Motivating students to speak in the monolingual classroom

In a monolingual classroom, it can be quite diffi cult to get teenagers to speak English to each other during an English lesson. It is so easy for them to communicate in their mother tongue that they often don’t see the need to speak English, or simply don’t want to. And, after all, why should they? If they can communicate perfectly in their L1, why pretend that they can’t just because the teacher wants them to? I would like to present some ideas for motivating your students to speak English in class.

First, you need to collect a lot of local newspapers and cut out the job adverts. These will obviously be in the students’ L1. Nowadays, it should be the case that many or even most of the job adverts specify English skills as a job requirement (if, for some reason, they do not, then this activity won’t work!). Ask your students to work in groups, and give out the job adverts, preferably quite a lot to each group. Their task is to identify which skills are most often mentioned. It is likely that the answer is English, IT skills, and numeracy skills.

Now, ask the whole class why they think English is mentioned so often. You can do this like a brainstorming session and write their ideas on the board. Once you have covered the board with their ideas, and also added your own where appropriate, ask the students if they think learning English is important in today’s world. The answer should be a pretty resounding ‘yes’. Elicit all the diff erent reasons why English is important – global communication, Internet, media, and so on should all come up. (In respect of global communication, you might want to point out that 80% of all the English that is spoken in the world is between non-native speakers – i.e., where both speakers are speaking English as a foreign language. People are usually quite astonished at this statistic).

Now, ask the students to name some musical instruments that they would maybe like to learn to play. (There could be some scope for vocabulary input here). Pick out one instrument to use as an example. I’ll take the piano.

Ask the students the following questions:

  • Can you learn to play the piano by watching other people play?
  • Can you learn to play the piano by listening to other people play?
  • Can you learn to play the piano by reading books about the piano?

Make sure the students understand that although these activities help you understand the piano and piano music, they cannot help you actually play the piano. Now, ask the students how they think professional pianists become good enough to be professional musicians. The students should be able to tell you that it is all about practice and talent. At this point, it is reallyimportant to emphasize the importance of practice. You need to stress that even the most talented of musicians still has to practice for several hours every day. In other words, the only way to become good is to practise. (You could teach the saying that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration).

Now, remind the class that they previously agreed that learning English is an important skill to acquire. Try to elicit from them why you talked about learning to play a musical instrument, and try to bring them to the point where they say that in order to learn to speak, just like if you want to play a musical instrument, you have to practise, practise, practise.

Tell your students that the reason you want them to speak English in class is because you want to give them the chance to get the practice they really need to in order to develop their English skills. The speaking activities are like the musician’s practice hours. It has to be done, and there is no substitute for it. There is no magic trick, no short cut. If you want to be good at speaking English, you have to practise.

What type of activities motivates students to speak?

My favourite speaking activities are opinion gap activities, which I guess is why I wrote a book of them. The reason I like opinion gap activities is that the speaking the students do can be very authentic, as they are being asked to express their own opinions, thoughts, and feelings. Obviously, you have to pick and choose the topics for each individual group, but asking students to express their real opinions is, I think, very motivating and meaningful and is more likely to encourage the students to speak.

My favourite types of opinion gap activities are questionnaires and card games, usually based around a specifi c theme, such as music, food, drinks, travelling, languages, smoking, personality types, and so on. The list is endless really. Questionnaires can be copied or prepared before the lesson and handed out to the students, and the students simply have to answer the questions, giving their thoughts and opinions. Card games need to be copied onto card and cut up before the lesson. Each group of students then takes turns to ask and answer each other the questions. It is important to stress that there are no right or wrong answers in these activities, only opinions, and the aim is to get a lot of speaking practice–which, hopefully, your students now understand is really important.

I have attached a couple of examples of my opinion gap activities. For the activity on clothes, you simply have to photocopy the questionnaire, put the students into small groups–groups of three works really well–and have them talk about their answers. They don’t have to write anything, just talk. If you want to do a follow up writing activity, that’s fi ne, but it is not a must. For the activity ‘Names,’ each student needs a copy of the handout and you need to give them time to think about which names they want to write. Play some relaxing music on the CD player while they are doing this. It is also ok if they don’t write a name in every category. If they can’t think of one or two, that’s fi ne. Then, they just sit in groups and talk about the people they have named. Encourage them to ask each other questions about the people. This is a very personal activity, and students often become quite engrossed in it. If it takes the whole lesson and the students are speaking English, I am perfectly happy. Again, if you want to do some kind of follow up writing activity, then go ahead.

It is, of course, extremely important when selecting speaking activities that you choose topics that are interesting for the students, topics that are relevant, topics that the students want to talk about. It is useless asking a group of male students who are interested in sports and computers to talk about fashion. Similarly, a group that is really interested in fashion might not be interested in football–though you never know. Clearly, the thing to do is to get your students to suggest topics to talk about and then create the activities. This can itself be a fun speaking activity if you get the students to work in groups to brainstorm possible topics and fi nd reasons why they would be good for the class.

So, in summary, what I have suggested is that demonstrating to your students how important English is likely to be in their future lives could be a motivating factor for them. Explaining the importance of practice and choosing topics that are relevant and interesting for the students will also encourage your students to speak English in class.

Phil Keegan


Biografia autora etece . Jestem S.

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