of lexical verb forms; greater grammatical complexity; increased use of cohesive devices; increased evaluative comment; improved lexical selection and collocation. (Martin Bygate, Effects of Task Repetition: appraising the developing language of learners, Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, 1996, 136)

A Very Short Conclusion

To improve my teaching of the speaking skill, I am putting into practice the methods of direct teaching of speaking skills outlined above and experimenting with preparation time and repetition of tasks and finding encouragingly positive results.


Bibliography

Martin Bygate: Speaking, Oxford University Press, 1987
Michael McCarthy: Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, 1991
Rob Nolasco and Lois Arthur: Conversation, Oxford University Press, 1987
Zoltan Dornyei and Sarah Thurrell: Conversation and Dialogues in Action, Prentice Hall, 1992
Pauline Foster: Doing the Task Better: how planning time influences students' performance. & Martin Bygate: Effects of Task Repetition: appraising the developing language of learners.
Both above articles in: Jane Willis and Dave Willis (editors): Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, Heinemann, 1996
David Nunan: Language Teaching Methodology: a textbook for teachers, 1991, Prentice Hall
Zoltan Dornyei and Sarah Thurrell: Teaching Conversation Skills Intensively: course content and rationale, ELT Journal Volume 48/1 January 1994, Oxford University Press, 1994
Helen Johnson: Defossilizing, ELT Journal Volume 46/2 April 1992, Oxford University Press, 1992

Biodata

Sam Smith, 31, originally from Bradford in the UK, has been teaching for 5 years, in Ukraine (2 years), Poland (1 year) and Spain (2 years) and also at summer schools in Folkestone and London. He currently lives lives & teaches in Madrid.

 

Lesson plan

(To use this lesson per se, you will need the second listening extract about meeting a long lost relative - from Cutting Edge Intermediate Students' Book, unit 2 - not included here)

Preliminary Information

Level: Elementary

Time: 1 hour

Timetable Fit:
The lesson comes after about two and a half months of studying together, in this time we've been revising some basic grammar from what the students did last year, trying to increase the students' basic vocabulary, especially for talking about yourself and things closely related to immediate life, but mainly working on the students skills work, particularly listening and speaking. This has come from the wide range of levels in the group and the difficulties we have had working together on communicative tasks resulting from this.
This lesson is part of a series of lessons looking at features of conversation or specific speaking skills. We have already worked on narrative tenses, functional exponents for agreeing, disagreeing, stating your own opinion and asking for clarification. We have also spent quite a lot of time getting students used to what is expected of them in pair and group work.
The topic of the unit we have just finished is the family and friends, with a lot of importance being paid to childhood friends, relationships with brothers and sisters and the family in general. The subject of this lesson, therefore follows on from that.

Rationale:
In this lesson we are focusing on phrases for showing interest as a way to improve the students' conversational skills, having looked at other aspects of conversation (as mentioned above) in previous lessons and we will continue with the same in future lessons too. The reason for focusing so much on conversation skills in general is that as the group has a wide range of levels in it, the weaker students have shown signs of getting frustrated at not being able to say what they want and often resort to using Spanish. I hope that by making them more aware of some useful phrases and conversational techniques in English (along with a lot of work on vocabulary) they will begin to use them instead of resorting to Spanish.
The main focus of the lesson, showing interest in what another speaker says, is something I have noticed to be distinctly lacking in my students' repertoire. In my opinion, this is a cultural difference between English and Spanish, having never noticed anyone using questions, or simple phrases such as 'yeah' in my experience of interacting in Spanish. From my own experience of learning foreign languages I realise the difficulty students have with doing something like this naturally and hope to raise their awareness of this so that it can be something encouraged in future.
The second conversational or discourse feature looked at in the lesson is that of 'fillers' to give yourself time to think and a few phrases for getting back on to your subject or framing what you want to say, e.g. 'well, erm' and 'what I did was.....' but essentially, helping you speak by reducing processing time and again, gaining time to think.
The reason for looking at them is essentially the same as the reason for looking at the phrases for showing interest, that I've noticed them lacking in my students, and often hear 'bueno' and 'pues'. Again, from my own use of Russian and Spanish I realise their importance and the difficulty in using them well.
The third thing, important to this lesson is giving students preparation time before telling their anecdotes, repeating the task and encouraging them to notice some relevant features from the listening. This is all with the aim of developing the students' language use in terms of using structures well, using a better range of structures and finding the right vocabulary item that does not appear at the time of speaking, but can possibly be recalled from a deeper store, asked for from the teacher or found in the dictionary and then used.

The 1st personalised task is listening to the teacher after 1st making predictions about his story. It is aimed at introducing the topic of the lesson, providing the students with an example and hopefully some inspiration as well as some useful listening practice.
This is followed by the students preparing and then telling a similar anecdote to a partner. The preparation should improve the quality of the students' language and the interest in each other and chance that the story might not be true should provide a reason for listening.
Students will then evaluate their spoken performance with a view to noticing the gap between their own English and what they later hear.
The next activities focus on a listening text, firstly using it for practising skills of predicting content and checking predictions before using it as a jigsaw task to notice the above-mentioned features of conversation. After the students share their information from the noticing activity, they use the same text to 1st practice intonation and secondly try and predict the phrases used before listening to check their predictions in 2 'controlled' practice exercises.
Again with a small amount of preparation time the students then retell their anecdotes to a different partner, to maintain motivation, while an observer pays attention to the phrases used by both the speaker and listener. This should give the students some more freer speaking practice and hopefully get feedback from the observer that they have done the task well.
The lesson finishes with some self evaluation for the students' on-going progress and some feedback for the teacher as to their opinion of the lesson's usefulness.

Class Profile:
The group is an in-company, closed group in the Ministry of Justice in Madrid and classes are held in a 'meeting' room in the ministry.
The course runs from November to May and is supposed to have only half as much content as a general English course in the main school due to the need to revise so much after the long break in the summer.
The students are all working people in various departments of the ministry with a rough age range of late twenties to early fifties, there are 8 women and 3 men.
There are 11 students in the group and their level is roughly elementary, though this is a very broad statement. When the group was formed, 2 groups were combined, one of them having done a similar course at this level before and the other not, thus creating a very large difference in level between the students in the group. This was caused by a lack of resources from the ministry and all students were aware of this before beginning the course. The students of the higher level had the choice of doing this course or no English at all. Due to this and good nature, they have been very tolerant with their weaker class mates and so far we haven't had any real problems of frustration causing a lack of motivation and do enjoy a good supportive atmosphere in class.
The difference in level at the beginning of the course, in my opinion was also exacerbated by the 2 initial groups having very different attitudes towards learning caused by their success in language learning in general, their natural abilities to learn and their previous teaching. The stronger group were very positive about their prior learning experiences when we talked in tutorials, whereas the weaker group were negative about their progress and ability to learn. From talking to their previous teachers I also got greatly different opinions about teaching them, the weaker group was very difficult last year apparently.
This year though, the atmosphere in class has been good and the main problems due to the difference in level has been the slower pace in general but particularly the lack of communicative confidence and power of the weaker students causing them to rely a lot on their stronger partners and robbing them of the spoken practice they really need.

Isabel is one of the weakest when listening, instructions often have to be explained several times and she does badly in listening activities, though she is improving. When we began the course she hardly said anything in English but now she tries to express herself, though very inaccurately.
Marta is making good progress despite having a physical hearing problem. She was one of the weakest, but now she finds speaking in English easier and makes good use of her good basic grammar.
Carmen is one of the oldest in the group and has a lot of problems speaking and listening, her negative feelings towards her own progress are restricting her improvement, but she tries hard and succeeds when she knows what to do with simple structures and activities.
Julio was in the weaker group but even though his self expression suffers from his pronunciation he is making excellent progress and is now one of the most communicative in the group. His grammar and other skills work are fine at this level.
Aurora finds most activities challenging but is improving her listening and speaking. Her grammar and vocabulary are quite limited though.
Anna is making good progress and improving on a strong but basic knowledge of the language, she is confident to express herself and shows a desire to improve all round.
Carmen Bueno is probably the strongest in the group and finds most tasks relatively easy. When given the chance she is keen to use her English fully and has a natural ability to pick up and use a lot of new language.
Rosa is a strong student, having little problem in all skills work. She takes a little time to warm herself to a difficult activity but when she gets into something she really gets involved and can communicate with great fluency.
Julio Serrano is very good in all areas of the language and is very keen to improve and learn. He is quietly spoken and sometimes a little shy and usually allows his class mates to speak first.
Juan Carlos is a good lively student with a good ability to communicate. He is always trying to improve and asks lots of questions. He shows a wide knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and is in the process of integrating it all, thus he makes a lot of mistakes and needs and asks for a lot of correction.
Belen is one of the oldest in the group, she has a good knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and does try to improve, however her learning style is poor, she knows what she thinks is right and what she thinks she should be doing and it is sometimes difficult for me and the other students to persuade her otherwise.

Main Aims:
To raise awareness of and practice features of conversation for showing interest in what another speaker is saying.
To practice narrative skills in the form of an anecdote about a childhood memory and help students tell it better by giving them preparation time, an example to compare with and follow, and a 2nd chance to tell the anecdote.

Subsidiary Aims:
To practice listening skills of: making and checking predictions; listening for specific functional and discoursal exponents.
To raise awareness of students' own performance through self evaluation and peer evaluation.

Assumptions:
The majority of the students have a good enough knowledge of past tenses to be able to tell an anecdote about their childhood and I will be able to spend a lot of time helping the students who most need it.
The activity of speaking about yourself should provide students with the motivation to do so with a relative degree of success.
The fact that the story is about a classmate should provide the motivation to listen, along with the fact that the listener must decide if the story is true or false.
After self and peer evaluation of the 1st speaking task the students should be aware of the need for the components of conversation presented later.
The listening provides good, contextualised examples of the features of conversation in focus and the 2 'jigsaw' noticing tasks differ slightly in difficulty so the more difficult can be given to the stronger students.
The students should be able to cope with the controlled practice as it is tape-script led in the 1st stage and then immediately demonstrated after students attempt to predict in the 2nd.
The last speaking stage should improve the students' performance whilst maintaining their motivation as it is with a new group and they will know that someone is monitoring their performance and will give them feedback.

Anticipated Problems and Solutions:
The main problem I am expecting is a lack of creativity when recalling a childhood memory. All people are different, some are more willing to talk about themselves than others, people's mood on a particular day can also affect their ability to talk about themselves.
To help students, firstly I will provide a good anecdote about myself, which does not paint a good picture of the way I was as a child. Secondly I will be prepared to suggest many different contexts as to where their anecdote could come from: school; their first day at school or when they changed school; a time they were in trouble; a success; a story about a relative or friend; a holiday; the 1st time they....; a sport; meeting someone important and any more as necessary. Thirdly I will tell students that it doesn't have to be amazing. Fourthly I will monitor and help individual students as much as possible. Lastly by asking students whether they think my story is true or false, I will present them with the opportunity of telling a false story about themselves, a poorer solution, but a last resort.

Students could and probably will have problems being able to tell their story due to lack of language knowledge and vocabulary.
I will give them enough preparation time, monitor and help individually, and dictionaries will be available.

The listening might be difficult for some of the learners, but by providing lots of key words and pictures to help them predict the story and then check predictions, the task should be easier, and by providing a chance for students to compare with their partners and then full class feedback, the whole story should emerge before moving on to successive listenings and finally checking with the tape-script the full story will become clear to all.

The 2nd controlled practice stage may prove difficult for the students but I will tell them that there are no correct answers and they will hear the real version of the phrase shortly after making their prediction.

Lastly the whole problem of timing may be a problem. Their is a great difference in levels within the group and some students still have problems understanding instructions which often have to be repeated and re-explained more than once, thus activities can take longer than expected.
I have taken this into account in my lesson timings and deliberately made the timings longer than for other classes. I have also provided written instructions on most of the handouts where I feel it has been necessary. Lastly, if things do take too long, the 1st controlled practice stage can be taken out and the students can repeat the intonation of the interviewer during the 2nd stage. I do not want to do this however as I feel, for the level of the group, both stages are valid and necessary.

Aids and Materials:
The board.
The teacher - telling an anecdote.
The students' own memories.
Self-prepared (by teacher) task sheets: for self evaluation; for predicting the story of the listening; for observing partners when speaking; for self evaluation and feedback on the lesson.
A 2 minute 15 second listening extract about meeting a long lost relative - from Cutting Edge Intermediate Students' Book, unit 2 - not included here.
The tape-script of the extract.

Stages of the Lesson

1. Warmer - To introduce the topic of the lesson.

Pairs - 5 mins

T writes on board some words connected with a childhood memory: fence; school; big brother; Craig Gerry; skipping rope; break time; head teacher.
T helps students with vocabulary and in pairs students predict the story.

2. Listening to the teacher - To provide an example of an anecdote.

Whole class - 5 mins

T tells his anecdote of a childhood memory and students listen, ask questions and check their predictions about the story. T asks sts how they think he felt and if they think the story is true or false. It is true.

3. Preparation for speaking - To give time to plan telling an anecdote.

Whole class / individually - 8 mins

T writes on board: when; where; who; what happened; consequence. T then provides a variety of contexts as to where the story could come from and tells sts that if they really can't think of anything they can make it up.
Sts think of a childhood memory, sit back and relax as T asks them questions about it, then they have a few minutes to plan, make notes about what they're going to say. T monitors and helps sts with vocabulary and ideas.


4. Speaking - To practice telling an anecdote.

Pairs - 8 mins

Sts take turns to tell each other their anecdotes. Partners decide if the story is true or false.


5. Self analysis - To focus on how students showed interest and coped with problems when telling their anecdote.

Individually / pairs - 4 mins

Sts answer self analysis questions about how they showed interest in their partner's story and how they coped when they found it hard to tell their own story, then share their answers with their partner.

6. Pre - listening - To help students predict the content of a listening passage.

Pairs - 4 mins

Sts look at pictures about the listening and some key content words and try to predict the story of the listening passage.

7. Listening - To check predictions about the story.

Whole class / pairs - 5 mins

Sts listen to the story and in pairs compare what they heard before whole class feedback.

8. 2nd listening - To raise awareness of features of conversation.

Whole class / pairs - 10 mins

T asks sts: who was speaking most?; what did the other speaker do when the main speaker paused?; Did the main speaker use any 'set phrases' or 'fillers' to help her organise her speech and gain thinking time?
T divides class into 2 halves and sets them a worksheet based task, listening to identify any of the above - mentioned features. Half the class listening for questions to show interest and the other half for discourse organising features of telling a narrative.
After listening sts compare with their partner and with the tape-script.

9. Sharing information - To pass on what students noticed to the other half of the class.

Pairs - 4 mins

T reorganises sts to work with a new partner and show them what they noticed.

10. Controlled practice - To give controlled practice of the phrases used.

Whole class - 3 mins

Following the tape-script sts listen to the cassette, repeating the phrases of the interviewer and copying his intonation.

11. 2nd controlled practice - To give further controlled practice.

Whole class - 3 mins

Sts repeat the task but this time with the tape-script turned over, trying to predict the phrases, T pausing the tape at the right moments, then continuing listening to check.

12. Preparation for 2nd speaking - To refresh memories about students' own anecdotes keeping in mind the way that the speaker on tape told hers.

Individually - 2 mins

Sts look at the tape-script and think of their own anecdote and any ways to improve it.

13. 2nd speaking - To retell students' anecdotes and pay attention to features of conversation.

Groups of 3 - 12 mins

Sts form new groups of 3 and retell their anecdotes, one person telling, a 2nd listening and showing interest, while a 3rd notes uses of: phrases to show interest and phrases to tell an anecdote and help oneself when speaking, then change roles twice.

14. Feedback on activities - To give students a chance to evaluate their performance.

Individually / pairs - 4 mins

Sts answer self evaluation questions about the comparison between their 1st and 2nd speaking turn, how or whether they used the phrases to show interest and what they thought about the usefulness of the lesson.

Materials

1st Feedback Sheet - stage 5

1. Did your partner seem interested in your story?
Did he / she ask you any questions or use any phrases or sounds to show that he / she was interested? - such as 'Really?', 'Yeah?' or 'How interesting.'

2. Did you show your partner that you were interested in his / her story?
How did you do it?

3. Did you have any problems telling your story?
In which parts?
What did you do to help yourself when it was difficult? - repeat yourself, say 'erm' or 'well'.
Could you have done something else?

 

CONVERSATION FOCUS: HELPING YOURSELF WHEN YOU'RE SPEAKING
- stage 8


1. Listen again to the recording you have been working on and listen now in particular for the techniques people use to help themselves while they're speaking. Tick the phrases you hear.

What I did was..
Well, erm, in fact................
And then, erm, …..
So, then, he, …..
Well, anyway, ……….
One of the most memorable moments in my life was when ………..
Yeah, as I was saying,......
So, in fact, we ………..
But, I do remember one thing that struck
me was ……….
The most surprising thing was ………..
What was interesting, was,…….

2. How often do you use expressions like these when you are speaking with a partner in class? Are there any other expressions that you use?

3. Expressions like these help to give you time to think and make you sound much more like a native speaker.

4. Don't forget to try to use these expressions in your conversation from now on. If you already use some of them learn a few more so that you have a wider variety to choose from!

 

CONVERSATION FOCUS: KEEPING A CONVERSATION GOING
- stage 8


1. Listen again to the recording you have been working on and listen now in particular for the techniques people use to keep the conversation going. Tick the phrases you hear.

Yeah?
First time?
And did that work?
How was that?
So what did you do then?
God!
Do you think you'll do it again?
I'm sure...
How did you feel when...?


2. How often do you use expressions like these when you are speaking with a partner in class? Are there any other expressions that you use? What other things can you do in order to make your partner think that you are interested in what they are telling you?

3. Expressions like these involve the other speaker(s) in the discussion and make it sound much more like the type of conversation which native speakers would produce.

4. Don't forget to try to use these expressions in your conversation from now on. If you already use some of them learn a few more so that you have a wider variety to choose from!

 

Listening Prediction & Task Sheet
- stage 6

How do you think these words and pictures are connected to make a story?
Work with your partner and predict the story.

Czechoslovakia - a rose -1988 - a five-year old son - a half-brother - 1968 - 2 little girls - Russian tanks - London mum


Now listen and check your predictions.

 

Task Sheet for Observers
- stage 13

Listen to your partners and make a note of what they say.
Pay attention to:

Ways of showing that they are interested:


Ways of helping themselves if they find it difficult to tell their story:

 

Last Feedback Sheet
- stage 14

Think of what you've done in this lesson.

1. Did you tell your story better the 1st or 2nd time?
Why?

2. Did you use any phrases or ask any questions to show your partner that you were interested?
Did it help him / her to speak more?

3. Do you think using phrases and questions like these is useful in English?
Is it different to Spanish?

Tell your partner what you think.

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