The teacher’s lesson plan is ready. He/she is about to present it to a class of teenage students. In his/her lesson plan, there are a few speaking activities. The problem is, the typical outcome of a lesson filled with speaking activities is scowls on students’ faces and only a small amount of actual speaking. How can we encourage teenage students to speak more effectively, and which activities can we prepare before the lesson?
Aspects which might decrease motivation in speaking activities
Firstly, teachers should be aware of the fact that spontaneous speaking requires a lot of made-on-the-spot mistakes from learners. If they were given a writing activity instead, the students would prepare themselves better. The reason is quite simple. They might comfortably look up in their dictionaries words they cannot recall. Naturally, speaking is a completely different story. As teenagers are at their most sensitive time of life, their self-esteem might give teachers warning signals in terms of shyness and even in total resistance to producing a single word. Knowing they are being observed by the rest of the class produces a stop sign for many of these learners.
Ways to work with embarrassment during speaking activities in ELT lessons
One of the keys to the release of tension before speaking is the creation of a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. If the teacher sets the classroom to a “mistakes-friendly” environment, learners can take be a big step closer to talking openly with their classmates.
Another way to make learners interact is to move ‘weaker’ speakers to the heart of the classroom and let them talk to ‘stronger’ ones. The heart of the classroom is usually occupied by learners who feel comfortable within the class, do not mind answering the teacher’s questions and cooperate with him/her. By activating the learners who tend to hide or seem to be invisible, they might actually be “forced” to produce the language with those who are more advanced learners in the target language. To support the mix of students, all of them should be asked to speak on a given topic at once. Playing music at low volume in the background might suppress the embarrassment.
Luring techniques which might help students to talk with one another
As mentioned above, it can be difficult to motivate teenagers to talk. There is no comparison between children, adults and teenagers when it comes to speaking activities. The teacher typically gets a much narrower spectrum of answers from teen learners.
Engagement in speaking comes when students are entangled in topics which are up to date. More importantly, these topics should address pop culture and “hot news”. Of course, the teacher should know his/her learners’ interests, but again… Prodding the learners into sharing their interests is a crucial step towards getting closer to them.
Other very powerful activators are technology and modern apps. Teens are excellent with technologies. They might be shown that language can be practised not only by watching YouTube videos or films but by signing up for a quiz made by the teacher on, for instance, Kahoot, Quizlet or WebQuest.
Asking students to bring real life objects is another way of motivating them to speak. They might direct their classmates to their favourite café, theatre or cinema in town using a map of the city centre provided by the teacher. Letting them choose one object they carry in their bags every day can provide an incentive for speaking, too.
In conclusion, it is important to add that there are going to be days when a speaking lesson plan will work perfectly and the students will be engaged, but that the same plan might not work with a different group of students. Therefore, it is worth mentioning that the more personalised the lesson plans are, the more effective they might be in encouraging students to speak.
Brown, Gillian, and George Yule. Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Donald, Rolf. “Teaching Speaking Skills 1.” TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC,www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/teaching-speaking-skills-1.
Pesce, Claudia. “How to Motivate ESL Students: The 10 Best Ways to Increase Teenage Student Motivation.” Busy Teacher, 18 June 2011, busyteacher.org/3644-how-to-motivate-esl-students.html.
Skeffington, Catherine Sheehy. “Getting Teenagers Talking.” TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC, www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/getting-teenagers-talking.