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Teaching Tips 60

Speaking up
Beam me up!
Buy Nothing Day 2003

Speaking up

This week we're looking at speaking skills & some problems that may arise when trying to develop them.

Last month I was fortunate to have been working with a lovely group of secondary school teachers on a speaking skills course. Apart from providing lots of speaking practice for the teachers we looked at the different ways of building the skill with their students & high among the obstacles to this are the conflictive teaching situations that most of these teachers have to deal with where keeping order & discipline is the main priority. They also find themselves racing against the clock in an attempt to cover the coursebook before the end of the year. And then the assessment they are required to give doesn't include the speaking skill. No wonder then that the speaking skill is left out in the cold. However, having said all this, all were enthusiastic about ideas to try out & motivate their students to speak in class in English. With this group of teachers in mind, here is a list of practical ideas.

1. Lots & lots of controlled speaking activities - from drills to dialogue reading aloud to building dialogues to flow charts. Here are some past Teaching Tips dealing with these controlled speaking areas:

Building it up

Review those drills

A communicative drill?

Going with the flow

Meaningful & meaningless drills

Shadow reading

Mumble drills

2. Incorporate the ideas from the 'Fill it with English' Teaching Tip.

3. Try to keep the whole lesson in English so that it just becomes a habit that the students are expected to respond in English. Work on introducing & practising classroom language & routines. This will then help to reduce the general embarrassment level when speaking English.

4. Explain the purposes of pair work & group work - to maximise student talking time. Explain the purposes of the roleplays & discussions.

5. Choose motivating, interesting & manageable topics for roleplays & discussions.

6. Prepare the students for the speaking with information & role cards. Give them time to think about what they might say & help out with any questions.

7. Rotate the stronger roles so that all have a chance to take lead roles. And don't let the stronger, more extrovert students dominate the others.

8. Stay out of the way. Let the students do the activity as much as they can.

9. Use video rather than audio tapes where possible to work on the listening skill. This is not only more realistic & less stressful but the speaking skill can be fully appreciated.

10. Give positive feedback, as well as helpful ideas for improvement. Also try to help them with things that they couldn't say during the activity by encouraging them to note these things down as they occur & deal with them afterwards.

11. Exploit any spontaneous conversations that arise in the class. These could come from something that has happened to a particular student or something in the news that day.

12. Record the students at the beginning, in the middle & at the end of the course to show them that have made progress with this skill. It may not be part of the examination but it still needs highlighting.

13. With the secondary class one of the most motivating things you can promote is the idea that speaking in another language is 'cool', pop music being an obvious way into this.

Here are some more past Teaching Tips concerned with the speaking skill:

Sophisticated ideas with little language

Speaking grades

Speaking homework

Building it up

Come in & take a seat

The expert talking

Fill it with English

Work out where you are

Strangers on a train

Discussion visitors

Quick-thinking group roleplay

Blocking roleplays

Circular roleplays

Promoting specific language use in freer oral activities

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Beam me up!

It's World Aids Day on December 1st. We're not basing a Tip around it but here are some links to relevant sites & materials:

World Aids Day

Children With Aids

Person With Aids

Nelson Mandela's Aids initiative

At these sites there are numerous other links.


It's the turn of the overhead projector this week, a very useful but underused piece of classroom hardware, that, although expensive, can last a lifetime. A few advantages include a professional approach in your classes, their usefulness in providing a focus for the large class, the drastic cutting down of photocopies, transparencies can be pre-prepared to save class time & they can be built upon, overlaid, to highlight different aspects. Here are a few ideas:

• overlaying - different scenarios can be built up with new information being provided with each new overlay being added. The desert island scenario is good for this - the students have to work out how to get across or escape from the island. You begin with the island & a couple of basic features & then add another transparency on top with more features. As the discussion takes place you could add another transparency on top that brings to light more information they need to account for in their discussion.

• if you are good at drawing, simple narratives can be built up over the one scene, with different characters & objects entering. Great for the younger learners.

• also for the younger learner, with monsters or robots, give each child a central rectangle - the torso - on a transparency, & ask them to draw on a different part - the head, a right leg, the left arm..- overlay the results & mix & match until they are happy with their monster!

• language analysis overlays make for a very clear visual highlighting. Cohesion is an area that is usually used for this. The first transparency is the text & then in the feedback, after the students have been asked to find specific features in the discourse, the first overlay shows examples of ellipsis, the next examples of anaphoric reference & so on - highlighted in different colours with boxes & arrows.

• if projecting on to a whiteboard, other information can easily be added, via the whiteboard, without writing on the transparency or overlaying, hence saving preparation time.

• very useful for the 'board stage' of the lesson. Either have the form, examples, meaning & phonology all marked or elicit it from the group & write on the transparency before they copy down into their notebooks.

• text highlighting - leave gaps between lines for comments, parts of speech or translations to be added.

•students can be involved, much the same as the whiteboard. As the group are getting on with a task in pairs, have two students do theirs on the OHP transparency so there is a model for all to compare with in the feedback stage.

• students can prepare their presentations with a transparency & pens.

If you're lucky to have access to an OHP, then there's always a use for it in each lesson.

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Buy Nothing Day '03

International Buy Nothing Day falls on 28th November this year (29th in the UK & Europe). Here are some excerpts about BND from the Adbusters site:

'Since its launch in the Pacific Northwest twelve years ago, Buy Nothing Day has grown into a worldwide celebration of consumer awareness and simple living. Observed on the day after US Thanksgiving – America's busiest shopping day of the year – the campaign has sparked debate, radio talk shows, TV news items and newspaper headlines around the world.'

'People in more than thirty countries have made a pact with themselves and, as a personal experiment and public statement, stepped out of the consumer stream for 24 hours. The ways in which people have marked the event worldwide have been as diverse as the participants themselves.'

'Many play with the icons of our consumer landscape by taking off on mock shopping sprees, by hawking "hope" and "happiness," or simply by opening up shop and selling nothing more.'

'Since September 11th much has changed, yet much remains the same. Despite an enormous body of evidence warning of the dire consequences of fossil-fuel-induced climate change, including massive floods in Europe and crippling droughts on Canadian prairies, consumption of oil has scarcely slackened. Bush's thinly-veiled quest for domination over Middle Eastern oil reserves promises to perpetuate this trend. The ongoing "war on terrorism" has sharpened our appreciation of how tenuous and potentially catastrophic is a voracious First World's dependence on foreign oil, networked international money markets, and the utterly uncompassionate survival instincts of multinational corporations.'

'There’s no right way to celebrate Buy Nothing Day. The idea is to do *something* to spark up debate, not shut it down. The shining hope for a revolution in human consciousness lies in the actions of everyday people. And so in the most profound sense, nothing has changed at all.'

The Weekly Tip gave ideas to incorporate BND in classes for the past two years:

Buy Nothing Day Weekly Tip 2002 - Adbusters spoof ads for speaking practice

Buy Nothing Day Weekly Tip 2001 - Lesson plan worth a reading text from the Adbusters site along with photos to discuss

These lessons are still relevant with some excellent materials from the Adbusters site, so do check them out.

This year we're using some material from the UK BND site. In the UK & Europe in general the day is celebrated on the last Saturday in November - the 29th.

Some more Buy Nothing Day lesson ideas:

1. Introduce the idea of Buy Nothing Day & get the students' reactions - do they know anything about it etc.

2. Handout the FAQ below & individually match up questions & answers >> students compare ideas >> feedback. You could pick up on the different points & informally check comprehension in the class discussion/feedback.

3. Language focus: possibly focus on the lexical set of 'consumerism' & the problem/solution discourse feature.

4. Speaking - ask students to look at question 13 & the answer & in small groups discuss recent purchases & whether they might have avoided buying by following the suggestions >> feedback - discussing whether it is a good idea - the general response to the text.

5. Students, in pairs & small groups, think of ten things to do on Buy Nothing Day that would either celebrate the day or fit with the philosophy of the day. You could then make this into a pyramid discussion - two pairs join & have to combine their lists to come up with one list of ten things. Then two groups of four combine to do the same, to come up with just one list of ten. And so on… Great for large classes.

6. Students then see if any of their ideas come up in the list from BND UK below & if there are any ideas from the list that they would like to add to their list.

7. Feedback - any ideas in common between the students' & the site's lists? Any ideas from the site list that they would add to their own lists? Any they think are a bit silly? Do they think that the attitudes expressed in the list might be detrimental to the cause & exclude some people who don't think like this, but who nonetheless do support the BND idea?

To the materials used in the ideas

Buy Nothing Day UK home Page


101 things to do on BND

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