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Modules on skills and materials Essay

“Well prepared teachers have a large repertoire of activities for their classes. They can organise preparation and controlled output practice; they can direct students in the acquiring of receptive skills and organise genuinely communicative activities. This repertoire of activities enables them to have varied plans and achieve an activities balance.”

“The Practice of English Language Teaching” Harmer

Which of the techniques outlined in this module, and elsewhere in the modules on skills and materials, would you use in order to achieve genuine communication in the classroom?

This task should refer to other areas of the course. You should aim to write about 750 words.

The ultimate aim of teaching English to speakers of other languages is to achieve genuine communication by limiting teacher talking time and maximising student participation. Simply standing in front of a class and telling things to the students does not guarantee they will learn them. Students need to be actively involved in the lessons. A vital step in establishing a class of active learners is classroom management. There are many techniques which can be implemented in order to achieve genuine communication within the classroom. Communication should take place the minute the class begins. Getting into the habit of ‘chatting’ to the students at the start of a lesson gives them the chance to take part in natural conversation. This can be achieved by greeting the students and allowing five minutes to go around asking what people did at the weekend, for example. This gets students speaking before they have had a chance to worry about getting involved. In order to create an open learning environment and aid the flow of communication, the furniture in the classroom should be arranged appropriately.

Ideally, the furniture should be arranged in a circle as it allows all the students to be involved and creates a sense of equality. However, if this is not possible, a semi-circle or some form of group arrangement is best. A semi-circle ensures the students are able to see any visual aids clearly and as many students as possible have eye contact with the teacher. A group arrangement allows for a huge degree of interaction and can be useful in mixed-ability classes, where groups of students can concentrate on different communication tasks according to their ability. Another great way of rousing communication is to show interest in the students by getting to know about their interests and backgrounds. This allows teachers to make conversation before and after class using personal information. How is your new cat? Is your husband feeling better? It is encouraging for the students and they are more likely to want to speak about themselves, their families, etc.

Getting to know the students also allows teachers to personalise lessons and set up relevant discussions. This increases student involvement by allowing them to express opinions about their environment and personal experiences. A similar technique is to talk about current affairs or news stories. These are subjects that the students are likely to have knowledge of and will be able to discuss amongst themselves. This will encourage students to find interesting stories or anecdotes they can share with the class or to keep themselves informed so they can have meaningful input in class activities. Current newspaper and magazine articles can be cut out and used to prompt discussions. These techniques can allow the students to take control of the conversation, reducing teacher talk time and consequently further their learning. Relevant and realistic practise of language is important in spurring meaningful communication from students.

Teachers should focus on elements of language and communication that are necessary for the student’s goals or are of personal interest. The types of activities utilised in a lesson can give more or less opportunities for communication. The most obvious way to get someone talking is to ask them questions, but teachers should really think about the kinds of questions they ask. Closed questions are simple direct questions that can be useful for checking understanding or reviewing language, whereas open questions do not always have a single or right answer and get the students thinking. Both types of questions are useful in the classroom and teachers should establish a good balance between the two. Furthermore, questions should be directed to the whole class initially, rather than a named individual, as this ensures all students are alert and thinking about the answer should they be chosen to respond. Another technique to keep students focused is avoiding asking questions in a fixed order. Teachers should mix it up by darting around the classroom, keeping the students on their toes.

Asking questions can be rather limiting in the degree of communication it fosters and it involves a lot of initial input by the teacher. In order to encourage genuine communication between students so they get the most out of the experience, teacher talking time needs to be limited. Group or pair-work activities are a great way to do this. They generate conversation and communication flows more naturally. Well prepared group or pair-work activities should require students to maintain communication in order to complete the task. They dramatically increase the amount of speaking time each student gets in the class and allow students to interact independently without guidance of the teacher. This promotes learner independence and more spontaneous communication.

Role-plays, dialogues, sketches, etc. can be a great way to reduce anxiety about speaking. Students may be embarrassed at first, but become less self-conscious as they concentrate on the character or role they are required to carry out, thus produce more natural language. In addition, prompts, such as role cards and realia can be provided as an aid for the students to use during their performance. It is important for the teacher to continue monitoring groups during fluency tasks to ensure English is being spoken.

It is imperative that the use of the mother tongue language is limited in the class. If the class are of differing nationalities, this aids communication as the students have no choice but to use English to communicate. Thus, there are many techniques that can be adopted to ensure genuine communication is achieved in every lesson. It is important for teachers to really think about all aspects of the lesson, including the introduction, seating arrangement, the delivery of activities, materials used, etc. prior to teaching in order to maximise student talk time so that each individual gains the most out of their experience within the classroom.

TASK FOR SUBMISSION TO YOUR TUTOR

TASK 2

You are working in an ESOL school with class sizes of 14-18.

Your boss does not like your school’s current way of testing spoken English. At the moment it is tested in a one-on-one, 2 minute speaking test at the end of course with a mark from 0-10. It does not seem to be working well and takes up a whole lesson from the course. He has asked for suggestions as to how to change the system.

With reference to what you have studied in this and other modules, and to your own experience and reading, make some suggestions to your boss as to how the school could assess the spoken English of the students in a more accurate and less pressurized way.

You should write about 400 – 500 words to send as an email setting out your ideas.

Dear ______,

In light of your recent request for ideas as to how to change the current way of testing spoken English, I would like to propose the following suggestions. Rather than a one-on-one end of year speaking test, we could adopt a task approach and assess the students speaking ability in a variety of ways throughout the duration of the course. We could create tasks that require the students to use the language in ‘real-life’ communicative performances. This type of testing is advantageous as it can be conducted with more than one student at a time, reducing the amount of time dedicated to the testing. It allows the students to use their language knowledge and competence in ‘real-life’ communications with their peers. It is a more realistic and accurate measure of their abilities. Not only do these tasks test accuracy and fluency, they also test how creatively the students are able to use language and whether they are able to communicate effectively with each other.

It is likely to reduce the pressure they feel about a single ‘interview’ with the teacher, particularly if they get to perform the tasks with other students so the focus isn’t solely on them. Adopting this kind of testing approach will allow us to carry out a number of different oral tests throughout the course, assessing a variety of skills. There are a number of different tasks that could be used such as role plays, debates and presentations. Role Plays: We can give them a specific situation and roles to play that utilise the language they have learnt. Role plays can be used informally throughout the course so the students get lots of time to practice for a formal assessment. Debates: We could split the classes into groups and have each group debate an argument relating to different topics they have studied.

Each group would be split into two smaller groups, one to represent each side of the argument. The students can be given time in or out of class to prepare their side of the debate. Each side could be allocated a specific time for giving their initial argument in which each student has to contribute the same amount of time. Again, debates can be used informally throughout the course to practice language, allowing students ample of practice before the formal assessment. Class Presentation: We could assign group projects for the students to carry out in or out of class. The students will have a deadline to complete the project, at the end of which they will be asked to give a group presentation. We can provide them with guidelines of what to include and what skills they will be individually tested on.

Another way to test students individually that takes away the pressure of ‘performing’ in front of the class is to ask them to make a recording. In a previous school, we had students read a short story and then asked them to imagine they were one of the characters. They had to record themselves giving an account of what happened according to their {the characters} personal experience. The students were allowed time to think about what they wanted to say before making the recording.

After assessment, the students listened to each other’s recordings and gave constructive feedback to their classmates. This type of assessment was carried out a number of times throughout the course, with notable improvements across the board. Although this approach is less realistic, it gives the students a chance to hear themselves speaking and pinpoint their own mistakes which they can work on in the future.

I hope these suggestions are of use and we are able to implement a more successful way of testing the oral skills of the students.


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